Dusk was settling as we walked through a quiet neighborhood in Shifen. A red giant lantern, scrawled haphazardly with unintelligible words and doodles, suddenly bobbed above the roofline, swayed slightly with the wind, before finally flying off into the twilight. A few steps later, the narrow road opened into a rail track. Vibrant shops filled both its sides, with crowds of tourists milling around the sidewalk and the single train track running in the middle. Most of them were holding a similar sky lantern, lit, poised, and ready to take their wishes into the darkening sky.
|THE SHIFEN TRAIN STATION IS NOT CONNECTED TO THE MRT|
Shifen has been elusive to us. Located at the Pingxi District in New Taipei, it’s about an hour away by bus from Taipei’s MRT Brown Line. Near as it was, it still took us several hours to finally reach this place. Shifen is a popular daytrip destination for Taipei tourists and is usually paired with tours at Pingxi, Yehliu Geopark and Jiufen.
|SKY LANTERNS AT SHIFEN|
Our day started early from the Taipei Westgate Hotel. We scoured the area for a place to change currencies before proceeding to Dahu Park to see the Moon Bridge. It took us quite a while to get there, and it took a couple more to get out. By the time we reached the bus stop heading for Shifen, our appointed bus was already closing its doors and was roaring away before we could even cross the street.
|WAITING FOR THE BUS BOUND FOR SHIFEN|
But we were persistent. Instead of leaving and checking some other sites in Taipei, like the nearby Taipei Zoo, we opted to stay put, wait another hour and, at last, board the bus bound for Shifen. The original plan was to visit, not only Shifen, but its more popular neighbor, the Pingxi Old Street. But since the day was running short, we opted to just go for Shifen since it has a waterfall up its woody sleeves.
OPEN HOURS: 9:00AM TO 4:30PM • ENTRANCE FEE: NONE • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.049017, 121.787227
Deliberately passing Shifen’s Old Street, we kept our asses glued tight to the bus seat and let most of the bus passengers alight. The bus rode on and dropped everyone off at the final stop, Shifen Waterfall’s parking lot itself.
The gate announced that we’re just half-an-hour away from the last entry to the falls, which was at 4:30PM. We crammed our hands into our sweaters and briskly marched through the 16-degree cold afternoon, never pausing to rest, lest we miss our chance to enter its gates.
|PICTURESQUE PATHWAY LEADING TO THE WATERFALLS|
With a few minutes to spare, we arrived at the red wooden deck that signals the trail towards the waterfall. We relaxed our paced a bit, stopping every now and then to take a few snaps of the lovely elevated walkway. To be fair, the hike to the falls is light and easy, even for me who hates trekking.
|SHIFEN WATERFALL AT LAST|
The waterfall slowly revealed itself as the path wound down. Even with the late hour, the elevated viewing deck, perfectly located in front of the rushing cascade and its emerald water basin, was still littered with tourists.
|THE WATERFALLS IS MASSIVE|
|A CLOSER VIEW OF THE CASCADES|
Shifen Waterfall is massive. Rising twenty meters from its the waters below and twice as wide. The catch basin is covered on all sides by sheer rock walls, its cascade rushes down frothing like there was no tomorrow. The surge is so powerful that a fine spray reaches even the view deck, which was about thirty meters away from the drop. Down, along its runoff, rubble of massive boulders stretch across the river.
|THE FIRST VIEWING DECK|
From the view deck, a pathway hangs over the leftmost rockface surrounding the basin; it leads downward before going up again towards the mouth of the waterfall itself. I admire how smoothly the trail was made, and how well incorporated it was with its surrounding. I also like how you can view the falls from afar and up close without breaking a sweat or even risking your life.
|MAIN VIEWING DECK|
|THERE’S A PATH LEADING TO THE LIP OF THE WATERFALLS|
The final view point also has the amenities one can hope for, a clean toilet, plus more importantly, stalls upon stalls of Taiwanese dishes. We would’ve chowed down if we weren’t pressed for time.
SHIFEN OLD STREET & THE SKY LANTERNS
OPEN HOURS: DAYLIGHT UP TO ABOUT 9:00PM • ENTRANCE FEE: NONE • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.042970, 121.776857
Too engrossed with Shifen’s waterfalls, we became separated with each other. It was almost dusk when we finally converged outside the gates of the park to proceed to Shifen Old Street. The plan was to take a bus or the train. Little did we know that it was but only five minutes by foot from where we were! We were actually quite surprised when we chanced upon the railway track while looking for the bus station.
|SKY LANTERNS AT THE SHIFEN OLD STREET|
And we were just in time. The heavens was deepening into electric blues as our feet crunched on the gravelly track. We stood agape, watching the giant sky lanterns float one after another. I’ve tried flying one of these things at the Dhara Dhevi Resort Chiang Mai several years back, but my companions haven’t yet. And they were quite adamant that we try it. Well, for a measly TWD200.00 (PHP323.95), why not?
|THE BEST BEEF NOODLES EVER!|
But first, dinner. We haven’t had a proper meal since our breakfast buffet at the hotel. Since Shifen’s Old Street really isn’t that large, we quickly found a noodle house selling cheap bowls of beef noodles. We pointed our way to our dinner and were soon engrossed on the savory soup, thick noodles and the extremely tender beef. It was the best beef noodles I’ve ever had.
|A TRAIN PASSING THROUGH THE OLD STREET|
With our hunger satiated, we went towards the shops along the sidewalk to pick our lantern. A shrill whistle echoed across the area as we were crossing the tracks. A train was coming. A real train. People quickly scampered towards the sides and in no time, a dinosaur of a train rushed through the tracks, echoing its sonorous wail as it passed.
|READY TO SET THEIR WISHES AFLOAT|
The crowd was back at the tracks as quickly as they had dispersed. It was as if nothing has happened. They still have their lanterns lit, arms ready to let it fly. They still have their photographers cueing their one, two and threes. They still have their onlookers; still asking themselves if they’re gonna shell out a couple of hundred Taiwanese dollars to set their wishes to the sky.
|MY MOM WRITING DOWN HER WISHES|
Us, we were set to burn money. We hunkered down and painted our sky lantern with whatever whims we could think of. Love. Money. Fame. Forever. We set it all down on the thin colored paper. Running out of space, we went into the tracks, lit the giant lantern from below and waited for it to tug us for release.
|AND INTO THE DARKENED SKY, OUR HOPES FLEW|
And a few seconds after, our wishes were already begging for leave. We counted in unison, letting it go at the final moment. We followed our written wishes as it raced for the heavens, a smile stamped on our faces until it was but a dot in the sky.
► HOW TO GET FROM TAIPEI TO SHIFEN
OPTION 1: TAKE THE BROWN LINE MRT TO MUZHA STATION. FROM THERE TAKE THE 795 BUS TO EITHER SHIFEN OLD STREET OR SHIFEN WATERFALLS. FARE: TWD45.00. 45 MINUTES TRAVEL TIME. FROM 4:50AM TO 10:40PM, EVERY 45 MINUTES.
OPTION 2: TAKE THE GREEN LINE MRT STATION TO SONGSHAN THEN TRANSFER TO THE SONGSHAN TRA LINE TO RUIFANG STATION. FROM THERE, TRANSFER FOR THE TRAIN TO SHIFEN STATION.