Of all the places I’ve been to outside Taipei, Shifen is my favorite. As soon as I stepped on its old street, I instantly fell in love with its vibes. There are small lanes and alleys similar to those I see in movies. It’s so simple that others might not see anything special about the place, but it’s authentic and unpretentious.
Few people stroll around that part of Shifen. Most others are releasing lanterns at the open track of a train station. I couldn’t blame them; that’s probably the best thing to do in Shifen. Write your name and your wishes on the lantern, then release it to the sky and watch it disappear.
I got up early to prepare for one of the highlights of my Taiwan tour. It was 14⁰ in Taipei. My friends advised me to bring an umbrella, because it would most likely rain in the North. Good thing, I listened.
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I walked down the streets of Ximen going to the MRT from Holiday Fun Hostel. I noticed that the streets of Taipei were almost empty in the morning. Stores wouldn’t open until later than 8 am, something I didn’t expect from a busy district.
Even if I carefully planned my itinerary, I had a hard time finding the train going to Ruifang. I knew that from Taipei Main Station, I had to transfer to another line going to Ruifang station.
But what is that other line? I thought to myself. I underestimated Taiwan’s train system. Believe me, even with all the signage, I still got lost at the Main station.
I asked the guard how to get to Ruifang.
“Transfer to TRA line,” he instructed me.
My friend told me that from that line, I needed to buy a ticket going to Ruifang station since they don’t accept EasyCard payments. (I guess I was wrong following that advice. I believe they do.) So, I fell in line and bought a ticket. The cashier asked me if it was okay for me to take the local train. I said yes at the back of my mind.
This is, for sure, way better than any trains we have in the Philippines.
Fare from Taipei Main station to Ruifang is NTD49.
I went to the platform and got confused again. There are different platforms and many rail tracks.
Oh, please! Which one is going to Ruifang?
A train arrived. I asked the other passengers if it was going to Ruifang. They said no. I then asked if I was on the right platform. They said yes, and that the next train was bound for Ruifang.
Wow! Same platform, different destinations. How awesome is that?
The train slowly sped away from Taipei Main station. A few stops later, it began to rain. It was even sharper as we went further north. The lights attempted to pierce through the darkness of the gloomy sky. I wanted to take photos of the countryside, but it was getting foggier. There was no sunshine; just dark sky. I hoped the weather would get better once I reached Shifen.
After the one-hour ride, it was still raining in Ruifang. It was so cold that I wished I wore a thicker jacket. It was 12⁰, the wind blew stronger. Most of the passengers transferred to Pingxi line going to Shifen. It’s another 30-minute ride. Had it not rained, the view would be fantastic. It was my first time to ride a train passing by mountains or forests. We don’t have anything like it in the Philippines. If only PNR will run again up to the Bicol Region, I’m sure the view will be as impressive as that.
As we approached Shifen, people started to move away from the rail track and hold their cameras to take photos and videos of the moving train, the biggest star there.
I decided to look for food since I didn’t eat breakfast. It was already lunch. It’s easy to find something to eat. There are food stalls everywhere. Food is a bit pricey, but reasonable. Well, it’s is a tourist area, so expect that the price will be a bit higher than usual.
As if someone heard my prayer, the weather got better. It was now just drizzling, but that didn’t stop people from writing their wishes and releasing their lanterns to the sky. I took advantage of that rare scene—people happily letting go of their lanterns. Of course, I didn’t miss the opportunity to write my wishes.
You can avail of one colored lantern for NTD150, or choose four colors for NTD200. Since I was alone, I got all the four corners to write my wishes on. I prayed for good life, good health, stronger bond with my family, more money, good relationships, and a colorful love life not only for me, but also for all my single friends.
The train slowed down as it was approaching Shifen. Be careful. There was one instance that I forgot I was on the rails. I was too busy setting up my tripod, oblivious of the incoming train. One guy shouted to get my attention. I actually felt embarrassed, but I was grateful I didn’t get hit by the train. Otherwise, I would not have made it home in one piece.
About 30 minutes from the old street, you’ll find a hanging bridge and a falls. There are taxi drivers who would offer to take you there for NTD100. I politely declined. The county view is so beautiful that I loved walking to my next destination. There are signages going to the hanging bridge and the falls, so you won’t get lost. There is no entrance fee either.
Since it began to rain, few people went to the bridge. I was fortunate to have a good photo without any photo bomber. It’s unusual since most of the time, the bridge gets crowded. The falls is okay. I have seen a lot of stunning falls in the Philippines, and I’d say we have the best.
If I would describe Shifen, it’s like somewhere in the Mountain Province of the Philippines. Simply add a train that comes and goes every 15-30 minutes with a foggy mountain, a river, hanging bridge and falls as backdrop. All of those things made my experience in Shifen different and unique from the rest of my travels.