Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival – A Comprehensive Guide

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival features hundreds of lanterns being released at the same time, appearing in the sky as bright orange spots.

My recent journey to the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in New Taipei City in Taiwan was so enriching and magical that I feel obliged to share my experience here so that more people will become aware of it and be a part of this most memorable celebration. Prior to attending this event, I had searched the Internet and found only scattered bits and pieces of information, and it was very difficult to piece everything together to prepare for this trip. Hence, this motivates me to write this comprehensive guide so that those who plan to attend can now have an all-in-one consolidated source of accurate and up-to-date information.

Table of Contents

The Magic Moment

After my wife and I were given our lantern and a marker, we began writing our wishes on its four sides. Moments later, a volunteer worker came by to light the fire and we were now holding what was equivalent to a hot air balloon in our hands. We were told to lower it to the ground as much as we could and to hold it in place by stepping on its frame around the circumference. Our excitement and suspense grew as every second ticked away.

Then an announcement was made over the sound system that told us to get ready. Music began playing as hundreds of cameras from the press and the audience were pointing at us, waiting to snap that perfect picture.

Three. Two. One. Release! And that was the magic moment when all 150 lanterns from our wave were released, sending the wishes of the hundreds of families gathered around into the sky. The dark and somewhat chilly night was lit up by wishes for good health and happiness, prayers for peace and love, as well as dreams for good fortune and prosperity.

For those who are environmentally conscious, most of the sky lanterns nowadays are made with biodegradable materials, such as rice paper and bamboo frames, and has avoided the use of metals. Most of the thin rice paper shells are designed to burn off completely in the air, dropping only the bamboo frame to the ground. On the day after the event, teams of volunteers implement a massive cleanup effort to retrieve all the remaining debris.

Directions to the Festival from Taipei

Let me first say this: Do not drive there. Do not even think about it. Pingxi is a small village and it will be closed to traffic starting from the early morning of the day of the event. Do not take a taxi or Uber. Again, the roads will be closed and only public buses, the event’s shuttles, and a few other authorized vehicles with permits displayed will be allowed.

The way that I recommend is to take the MRT Wenshan-Neihu (Brown) Line, get off at Taipei Zoo Station, and take the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival’s special shuttle there. It is the event’s official shuttle, and no transfer is necessary. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs TWD50 (about USD1.70) one way. In 2024 the first shuttle departed at 9am from the zoo and the last shuttle left the event venue at 11pm. I will post an update of the 2025 hours as soon as they become available.

If you prefer to take the train, be prepared that it will be packed like sardines in a can. From central Taipei, take a local train to Ruifang and transfer to the Pingxi Line to Shifen. You can find the train schedules here.

Another option is to join an organized tour which operates luxury buses that have permits to enter Pingxi. Not only is your roundtrip journey a lot more comfortable, but you are also guaranteed entry tickets to the event (more on tickets later).

Origin and Background

A paper lantern lit with fire inside and wishes written on the outer shell is released into the air.

The sky lantern was invented by Prime Minister and brilliant military strategist Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) during China’s Period of Three Kingdoms. Zhuge was also known by his courtesy name (字) Kongming (孔明); hence the device is often called a Kongming light (孔明燈).

Zhuge first created the device to summon help when his troops were surrounded by the enemy. It was later widely used as a means to deliver military signals. This invention is arguably the World’s first hot air balloon.

The tradition in Pingxi dates back to the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century when it was a small village that was often invaded by bandits in winter. Typically, the elderly, women, and children were sent away leaving the strong men behind to defend their properties. After the bandits retreated, lanterns were sent flying into the sky to signal that it was safe to return to the village.

Today, instead of military messages, these equivalents of mini hot air balloons carry a wide spectrum of wishes that are written on their shells. They are released either individually on any day of the year, or en masse during the special event at the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.

Dates and Locations

A large screen on stage shows the dates and locations of the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival with its vibrant dragon graphics.

The event first started in the year 1999 and has always been held on the 15th day of the Chinese (Lunar) New Year; hence the Western calendar dates vary each year. Recently, the event has become so popular that the organizer added a second day to hopefully alleviate the over crowdedness and extreme traffic congestions. The second day is typically a week before the 15th day of the Chinese New Year.

In 2024, the dates and locations were:

  • Feb 17, 2024, at Pingxi Junior High School
  • Feb 24, 2024, at Shifen Square

I expect that the dates (in Chinese calendar) and locations to remain the same in 2025, but as soon as I get a confirmation from the organizer, I will post an update here.

Format of the Event

Sky lanterns are released in waves, with a fixed number of reserved spots per wave. To ensure safety and that every participant is separated by a safe distance from each other, each ticket holder is assigned a specific numbered spot on the venue (more on tickets later). For the lack of a better analogy, we can loosely say that all the participants are arranged in the shape of a grid.

Each reserved space is assigned a volunteer worker who will give you instructions and assist you in the handling and release of the device. Each member is equipped with a tablet that has instructions in both Chinese and English, so you do not need to speak Chinese to participate.

The video above shows you how the grid was arranged and how participants were led to their assigned space. The people in blue jackets were the volunteer workers in their assigned positions.

In 2024, the numbers were as follows:

  • Feb 17 Pingxi High School Venue: There were 9 waves with 100 lanterns in each wave. Total = 900.
  • Feb 24 Shifen Square Venue: There were 9 waves with 150 lanterns in each wave. Total = 1,350.

The opening ceremony began at 6:00pm with the first wave of release scheduled at about 6:15pm. After that, there was a wave of release every 20 minutes. Live entertainment between waves included pop music, high school bands, and traditional Chinese lion dance.

Tickets for the Festival

A sign written in Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean indicating that entry requires tickets.
Ticket holders only are allowed beyond this point.

Let me emphasize that you only need a ticket if you want to enter into the venue of the festival and release your sky lantern en masse in one of the nine waves mentioned above. You do not need a ticket to go there just to observe, have fun, eat, shop, play, or to release your own lantern on the railroad tracks, which you can do on any day of the year.

Tickets are distributed free-of-charge beginning at 10:30am on the day of the event and strictly on a first-come-first-served basis. Each ticket is good for one lantern which can be shared among 2 – 4 people.

If you really want a ticket, you need to be there and waiting in line when they start giving them out. As I mentioned earlier, the number of spots is fixed – 900 for the first day and 1,350 for the second – so they will run out very quickly.

The only other way to obtain a ticket and not having to go there super early to wait in line is to join an organized tour. Not only are you guaranteed a reserved spot in the venue, but you will also enjoy a much more comfortable ride in luxury buses. Most tours include sightseeing stops along the way so you can maximize the use of your time in Taipei. Some also offer the option to stop at a night market after the festival to give you a full day’s worth of excitement.

Tips for Those with Tickets

An area is completely jampacked with people in the hundreds.
People gather at the assembly area, waiting to be called to line up.

If you are lucky enough to score a ticket early in the morning you might be tempted to go elsewhere and return later in the afternoon. Do NOT do that. All modes of transportations pointing to Pingxi will be completely packed with extremely long lines and you may not be able to come back in time.

Be on time. As I mentioned earlier, there is one wave of release every twenty minutes so there is very little time for one group to exit and to bring in the next group and get them oriented and ready to go. They absolutely do not wait for late comers.

Note that the time on the ticket is your assembly time. Be there early! You need to assemble in line properly based on your ticket number even before the group ahead of you has made their releases. Once they are finished and begin to exit, you will enter and be guided to your assigned position very promptly.

The streets there are narrow and jam-packed with people and you cannot walk fast. At some bottlenecks you will come to a complete standstill for minutes. A typical walk from Shifen Old Street to the event’s venue is about 15 minutes. But on the safe side, I will allow one hour – taking into consideration the time to find the group that you belong to in a sea of people.

Shifen Old Street

Whether you have tickets for the festival or are just hanging out there enjoying a good time, Shifen Old Street is a major hub where almost everyone gathers. Many people who cannot get tickets purchase their own lanterns from the stores on the street and release them on the railroad track – something that is done by hundreds of visitors every day of the year.

Note that the railroad track is currently live and in use. When a train approaches people will give way to the train as it passes by literally mere inches away from the crowd.

There are numerous eateries, from small cafés to street vendors selling a wide variety of the most popular and delicious local street food. You can smell the stinky tofu stall from a distance and be either attracted to it or repelled by it. I know it is an acquired taste, but believe me, it is delicious. Various versions of the iconic xiao lung bao (XLB) are available from different vendors. I particularly like the ones that are steamed and then pan-fried.

Besides food, there are also many very unique shops selling locally made souvenirs. I recommend you check out the one selling mini replicas of the sky lantern with blessings written on them. It is located right next to the busiest section of the railroad track so you can’t miss it.

On a typical day, Shifen Old Street is vibrant and lively but nowhere near as crowded and chaotic as it was on the day of the festival. On a day that is quieter and more peaceful, you might get to experience its quaint environment and the rich cultures and traditions that it beholds. To fully appreciate the rustic characters of Shifen Old Street, I’ll need to come back on another trip.


Prior to attending the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, I was quite certain that it would be fun, but no way could I have imagined how magical the moment of the release would be. This will go down in my books as one of the most memorable events that I have ever participated in. The entire experience was enriching and enlightening, especially after seeing that many of the wishes sent to the distant sky were for World peace, end of war, end of diseases, and many other selfless causes. Every wish and prayer that was sent to the heavens high above was ignited by the fires of love – love for our significant others, love for family and friends, and love for humanity.

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