Sandiaoling, Shifen, Pingxi
January 15, 2021. Shall we go for a hike? Where to? So many choices, so many beautiful places to explore in the vicinity of Taipei. I would really like to see the Shifen Waterfalls as I caught a glimpse last February from the train. They are beautiful. Kind of like a mini-mini-mini Niagara Falls. But it’s not really a hike, more of a walk. The other choice is the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, which sounds and looks sooo much more interesting. Of course, that’s the one! 🙂
We meet at the TRA Main Station in Taipei to take an express train to Hutong – it doesn’t quite match one’s expectation of “express” but is still faster than the Fuxing Shuttle, which we transfer to in Hutong to ride one station to Sandiaoling.
Sandiaoling is a tiny station in the middle of nowhere it seems, and we’re just an hour outside of Taipei. Surrounded by mountains, forest, no road butting the station. That’s unique. We patiently wait for the train to leave before we are allowed to exit the station crossing the tracks; then turn right onto a paved path, the train tracks on one side, the river down below on the other side. So nice to be out of busy Taipei, wrapped in nature sounds once the train is out of earshot…
After a short walk, the tracks part – shall we go left across the bridge or right and down into a small tunnel? We continue straight and soon realize that’s the wrong way just leading us to a road, so turn around, and descend into the small tunnel cutting under the train tracks. The path takes us to the tiny village of Yuliao where we stop for tea and an early lunch. Might as well carry the food in the stomach, not our backpacks. 🙂 I love it, no roads, no cars, no motorcycles… tranquil.
From here, we find signage to a series of stairs that lead us into the forest and on our way to the first waterfall. From the train station to the final waterfall, the Sandiaoling Trail is just three kilometres one way and can be completed in under two hours at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to take photos. I’m really enjoying the trail. It has a bit of everything – stairs, meanderings paths, hanging rope bridges, ladders, rock and rope climbing, none of it too difficult.
The first waterfall we reach is Hegu Waterfall – beautifully cascading down the far side of the valley. Everything is lush and green here. We can’t get close, and enjoy the beauty from a distance.
As we walk on towards Motion Waterfall, the path meanders up and down, sometimes alongside a creek, crossing two small streams via narrow rope bridges (very fun to cross these), passing by some refreshing looking pools (for a hot day) and eventually reaches the viewing platform. The distance is maybe just a kilometre from the first falls. Motion Falls rushes over the clifftop in a white veil and gushes across enormous boulders in the riverbed below. In another blog I read about a tiny trail that cuts beneath the cliff overhang and leads behind the waterfall. Hmmm, we’re not pursuing this today… too slippery.
Instead, we follow the path up a steep slope, then climb a metal stair case, followed by a wooden ladder and rock and rope climb to Pipa Cave Waterfall, just 200 metres above. What a beautiful spot! Kaya ventures across the rocks of the riverbed to the edge where the water gushes down to become Motian Waterfall. It’s slippery and she advises against following her. Wouldn’t want to see me tumble down. We take a break on one of the boulders, just soaking up the greens, the sound of the water, the view over canopy, the rock face and plant world. What a beautiful world!
You can walk along a narrow ledge behind the falls – I venture a little ways, enough to gain a different perspective – then we keep climbing up further to join another path. From there, we consider a few options – return via the same route to Sandiaoling; walk on to Dahua Station via Xinliao (about 3.5 km); or continue to Shifen. Well, let’s head towards Dahua Station and see if we have energy to make it to Shifen… we’re using maps.me to find our way and follow a trail slowly winding downhill through forest, bamboo, and small farms until we get to the village of Xinliao. Nothing going on here, just a few dogs giving us sleepy looks. Maybe there’s a bus from here? Nope, they run irregularly and there won’t be one for a while.
So we follow the road downhill and actually make it to the Shifen waterfall. Ha! Great. Feet and legs are tired but I’m happy we get to enjoy the Falls for a little, have a snack, and then hang out at Shifen Visitor Centre waiting for the Muzha-Pinxi Shuttle bus back to town.
Memories of Lanterns
Shifen… A year ago, Kaya, Luke and I spent a day in Ruifang and Pingxi Counties, also ending the day in Shifen for the Pingxi Lantern Festival. After visiting Jiufen and a hike to Hutong “Cat Village” (an old coal mining town taken over by hundreds of cats), we took a train to Shifen. Here you can paint and release lanterns any time of the year, but generally there is one day during the Lunar New Year’s celebrations when the lantern festival is held and hundreds of lanterns are released at once. It’s quite magical and not to be missed if visiting Taiwan during this time. See the slideshow further down for photos from February 8, 2020.
Along the train tracks in town, vendors offer large paper lanterns for purchase (NT150/200) for you to paint your good wishes and prayers on. Trains do arrive once in a while providing ample warning whistles so everyone can jump off the tracks in time. Your vendor will help get the lantern ready for release, light the kerosene soaked paper, take photos, and we watched our lantern take off and disappear into the sky. The kerosene burns off quickly, and -after a short and more or less spectacular ride- the lanterns disperse into the landscape. The thin paper will quickly degrade, the metal rings which are part of the lanterns are collected where possible, or disappear in the greenery… Kaya and I painted and released one lantern together and I really enjoyed the experience. Afterwards, we made our way to the event grounds to watch the mass release of lanterns. There was entertainment in-between the group lantern releases, each one a different colour – red, blue, white, or yellow. Probably a hundred or so per group. I’ve got a lovely video (courtesy of Kaya) but unfortunately can’t post it here (included it in my FaceBook post).
The 2021 Lantern Festival became another casualty of the pandemic – many of the larger public events in Taiwan were cancelled as a precaution… but thankfully, families were still able to travel and gather, so a small price to pay…