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The Pingxi rail line is a journey into the past and a perfect day trip from either Taipei City or Jiufen. We stayed in Jiufen in February 2019 for 3 nights and our time there fortunately coincided with the Chinese / Lunar New Year festivities. We jumped aboard a local train on the Pingxi Line and explored a few places along the 8-mile long ‘verdant valley’, starting in Ruifang and taking in waterfalls, floating sky lanterns and a quirky cat village along the way.
Starting your journey on the Pingxi line
Our day started (and ended) in Ruifang which is easy to reach from Taipei. Although not the most picturesque Taiwan town we had encountered, our main purpose was to start our train journey from here. As one tourism website puts it, Ruifang is mainly a ‘quaint transit town’.
How to get to Ruifang from Taipei
To get to Ruifang from Taipei you can take a northbound train from Taipei Main Station to Riufang Station. The journey takes 30 minutes for express trains or 50 minutes for local trains – both cost around 50 TWD.
Alternatively you can take Keelung Bus 1062 or the new Taipei Bus express route 965 from outside Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station for around 90 TWD (the 965 also picks up from Banqiao Bus Station, Wanhua Railway Station, MRT Ximen Station and MRT Beimen Station).
To reach Ruifang from Jiufen like we did, take the bus number 827 or 788, the journey takes 15 minutes and costs 15 TWD.
Purchasing a Pingxi line pass
We purchased our Pingxi line day tickets from Ruifang Railway Station, costing us only 80 TWD each. The pass allows you to hop on and hop off at any of the towns on the line.
Note that the trains do not run regularly, so make sure you take a photo of the timetable at the station so you can plan your day well (alternatively use Google Maps or Taiwan Railway’s website). Also try and plan to visit the towns on the Pingxi line on a weekday rather than a weekend to avoid large crowds of locals. As we only had one day to explore we did some research in advance and picked four interesting stops to visit: Houtong, Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong.
First stop on the Pingxi line – Houtong (Cat Village)
Our first stop along the Pingxi Line was Houtong, a gorgeous riverside town that used to be most famous for it’s open air coal mine (which can still be visited) but is now better known as the Houtong Cat Village.
You know you are going to be in for something very different when one of the first things you see as you arrive at the station is a massive metal footbridge, shaped like a cat.
We loved our experience so much that we wrote a dedicated Houtong Cat Village blog post >
Shifen is one of the most popular places to visit on the Pingxi line, especially during our trip, as it was the main place in the region to release Chinese New Year lanterns. It was a sight to behold as everyone had congregated on the railway lines to release their lanterns. It was also a beautifully bizarre sight to see everyone scuttling for safety as the trains drew close, honking their horns, not letting a few hundred people on the line deter them from continuing their railway journey.
We loved watching lots of families, friends and couples choose their paper lanterns from one of the many Shifen sky lantern vendors on the railway tracks, write their own good wishes directly onto the paper, and then fire them up to release them into the air. Actually, half of the fun was watching lanterns that didn’t quite take off as expected (if you release the lanterns too early with not enough hot air inside, they likely wouldn’t make it, and would crash down in a fiery mess – make sure you have travel insurance, eh!).
After exploring Shifen’s old town streets (there is soooo much good street food here), we walked a little out of town to visit the magnificent Shifen Waterfall, often described as the most beautiful in all of Taiwan. Standing at 40 metres in height and free to visit, the initial walk takes you along a gorge and the banks of a river before walking over a massive footbridge to reach the waterfall. Due to it being the Chinese New Year holidays, the bridge was very crowded, meaning there was crowd control in place and we had to queue up to get across.
Once at the Shifen Waterfall, we were amazed how scenic it was but also a little perturbed about how this amazing natural wonder had succumbed to a series of naff food courts and shops, practically at the waterfall’s edge – less is more sometimes.
To save us walking back into Shifen against the flow of the crowd, we noticed that a bus that stops directly outside the Shifen Waterfall tourist centre went directly to Pingxi, so we jumped aboard and sat back, enjoying the countryside and mountains as we drove along.
Pingxi, the penultimate station on the line, has a lush setting on the banks of the Keelung River. The Guanyin Temple sits atop the hill here, looking down over all the narrow and ancient streets. The food options in Pingxi were some of the best we had seen along the whole of the Pingxi line, and some of the local street food stalls had incredibly long lines of hungry locals. We opted for some noodle soup inside a small, local restaurant.
As with Shifen, Chinese New Year revellers here were also setting off sky lanterns from the railway here (occasionally stopping to let trains go by) and we spent half an hour enjoying the spectacle, and taking lots of photographs. The crowds here were much smaller than Shifen making it easier to walk around.
Due to how busy and infrequent the trains were on the day we visited, we actually walked from Pingxi to our final stop, Jingtong. The walk (although not that scenic) is quiet and along mainly flat roads, we also occasionally saw Chinese lanterns float into view, released from nearby towns.
Jingtong (Old Street)
Our last stop for the day was Jingtong, most famous for its massive collection of ‘bamboo wishes’. Love, life and good fortune – these are the ‘bamboo wishes’ of Jingtong. They are found on every imaginable space in this old mining town, and convey the hopes, dreams, prayers and wishes of the people passing through. Locals come to Jingtong to ask for good fortune and luck at work and at school, in love and in life.
Due to tourism, the main old street is actually right next to Jingtong station so this is a fairly easy town to explore, with various street food vendors and gift shops congregating around the station.
We also found that due to how busy the train was all day (maybe because people were here for the Chinese New Year festivities), your best bet is to end your Pingxi Line visit here, as you are able to board onto an empty train, and hopefully secure yourself a seat for the journey back to Ruifeng (by the time the train reached Shifen, it was too full to let anybody on!). The journey from Jingtong to Ruifeng takes about 45 minutes.
Upon our return to Ruifang we checked out the night market but it wasn’t that interesting compared to others we had visited in Taiwan. Also note that the bus back to Jifuen at night can get EXTREMELY busy, so you may have to either clamour aboard to guarantee a space, or consider taking one of the taxis, who frequently vye for trade at the main bus stop.
When we set our very own sky lantern free during our Pingxi line visit, our wish was to return to Taiwan again in the near future and we really hope this comes true!
Tours to the towns on the Pingxi Line
There are lots of tours available if you do not fancy getting around by train. Here are some examples:
Pocket WIFI rental in Taiwan
Having a pocket WIFI device was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered one online with Klook and collected the device at Taipei airport and dropped it off at Kaohsiung’s airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at only £1.25 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it.
There is a huge range of accommodation options in Taichung which are very affordable and highly rated! Here are some suggestions for all types of budget in Taichung:
Some hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Taipei:
Other Taiwan blog posts
- Top things to do in Taipei for first time visitors
- The best Taiwanese food – ultimate Taiwan food guide
- Kaohsiung travel guide, Taiwan
- Taiwan itinerary – Taipei to Kaohsiung
- The best night markets in Taiwan
- Best things to do in Tainan, Taiwan
- Taichung – top things to do, Taiwan
- Things to do in Ximending in Taipei, Taiwan
- Dihua Street during Chinese New Year in Taipei
- Taiwan ‘7-Eleven’ Heaven
- Photo essay: Taiwan’s night markets
- Eating Taiwanese delights on a Taipei food tour
Pingxi line, Taipei – words and photography by Caroline Keyzor and Neil Hassall.
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