I ended up going to Pingxi for their unusual celebration of the yearly Lantern Festival last Saturday, Feb 19th. In case anyone else is interested, here’s a little info. Although I am not certain, I believe that Pingxi will repeat this unusual and worthwhile ceremony on Wednesday night, Feb 23rd, the customary night for the festival. As I understand it, it is being conducted by the Taipei County government, so they could be contacted for more info/confirmation.
Pingxi is a little town in the mountains about 30km southeast of Taipei. I reached it by taking the MRT to the Taipei Zoo Station, and then catching a bus to Pingxi. On the weekend the buses were running from about noon until 11pm, I believe. The specially marked city buses were lined up outside the MRT station waiting to go. The bus fare was NT $45 going there, and no charge coming back. Not sure why. The travel time on the bus was about 45 minutes one-way.
When I went, it was overcast, rainy, and a bit windy. I went because of the special nature of the celebration in Pingxi, a better description of which can be found on TaiwanHo. In any case, they write messages or requests on large paper lanterns and then light their wicks, let them heat up, and release the lanterns into the night sky where they rise like mini hot air balloons. This is done individually or as part of the government-sponsored ceremony in large groups of 100 lanterns or so. The official group release of the lanterns happens in waves, with the first being about 6:20pm just after dark, and I actually got to be part of the first wave. Very cool. Some lanterns didn’t go up well due to bad handling, bad luck, or something else, but most rose into the sky like huge fireflies and faded off into the distant clouds.
This celebration is something to see – as a participant or just an observer. Worth the trip and the standing in the rain.