Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival: The How To's

We met people who came from all over the world to witness the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. Many felt lucky they found the correct information for the festival because it was so.hard.to.find. As an expat in Taiwan, Sean and I were not sure our plan to see the festival would work out. I cannot imagine how disappointing it would be to fly half way across the world only to discover you got the details wrong. 

Here is some advice about where to look for information and how to experience this festival to its fullest:

1. Check out this world festival website + this official website. However, be cautioned that both contained errors this year regarding dates/transportation. While trying to scheme a way to get Sean and I there, I read many blogs/discussion boards on the lonely planet from people who got misinformation and planned trips based on that misinformation. 

2. Plan to stay overnight in Taipei. You will not find accommodations in Pingxi. We stayed in New Taipei City because it was close to the shuttle bus. 

3. Take the shuttle bus from the Taipei Zoo. Our cab ride to the zoo was only four miles long and 120NT. The shuttles run constantly between the hours of 9am - 7pm and only costs 50NT round trip. 

4. Bring a poncho + umbrella + rain jacket + plastic bag for your camera. This is Taiwan's rainy season. It poured the entire time we were there. Don't worry; the festival will not be cancelled. There was a weather warning + very heavy rain all night long and the festival continued on. 

5. Bring a camera but do note that it is so.hard to get the dream picture you want. The crowds are huge, the weather for us meant our camera lens had water on it almost the entire time and it's night + the lanterns move fast. Also, you will miss so.much of the magic if you live behind your camera. Take at least one lantern release to simply watch. You will be mesmerized. After the first 30 minutes, we just put our camera away and left it there. We had such a blast! 

6. Choose the "standing line" for the shuttle back down the hill. You will notice two lines: the incredibly long one is for people who want a seat and the nonexistent one is for people willing to stand. If you really want to sit, you can do it on the stairs of the bus. That's what I did. 

7. Be brave and try the food. It honestly had some of Taiwan's best stall food that I have encountered in the past year and a half. Sean and I ate a hot dog covered in french fries, an egg pancake, corn on the cob and drank wonderful fresh juice. 

8. Practice lighting your lantern before you actually go to set it off with all the others. A few people struggled to get their lantern lit/ready for take off and missed the big moment. 

9. Pay attention to wind direction. To get the most from the lantern release, stand upwind from the lanterns. They will float right.over your head as they go up, up, up. 

10. But do be on the lookout for wayward lanterns. They do have a rather large flame and quite a few did not make it up, up, up but instead went up, down, down onto the bystanders. Be prepared to stomp out any fire near you or if you're really unlucky on you. 

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