I finally had the chance to see the famous Shifen waterfalls, which some refer to as the Niagara of Taiwan. I used to think that Shifen and Pingxi were two different places but apparently, Shifen belongs to Pingxi district. It’s just that they each have a train station. In an address, it’ll go like: Shifen, Pingxi District, New Taipei City, Taiwan. Alright? I just thought that’ll be an interesting nugget of info to share if you’re also particular about geography shenanigans like moi.
Okay, so the reason why I finally decided to check out Shifen was my mom. She said she wanted to see it this December. Since I only see my parents once a year for the past 5 years–once being a month-long of vacation for them around December-January–I always prioritize their travel requests. When she said she wanted to see Singapore, I went to Singapore to survey the place. I kinda had a traumatic experience with our first (and probably last) family travel via a tour package so I thought, #neveragain. Went to Singapore to see if I can be our family’s tour guide and now, had to do it with Shifen because it had a reputation for being a walkathon experience. Arguably, there’s a taxi to ride, BUT I’d rather see if it’s walkable first than go that route because (1) it’s free, (2) and I don’t want to miss some cool sceneries.
Almost all of my Pinoy friends who visited Taiwan made a trip to Shifen and said it’s a long walk but definitely worth it. Remembering that, I decided to check it out to see if my mom can handle the long walk as she had heart issues. And, despite the long walk, I must say my friends were right! The Shifen waterfall park is another testament to how smart and innovative Taiwan is when it comes to making use of natural resources as tourist attractions.
From Taipei, it’s quite easy to reach Shifen. You can ride the local train and get off at Ruifang station, then at Ruifang station exit and get tickets to Shifen station.
Platform 3 is where the tracks set off to this fab place. You don’t have to worry about riding the right train too because all the trains that run on this Pingxi track would at some point also drop by Shifen. Just make sure you take note of each stop so you don’t miss yours.
Touchdown Shifen station
I didn’t expect what I saw, I was actually under the impression that Shifen station would look like the usual nondescript local train station but what I saw was a tourist’s heaven. There were so many visitors, that they spilled on the tracks and had to be herded to safety when a train’s about to pass by, which adds to the place’s novelty. It kinda reminded me of the local tracks in Manila where people resided on the sides. Ever been to Blumentritt, fellow Pinoys? Hehe, yeah that but of course, Shifen’s more…admirable.
I have no idea where to go upon exiting the train station, but since Google Maps is a traveler’s best friend, it was easy. Along the way, I was happy to see that there were local snacks being sold and that taking pictures on the tracks were permitted in between the trains passing by. It was perfect for tourists, because it truly showed how rural Taiwan is like. If you have just a few days on the island and wondered if there is something to see that’s unlike Taipei, like somewhere that isn’t as modern or urban, then here you go. Shifen is the perfect starting point.
Thoughts on sky lanterns
Aside from the local snacks, flying sky lanterns also happen along Shifen’s railroad tracks. I guess it’s the major reason why people come here. I think it’s one of the reasons why people come to Taiwan, to set off sky lanterns and see their wishes flown into heaven. I understand the novelty, as it’s symbolic and all that, but there is something that I have to say about it. And it’s also the reason why I’ve avoided Pingxi all these years.
When I first came to Taiwan, I too was mesmerized with the idea of sky lanterns. My wish was to photograph them like those you see in postcards or ala Tangled. But when someone told me that sky lanterns actually is a thorny issue in Taiwan because of its “contributions” to the environment, I kinda made peace with just seeing sky lanterns on Tangled and detached myself from the emotional symbolism. You can Google it yourself, see what happens when sky lanterns reach elsewhere the face of the planet.
In my short time at Shifen, I saw for myself plenty of reasons why sky lanterns are better off as CGI.
I understand the emotions that people get from sky lanterns, but I don’t get it as much as I don’t get the symbolism and subsequent pollution of flying balloons into the sky to celebrate something. Sorry, but well, not really. What I do respect is that it is part of Chinese culture but then…yeah.
Also, it’s still a tourist magnet in the area and perhaps brings major economy into Shifen. Couldn’t argue with that. However, please take this to mean that this post doesn’t in any way advocate for this activity while in Shifen. The choice is still yours to do so when you get there, nobody will take it against you since it isn’t illegal, but just so you know there are other ways of being symbolic without hurting unsuspecting creatures in the process. Like these bamboo sticks, for example, where you can still write off whatever you want on a sky lantern.
Or, why not just send a postcard from Shifen? It’s less than 100 NTD, stamp included.
While they may not be as dramatic as setting off a sky lantern, they’re still symbolic souvenirs from Shifen which wouldn’t potentially set a forest on fire.
The long and unwinding walk
As I set off for Shifen waterfalls, I was actually preparing myself for a viewless-right-by-the-highway sort of trek. That wasn’t my experience. Although the walk back somekinda did that, I discovered that walking along Shifen Old Street straight ahead is the way to go. This way, you can walk on a more scenic path that would make you thankful you decided to to do it this way instead of riding a cab.
The entire walk took about 20 minutes without much elevation. The road is asphalt so it makes for a leisurely pace. There were also signs placed at crossroads to help you figure out where to go next, which made me realize why it’s become such a touristy area. No wonder my friends enjoyed the visit because they were able to figure it out by themselves and not get lost…or at least most of them, hehe.
But before going straight to Shifen waterfalls, I noticed a hanging bridge which instantly magnetized me to check it out. There was also a coffee shop near the hanging bridge and it was a great stop if in case you’re walking here on a sunny day. Pretty neat area to rest and chill with nature.
After crossing the bridge, I went straight until I saw another bridge leading to Shifen waterfalls. The nice thing about this area is that it doesn’t run into several directions so you just really walk straight ahead until you’re finally face to face with this hanging bridge which, by the way, turns into a stomach-churning, knees-weakening experience when several people are on it.
Finally, Shifen waterfall park
So after settling my knees and wondering how the heck tourists could even muster taking selfies on that swaying hanging bridge, I ventured further and discovered that Shifen waterfalls was actually situated in a park! Or a park was made for Shifen waterfalls. There’s no entrance fee, but the park is complete with all the usual stuff that makes Taiwan’s tourist attractions worthwhile to visit. There are restrooms and a small food court that also serves up local food items including seafood. I really find it commendable when Taiwan serves local snacks instead of Western stuff (as is mostly the case around Taipei) because it makes for a more authentic Taiwan experience.
Going up, then down, to reach the waterfalls is a challenge for those who don’t do much hiking judging by the number of steps you have to make. But I made it, and I think my mom and dad can handle them as well…in between rests hehe. There’s actually a viewing area near the food court, but if you want to get a picturesque view of the famous Shifen waterfalls, you need to check out the farther one. And it’s also where I took this shot:
It is indeed the centerpiece of the park, and I was glad to see that Shifen turned the area into a waterfall park that encourages tourists to go sightseeing at some scenic areas. It’s also nice to see them putting up hanging bridges to entice people to experience the place. And despite complaints of too few trash cans from a fellow Pinoy 😀 I am happy to see the park kept clean and green despite the number of tourists that frequent it.
Combo tours with Shifen
Shifen is definitely a place that any tourist should visit, especially if they have just 3 to 5 days to spend in Taipei. It’s where you spend half a day, with the other half you can probably spend seeing Fulong or Jiufen. Personally, I would recommend seeing Shifen in the morning ‘til noon, and then spend an afternoon in Fulong beach park or Jiufen–especially since the Japanese lanterns here get lit up around 6PM onwards.
Also, very happy to report here that most of the locals in Shifen, especially the vendors, know how to converse in English so buying stuff shouldn’t be a problem.
So if you want to see a piece of Taiwan’s history during its mining years, and how its rural areas are like beyond the glitz of Taipei 101 and the glamour of the Xinyi district, drop by Shifen waterfalls and see the quaint rustic town of Pingxi district.