Thursday, January 31, 2013

Exploring the Pingxi Line

Our visit to The Most Amazing Place Ever was actually a stop on the Pingxi Line, an old coal train line that winds through small towns and beautiful scenery, about an hour from Taipei. After we left Houtong, we tried (and failed) to buy day tickets and ended up getting tickets to Shifen, a few stops from Houtong and the site of the Shifen Waterfall, the 'Niagara of Taiwan.'  

I'd read that going anywhere on the weekend in Taiwan was a nightmare, so I wasn't expecting the train to be so busy - all of the seats were taken, including half a carriage being occupied by a particularly repulsive family that reminded me of the Honey Boo Boos. We were relieved to disembark and explore.

Shifen is really tiny and the bulk of the township crowds the edge of the train line, the awnings from the stores almost brush the carriages as you travel through. It looks pretty cool as well.

Sorry, more cats first.

The trains are hourly, so during the downtime people walk along the tracks like it's no big thing.

Wishes on bamboo outside one of the stores.

The Pingxi area is famous for their annual Sky Lantern festival, held in February. Not to miss out on potential dollars, you can set Sky Lanterns off whenever you want to - the colour of your lantern helps orient the wishes - red for good fortune, pink for love, orange for money, and a catch-all rainbow lantern for the indecisive.

Despite the rain there were several people setting off lanterns which would careen damply into the buildings on either side of the tracks before escaping into the open air.

Inflating the balloon.
Off it goes!
We ate a quick meal and then set off in search of the waterfall which was meant to be a 15 to 60 minute walk, depending on which blog you read. Ours turned into about an hour of walking, because the 'excellent signage' didn't exist. If you're at this blog looking for directions to the Shifen Waterfall, look elsewhere. I can't even tell you where is good because all of the blogs I read were wrong. Sorry. Get a cab.

We started out what I thought was the right way only to discover it wasn't, and then ran into a man who tried to tell us ... something ... and then started laughing because he couldn't and gave up, and then we followed some other people who were going the wrong way, and then we finally found it by going through an area I later discovered said 'do not enter.' Wonderful, and not at all irritating in the pouring rain!

Eventually we did find it, paid a few Taiwan dollars to get in and went exploring. The falls have a large and rather odd park/entrance thing around them, with a lot of fake wood panelling and absurd sculptures. The falls themselves were insane - 40-something metres wide and loud and a bit ugly from the rain.

We returned to the station wet and grumpy and instead of continuing we went back to Houtong for some more CAT!

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