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Fall in love with Shifen

my paper explores a town along the Pingxi Branch Rail Line. -myp
Joy Fang

Mon, Oct 03, 2011
my paper

THE Pingxi Branch Rail Line, one of three historic small branch lines still running in Taiwan, is known for its scenic and nostalgic ride through wild woods and gorges.

The line, established in 1921, was used to transport coal when coal mining was a flourishing activity. When the coal pits in the Pingxi township shut down in the 1990s, the train and its destinations have been turned into a tourist attraction of sorts, like an extended Disneyland ride through beautiful, unspoilt nature.

The line runs through seven stations, and three major towns - Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong - all lovely in their own way, and worth exploring further.

my paper makes a stop in Shifen and lists the must-see sights and must-do activities.

Shifen Waterfall 

The majestic waterfall (No. 11 Gankang Street) is definitely the highlight of the town.

It has often been described as the mini-Niagara Falls of Taiwan for the vast curtain of waters storming down the layers of rocks. On a sunny day, bright rays hit the clear, emerald green waters below.

It measure 20m high and 40m long, making it the broadest waterfall in Taiwan.

You can walk and peer down from the top, or walk down a narrow, slippery footpath for a better view of the entire waterfall expanse.

A park surrounds the waterfall where you can sit and sip a cup of coffee and admire the view.

To get to the waterfall, turn right from the train station and walk 15 minutes past the visitors' centre. The waterfall path is behind the centre. You'll reach it after crossing the bronze Guan Pu Suspension Bridge.

Jing An Suspension Bridge 

The 128m-long picturesque bridge is one of Shifen's iconic symbols. Originally used to transport coal, it is now a pedestrian bridge. Standing on the bridge - Pingxi district's longest - one can see the pretty Keelung River coiling through the surrounding mountains.

The Coal-Mine Museum 

Established in the 1990s by the former New Pingxi Coal Company, the former coal-mining station (No. 5 Tingliao Tsu Road) houses authentic equipment and machinery used by the miners.

View the preserved facilities, such as a public bath used by the miners and coal-sorting equipment, and take a ride on the electric train to the main coal tunnel.

Shifen's Old Street 

The street runs along both sides of the railway. You can't miss it after descending at the Shifen railway station.

Residents typically sit outside their houses or shops chatting languidly under the afternoon sun. Though not as bustling as the Old Streets of Jiufen or Danshui, Shifen's shops are just as interesting.

Stop to buy straw hats and wooden handicraft and postcards, or grab a snack of fruit or noodles from stalls lining the street.

You might even spot artists who come to immortalise the scenic location in watercolour on their canvases.

As dusk falls, Old Street turns lively, with people releasing sky lanterns adorned with prayers and fervent wishes.

Get in on the action by purchasing a lantern for about NT$150 (S$6.40) from one of the many lantern shops along the street.

Using a paintbrush, write your message on the lantern before lifting it above your head and launching it skywards - but not before having a few photos taken (the shop owner gladly does it for you).

You thus become part of the excited families and friends pondering over their words and drawings in front of the row of shops filled with colourful lanterns - a magical scene.

You may wish to buy firecrackers at about NT$250 per box to indulge further in the festive vibe. Set them off at a deserted railway spot.

One leaves Shifen on this note, feeling funnily warm and fuzzy inside.

Getting there

TO GET to Shifen from Taipei, take a 45-minute train ride from Taipei Main Station to Rueifang Station and transfer to the branch line. All-day train passes cost just NT$54 (S$2.30).

From now until Dec 31, visitors to Taiwan are entitled to free gifts, while stocks last. Simply flash your air ticket and hotel confirmation to redeem them from Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore at 5 Shenton Way, UIC Building, #31-11. Call 6223-6546/7 or e-mail

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