The Pingxi Branch Line is an 8-mile stretch of narrow-gauge railroad that runs alongside the Keelung River from Sandiaoling to the tiny mountain town of Jingtong. Completed in 1921 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the Pingxi Rail Line was originally built to transport coal as Pingxi was the heart of coal mining country at that point in history.
Taking a ride on the Pingxi Line is like taking a step back in time and is one of the most popular day trips from Taiwan. In the rugged but verdant Pingxi valley, you’ll find awesome hikes, cascading waterfalls, floating sky lanterns, and even a cat-obsessed village. All aboard!
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Getting to the Pingxi Line via Public Transportation
To ride the Pingxi line you’ll first need to make your way to Ruifang station near Jiufen. This is fairly easy from Taipei as there are plenty of trains and tourist buses that travel this way. You can check train schedules on Taiwan Railway’s website or Google Maps.
Exploring all the stops along the Pingxi branch line is one of the best day trips from Taipei, though you’ll feel a lot less rushed if you spend a night in one of the small towns out here. Shifen and Pingxi offer the most in terms of accommodations and restaurants open in the evening.
Getting to Pingxi via Taxi or Uber
Another option is to take a taxi or Uber from Taipei to Jingtong which is about 15-20 miles (30 minutes – 1 hour) depending on where is Taipei you’re coming from.
This is much more expensive than using public transportation; it will cost you ~$700-800 NT to reach Jingtong from Taipei. If you’re short on time, however, it may be worth it as you will be able to ride the train north from Jingtong, covering all of the stops on the Pingxi Branch Line, and ending in Ruifang in the evening.
This will save you an hour or so in the morning traveling on the train to Ruifang and also means you won’t need to backtrack on the Pingxi Line.
How Much Does a Train Ticket on the Pingxi Line Cost?
A 1-day ticket on the Pingxi Train line costs $80NT. You can purchase these at the rail stations in Ruifang, Houtong, Sandialong, Shifen, Pingxi, and Jingtong. It will cover all the stops on the Pingxi Branch Line.
The cost for a single one-way ticket on the Pingxi Line is between $15NT – $30NT depending on what stations you’re traveling between. Even if you’re only making a couple stops it will probably wind up being a better deal to just purchase the Pingxi Line day pass.
Train Schedule for the Pingxi Line
Train schedule for the Pingxi Line as of August 2019:
Trains run roughly once an hour on the Pingxi Line. The train schedule is posted at each station and we found Google Maps to have accurate and up-to-date information. You can also check the current train schedule on Taiwan Railway’s website.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Pingxi is best known for its annual sky lantern festival which takes place over Lunar New Year (in 2020 the Pingxi Lantern Festival will be held around February 8).
During this time, thousands of people travel to Pingxi to launch paper lanterns inscribed with their hopes for the coming year into the night sky. Pingxi is actually the only part of Taiwan where sky lanterns are allowed and launching a sky lantern has become a top bucket list activity for both Taiwanese and international tourists visiting Taiwan.
These days you’ll have the opportunity to launch sky lanterns year-round with the most popular places to do it being the towns of Shifen and Pingxi. Vendors in both towns will sell you a sky lantern which will include:
- A sky lantern
- Paint and brush for writing your wishes and prayers on the lantern
- A stand to hold the lantern while you are painting it
- Someone to assist you in lighting and launching lanterns and also to take photos of you when you release it
Sky Lanterns cost between $150 NT – $600 NT depending on how many colors the lanterns has.
Stops on the Pingxi Line
Ruifang is the first station on the Pingxi Branch Line and this is where you’ll change trains if you’re coming from Taipei. There isn’t too much to do in Ruifang from a tourism perspective so just buy your day ticket for the Pingxi Line and start heading south without delay.
Ruifang is also where you can catch buses to the old mining town of Jiufen. Some people combine Pingxi with a day trip to Jiufen but it makes for a very long day. We think it’s better to do them as 2 different day trips from Taipei or spend at least 1 night in either Pingxi or Jiufen.
Houtong (猴硐) is perhaps the strangest stop on the Pingxi Line. It has become somewhat famous in Taiwan as a “Cat Village“. Here you’ll find dozens of cats that are well-fed and cared for by the town’s residents. The cats are quite used to the daily attention they receive from tourists so you’ll be able to pet them with ease and take photos to your heart’s content.
There is also a row of cat cafes and coffee shops as well as a few stores full of cat-themed souvenirs. Houtong is the second most popular stop on the Pingxi Line, but we found it to be a bit underwhelming. That being said, if you’re a cat person you’ll probably find it to be just purrrfect!
Sandiaoling (三貂嶺): The Sandialong Waterfall Hike
Hop off at Sandiaoling (三貂嶺) station for one of the best day hikes in the vicinity of Taipei. The Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail takes you through a thick jungle of bamboo and giant ferns to 3 different waterfalls.
The first waterfall you’ll encounter, Hegu Waterfall (合谷瀑布), is an impressive 130-foot drop but can only be seen in the distance from a viewing platform. You’ll reach this spot about halfway (3/4 of a mile) through the hike.
After Hegu Waterfall you’ll cross a couple of cool-looking suspension bridges and continue through the jungle for a half mile where you’ll find Motian Waterfall (摩天瀑布).
The final stop on the hike, Pipadong Waterfall (枇杷洞瀑布), is just another 1/4-mile up the trail. You’ll need to climb up a metal staircase and then some stairs that have been cut into the rock face but nothing too challenging.
The entire Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail is ~1.5 miles each way plus you’ll have a 1/2-mile walk from Sandiaoling Train Station to the trailhead. Allow yourself at least 3 hours if you want to visit all 3 waterfalls.
There is very little reason to get off the train at Dahua (大華) station. There are a few poorly marked and overgrown trails leading out into the surrounding mountains but you’ll find better hiking destinations elsewhere in Pingxi.
The town of Shifen (十分) is by far the most popular stop on the Pingxi Branch Line due to the nearby Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布). It’s actually quite common just to go from Taipei to Shifen Waterfall as a day trip.
Known as the “Little Niagara of Taiwan”, Shifen Waterfall has been called the most scenic waterfall in Taiwan. It’s certainly much smaller than the real Niagra Falls but it is a lovely waterfall to visit. And if the sun is just right you’ll be able to see a rainbow form in the spray in front of the waterfall. Plus it is just a 30-minute walk from the train station.
Along the way to the waterfall, you’ll cross a couple of high suspension bridges over the Keelung River before coming to a set of observation decks both above and below the waterfall.
Shifen is also an incredibly popular town for launching sky lanterns and the preferred place to launch them is right in the middle of the train tracks. It’s also quite a madhouse with tourists painting sky lanterns and taking selfies on the train tracks.
People-watching is probably the most fun thing to do in Shifen, especially when a train passes through forcing everyone to scramble off the tracks to make way for the train.
Wanggu (望古) is a quick stop along the Pingxi Branch Line. There is a short, easy walk to Wanggu Waterfall (望古瀑布). When you get off the train just follow the street south alongside the train tracks. The signs will direct you up and over a giant overpass that crosses above the train tracks. Ignore the signs and continue following the tracks underneath the overpass.
A few hundred feet further along you’ll come to a dodgy-looking white and teal house on the opposite side of the tracks. Cross over the tracks and follow the well-signed path just to the left of the house. From here it’s less than 10 minutes to the waterfall.
The whole excursion to Wanggu Waterfall and back shouldn’t take you more than 30-45 minutes, and there isn’t much else in Wanggu. Trains on the Pingxi Line run about once an hour so make sure you check the train times closely unless you want to sit around at Wanggu Station for an extra hour.
Another small station on the Pingxi Line, Lingjiao (嶺腳) is often overlooked by tourists traveling through the Pingxi Valley. Lingjiao Waterfall (嶺腳瀑布) is just a 5-minute walk from the train station and is a great place for a swim to cool off after hiking the Pingxi Crags (more on that hike below).
Lingjiao is the second-largest waterfall in the Pingxi District behind Shifen Waterfall. The pool at the base of the falls is quite deep and you can even swim behind the waterfall and sit on a rock ledge. Cliff jumping from the top of the 40-foot tall waterfall is also quite popular, but if you choose to participate make sure you’re a strong swimmer and have a local show you the correct spot to jump from!
Pingxi (平溪) is a popular stop on the Pingxi Line for strolling the old street and launching sky lanterns. It really comes alive during the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. The rest of the year you’ll find more people launching sky lanterns in Shifen, but there are still plenty of vendors selling them here as well.
The real highlight of Pingxi for us is the Pingxi Crags Hike (“Xiaozishan Trail” on Google Maps) which begins just a few hundred meters from the Pingxi Train Station and is one of the best day hikes near Taipei.
The Pingxi Crags Hike is short but quite rewarding as the top of the 3 peaks will give you expansive views over the valley below. Concrete stairs take you up from the valley to the base of the peaks and then the fun really begins. You’ll climb steep steps carved directly into the rock itself up out of the jungle and along the narrow ridgelines leading to each of the three mountain summits.
The first of the 3 peaks, Xiaozi Mountain (孝子山), is the shortest but most exciting as you’ll climb a succession of stairs and ladders until you reach the top of this small peak. There is only enough room at the top for maybe 5-10 people so enjoy the views quickly before heading back down and on to the other 2 peaks: Cimu Mountain (慈母山) and Putuo Mountain (普陀山). Both of these also involve climbing long sets of stairs carved into the narrow ridgelines but are not quite as exposed as Xiaozi.
After you have finished your hike head back to Pingxi’s old street and grab a Taiwanese sausage from the lady at 18 Pingxi Street (鐵道熱腸). She is somewhat of a local legend and her sausages are the best in town!
Jingtong (菁桐) is the last stop on the Pingxi line. It’s a small town lost in time with just a handful of shops and restaurants catering to the handful of tourists that make it this far south on the line. It’s actually quite pleasant to have a quick stroll around town and feel like you have been transported back in time 50 years or so.
There is a small coal-mining museum in town which you might find interesting if you can read Chinese and opposite the Jingtong train station you can see the old coal washing plant perched above the tracks.
Also, the Pingxi police station is designed to look like a giant sky lantern and is covered in LED lights. You can actually pay to have a message displayed on this digital sky lantern if you want the sky lantern experience without adding to the rubbish in the mountains of Pingxi.
But there are no specific sites that are a must-see in town. The real draw of Jingtong is just being able to wander through the quiet streets away from some of the tourist crowds you’ll encounter further north in towns like Shifen and Houtong.
If you happen to be here at lunch-time check out the small vegetarian restaurant, 菁桐崇德素食, at 85 Jingtong Street (just north of the train station).
Where to Stay Along the Pingxi Line
Most people choose to visit the Pingxi Rail line as a day trip from Taipei or they spend the night in nearby Jiufen. But, if you’re interested in hiking several of the trails around the area you’ll need at least 2 days to explore.
There are no hotels so your best bet is to book accommodation through Airbnb. The town of Pingxi has the most places for rent on Airbnb, but there are also a few available accommodations in Jingtong and Houtong.
If you have never used Airbnb before you can use this link to sign up and get $40 USD off your first booking!
Have you ridden on the Pingxi Line? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
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