Being at Shifen Old Street to release the world renowned Shifen Sky Lantern is like attending a big party, where everyone is cordially invited. Everyone is here to make wishes. To me, it sounds more like a holy pilgrimage.
If you have come to Taipei, it’s a must to attend this pilgrimage!
From Jiufen to Shifen
Shifen is the neighbour of Jiufen. We took a 30 minutes journey by taxi from Jiufen after seeing the Golden Waterfall, it cost us NT$600, not sure if it was expensive, but it was already 4pm, the day was getting darker, we decided to spent a bit to buy some time. Otherwise, the usual journey would be to take a bus/taxi from Jiufen Old street to Ruifang Train Station, and from here take a 30 minutes train journey to Shifen.
Entrance of Shifen. It’s a 2 minutes walk to the ‘party’.
Here we are, at our dreamland- Shifen Old Street!
First impression of Shifen: messy and chaotic! The place is probably smaller than 2 football fields, but look at it, there are people everywhere, everyone is enjoying themselves, there’s a party going on!
Shifen Sky Lantern
The main reason that kept these people busy and excited is this Sky Lantern. The sky lantern has a history in China dating as far back as the 3rd century BC, it was then used as a tool to pass message during many military actions.
Today, it is used as a method to send one’s wishes to the God, in the hope that it would be answered. The Chinese believes that God lives in heaven. For the commoners to talk to the God, someone/something must help pass the message. Someday, someone believes that Sky Lantern could do the job.
Whatever the reason is, just by releasing the sky lantern with one’s wishes written on it makes everyone excited. Who cares if the wishes made would come true or not, but the fact that there is a place and a channel for people to make such wishes made everyone feels good. It gives hope to all, isn’t that what wish is all about?
How to Fly The Sky Lantern?
To start it off, get a lantern from any of the dozens shop available. Do not bother about the price, there’s not much difference. The level of service standard was probably the only thing that differentiate them. We choose from the first shop since the lady-boss was so friendly, eager and enthusiastic, with all smile on her face.
Next, choose your favourite colour lantern. Every colour signifies different wish. And the more colours you choose, the more expensive the lantern is…… not much difference though, example, single colour cost just NT$150 (us$4.75), 4 colours cost NT$200, 8 colours is NT$350. Noticed that most people choose the 4 colours lantern. To me, I thought the 4 colours lantern looks more beautiful.
The few charts provided clearly spells out the meaning of each colour. For instance, ‘Red’, an auspicious colour to the Chinese symbolises good health and smooth sailing in one’s life. ‘Yellow’ looks like Gold colour, which is usually associate with fortune and wealth. If you are having some problems at work, then go for ‘Blue’, which would bring you good luck or cordial relationship with business partner and colleagues. If you look lost in life, then go for ‘White’ which would bring you light and hope at the end of the tunnel. Believe it or not, it does bring hopes and the drive to go on for all, anyway, just enjoy the fun of it.
Next step: The shopkeeper would help clipped the sky lantern onto a railing. A big canned of black ink and Chinese brush is already there, pick it up and start writing your wish.
Wish, wish and more wishes. So what they actually wrote there? In general, most wishes a good and healthy family, longevity, great fortune and trouble-free either at work, study or business. Most would write all the above mentioned wishes.
The sky lantern has four sides, once you finished writing on one side just tell the shop assistant to turn it onto another blank side. The shop assistant is always on the move within the shop vicinity offering his help to any of his customer. But you can take your ‘own sweet time’ to make your wishes, he is not there to hurry you.
Sometimes one never realized who’s your most dearest in life till you put it into writing. This is the moment to know who meant most to you!
One interesting thing about this place is the sudden arrival of train. As the 2 rows of shophouses sits in between a railway track, train could pass by. You hear everyone shouting and reminding all to give way to the coming train. No one is scared about it, everyone just got excited and starts to be pictured with the train. But do be careful, the train runs fast, about 70km/hr, it passes by the small town in less than 20 seconds from the moment it appear at the other end.
Once the train went passed, the sky lantern ‘party’ resume as usual.
At ant given time, there would be a group of people about to let go the sky lantern. Watch it and enjoy their happiness, it’s just as exciting as you yourself letting it fly.
Once you have finished writing your wishes, quickly let the shop assistant knows, do not stand there waiting for them to look out for you, for they are all too busy helping other customer like you.
We were asked to hold the sky lantern. I was rather surprised when the shop assistant asked if we wanted to have our picture taken. His service was excellent. As the sky lantern has four sides, he would direct us on the way to hold the lantern and helped took all pictures of it, each time patiently waiting for us to turn the sky lantern to the other side. Count that service into the cost of the lantern, now the price of the lantern seems to look cheaper.
Once pictures of all four sides are taken, the shopkeeper would light-up the sky lantern, within 3-6 seconds, hot air quickly filled up the sky lantern, its ready to let go! Now, release it and watch it floating up onto the sky. Some says it is floating, I prefer to use the word ‘fly’. It was fast, very fast, if you intend to take pictures, recommend to use fast frame or burst shot and stand far to catch the full frame.
May all my wishes and all our wishes come true!
The sky lantern stays afloat on the sky as long as the fire stays alighted, but would drop onto the ground in the next minute.
Souvenirs At Shifen Old Street
Now that we had made our wishes known to heaven, it’s time for a shopping spree along this Shifen Old Street. Frankly, there’s nothing much to buy except souvenirs. Just get into any of the shops around.
Most of the souvenirs feature these miniature sky lantern, ranging from NT$100 each to a few hundred dollars more, depending on sizes and designs.
Many of these mini lantern could glow in the dark upon some vibrations or a simple shake, it’s lovely! I bought a dozen of it and hang it on my ceiling, when wind blows, it lighted up, very fascinating.
How to go to Shifen?
I came to Shifen twice in 4 months, both from Taipei. It’s easy to go to Shifen from Taipei.
Simply go to Taipei Main Station, take a TRA train from there to Ruifang Train Station, the journey takes about 50 minutes.
Ruifang Train Station is a main station. From here you can alight and proceed to Jiufen( Do read my other post on From Taipei To Jiufen).
If your destination is Shifen, then alight at Ruifang Train Station and cross to the opposite platform to take another train to Shifen.
The journey from Ruifang to Shifen takes another 50 minutes.
The train may looks old and worn out, but it’s interior is modern and seats are comfortable.
The train has arrived at Shifen Train Station.
Shifen Train Station is iconic, it’s a must to be pictured with it! It was a rainy day since early morning, that’s why we see less crowd.
Grab the many lovely souvenirs at the shop in the train station.
As you walk along the street, the beauty of Shifen starts to unfold. Its a happy wonderland, with people all too eager to release the Sky Lantern, they had probably dreamt to fly it for years.
Then there are many delicious food stall along the street. This one which sold chicken wing is a must-try. It was so unique and delicious that we first had two then got another one and another one till we were so full to walk. Haha!
Look at the long queue for the chicken wing! It’s a 20 minutes wait despite the crowd being so much thinner due to rainy day.
After all the fun at Shifen, I have only one regret: I should have been here much earlier in the day, probably before 3pm. Now I knew I had missed out so many of Shifen attractions…… would I come again?
Certainly YES, YES, YES !
That’s why this was already my second visit to Shifen in 4 months! A testimonia of how interesting the place is!