Taipei is a vibrant city. Taipei 101 (the tallest building), walking tours, street food, temples, Elephant Mountain (a small hike) — all must do’s when visiting the city. But worthier still, in our opinion, are the storybook towns that lie just outside the city proper. Big cities in Southeast Asia are great, but at least for us, they tend to start feeling similar at times. Taiwan has so much more to offer than Taipei — get out and see it!
Our recommendation for a day trip? The Pingxi Branch Line.
If you enjoy hiking, getting off the beaten track, less touristy activities, or if you prefer a more authentic and rural feel to your trips, trust us, you need this unique and charming railway line in your life.
During our Taipei stay, our Taipei Easycard, similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, was indispensable in saving time and hassle while taking the MRT (the metro system in the city) and local trains (going to the districts outside the city proper). It’s incredibly easy to get about the city on the trains. We actually never took a taxi the entire time we traveled around Taiwan — there was never a need. Our hotel was located just a few stops away from Taiwan Main Station, an area most people stay in for convenience, and this is where you’ll need to go to get a day pass on the Pingxi Line. Let me be clear, the Pingxi Line is separate from the MRT and local trains and requires its own ticket. When you’re looking at all the ticketing windows in Taipei Main Station’s gorgeously spacious and well-lit main hall, go just around the corner to the right, and there you’ll find the Pingxi ticket counter. The unlimited day pass will allow you to go forward and backward along the line from Ruifang to Jingtong. With your Pingxi ticket in hand, head back around to the main windows and purchase a ticket on a local train to Ruifang Station, or you can simply use your Easycard, and follow the signs to board your train downstairs. The trip to Ruifang takes roughly an hour, so definitely plan to spend the day exploring the Pingxi Line.
Once at Ruifang Station, you can walk around, get a timetable, map or brochure, and access the next Pingxi Line train. We recommend these three stops:
1. Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail
If you choose this excursion, you’ll get off at the second stop from Ruifang Station on the Pingxi Line, called Sandioaling Station. You’ll exit the platform to the right and walk to the start of the trail. You’ll follow the railway with the tracks to your right and a small riverbed to your left for about 10 minutes. Cross under the tracks when they split and follow the track to the right. There will be less than reassuring maps and signs as you go — and you may think you aren’t going the right way, we definitely had our reservations, but that just means you’re doing it right.
You’ll come to a small town, and here you’ll cross the tracks and head up through the town, following the small signs through someone’s backyard and hanging laundry, until you see some stairs winding up into the woods — this is the trailhead. You can’t get lost from here on out, as the trail remains abundantly clear.
It takes about an hour to reach the top of the trail.
As you make your way up through the scenic bamboo trees and sunlit forest paths, you’ll see Hegu, Motian, and Papi Falls: three large waterfalls, spaced about 20 minutes apart. You’ll see each waterfall from two different angles, as the trail winds up from the bottoms of the falls to the tops, and you are free to explore around each. We definitely did, but remember to be careful!
You’ll cross some very cool rope bridges and even have to climb up some makeshift ladders with ropes.
Overall, the trail is not steep and only minimally difficult. It was an amazingly scenic and enjoyable hike. For the amount of effort required, the rewards are quite a steal. Our advice? Pack a picnic lunch and eat at one of several scenic spots where you can sit, relax, and enjoy the falls. Return the way you came, back down the trail to Sandiaoling Station.
P.S. At the end of the trail, we thought we could just keep walking to reach Shifen Station (and I’m sure some very directionally gifted individuals can!), so we went for it. But no matter what you read in Lonely Planet (who we LOVE btw), don’t do it!! But that’s a story for another day…
You can’t explore the Pingxi Line without setting off a sky lantern, and Shifen is the place to do it. Two stops down the line from Sandiaoling, is Shifen Station. While you can also set off lanterns at Pingxi (which is more well-known), we preferred the atmosphere of Shifen for this particular activity. You release them directly on the tracks here (don’t worry, they’ll stop you if a train is coming!), which makes for a perfect backdrop. As soon as you depart the train, you’ll see lantern booths. Choose any one. You’ll pick your lantern color (there are pricing menus with all the different meanings) and paint all four sides. Traditionally, you paint dreams and hopes for the future on them. We sent off about four over the course of the evening (because it’s insanely fun and addicting), and by the end, we were just drawing pictures and writing song lyrics — but you get the idea. The people running the booths even use your phone or camera to take pictures of you sending your wishes into the sky!
There’s also anther waterfall, Shifen Falls, you can view a short walk from the town if you so choose, just follow the signs. When you’re ready, hop back on the train.
Three more stops and you’ll arrive at Pingxi Station. The town of Pingxi is immensely charming and unique. This is where you want to try the street food, walk around, do some shopping, and send off another lantern or two after dinner because, why not?
The narrow, cobbled streets wind about through small restaurants and shops scattered along the river and up the surrounding hillside. We enjoyed meeting people, eating (Noodles? Unbelievably delicious. Bugs? Not so much.), learning some Chinese, and watching the sunlight fade away over the river as the lights from the lanterns grew brighter. It truly felt like a magical place.
To get back, take the Pingxi Line to Ruifang Station and get back on the local train to Taipei Main Station.
We’d love you hear about your Taiwan travels, especially if you’ve made other stops along the Pingxi Line — comment below and let us know what you think!
Travel on, Beaches 🙂