The weather was good and we decided to spend our day at Shifen (十分) and explore the rustic old streets described by the guide books.
We took the subway to Taipei Main Station, followed the signs to the Taipei Railways Administration (TRA) counter and bought ourselves tickets to and from Ruifang (瑞芳). The tickets cost NTD 76 (<SGD 4) for reserved seats and the ride was about 45 minutes in each direction.
At Ruifang (瑞芳), we purchased day passes for the Pingxi Line (平溪线) for about NTD 68, which on hindsight, was not a great idea. The trains on this line come infrequently and it is unlikely you will have time to visit more than a couple of places on the line unless you start your journey early and plan your trip really well. A return ticket to and from shifen (十分) would have cost us about NTD 40 each.
While waiting for the train to arrive, we explored a little around Ruifang Old Street (瑞芳老街). It was a quiet street that didn’t look like it saw or expect many foreigners given that most signs were written in Chinese and most of the food stalls were selling “古早味” or “old school flavoured” local dishes and drinks. There was a Taiwanese mother exploring the streets with her 5-year old daughter and we thought this was probably the sort of place young mothers in the cities bring their children to show them what life was like in Taiwan when they were growing up.
We were told that this line gets incredibly crowded on the weekends but on this late weekday morning, being one of the first few to queue up to get onto the train, we managed to find ourselves a seat. Lucky us!
The main attractions of Shifen (十分) are the 2 streets of shops built along the train tracks. It was bustling with visitors (from what we could tell, there was a good mix of local Taiwanese, Chinese and Hong Kong visitors, with the occasional Singaporeans, Koreans and Japanese).
Most visitors are here for the Sky Lanterns (天灯). You write your wishes on these giant lanterns (each colour represents a category such as love, wealth or health) and then you release them into the sky where you hope they will reach someone who can grant those wishes. It has become commercialised enough that most people touting these were telling us about how the backdrop from a certain location is more beautiful and that they can help take photos of us from certain premium spots.
There were plenty of people setting the lanterns off even during midday but this place gets crowded in the evenings when the dark skies make a beautiful contrast against the light from the lanterns and you can see the lanterns go up a long way.
We had intended to purchase ourselves a lantern to set afloat after lunch, but Ted, being tired out from the long journey, fell asleep even as we were having lunch, and we abandoned Plan A.
We had 2 large pieces of Taiwan’s famous deep fried chicken chop for lunch. I know, we are bad parents, but there were not many toddler / stroller friendly eating places here, and we just wanted to get lunch out of the way so we can continue our holidaying.
As Ted fell asleep shortly after lunch, we decided to explore the streets, in particular the Shifen Waterfall, which a lot of guidebooks claim to be 15 minutes away from the station. It wasn’t. It was more like an hour’s walk towards the Shifen Visitors’ Centre, after which you still need to cross a suspension bridge to get to view it. Unluckily for us, we were told after our very long walk there that it was closed. We sat around to enjoy the greenery for a while anyway before we made our way back to the station.
We took some more random pictures on the way back to the station.
We didn’t spend more than a couple of hours at Shifen and by the time we were back in Taipei, the sun had already set. I think next time we will plan our travelling time more wisely, or just splurge on a taxi ride that will bring us comfortably to the many tourist areas around the area.