Why you need to put the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival on your bucket list in 2018

Picture dozens of traditional Chinese lanterns, angels of flame and light, each bearing individual wishes skyward into the heavens. That’s Pingxi, a small town in Taiwan on most evenings of the year.

Now imagine the experience multiplied a hundredfold or more, with accompanying fanfare, people and celebrations.

That’s the Annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, celebrated at the end of Taiwan’s Lunar New Year’s Festival.

Esteemed travel giant Fodors has named it “One of fifteen festivals to attend before you die”.

Lonely Planet sings the festival’s praise on its website:

“Of all the ancient Chinese festivals, Pingxi’s Lantern Festival has best been re-imagined for the modern age, with spectacular light shows, live concerts and giant glowing mechanical lanterns.”

National Geographic, CNN, the Discovery Channel and many more have similarly ranked the festival highly on global must do festivals lists.

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But high praise comes at a price, specifically this: Actually taking part in the festival is increasingly difficult thanks to its growing popularity. Locals, groups and independent travelers alike who rock up to the festival site on March 2nd  will find themselves blocked (politely but firmly) by friendly employees of the local government charged with keeping the area from getting “ren shan ren hai (人山人海), or “people mountain people sea” (an ancient Chinese idiom meaning “crowded”) past reasonable numbers.

Though exact numbers have yet to be released, the general expectation is that festival participants are to be kept between 1600 and 3200 at any given time during the main festival day.

As for parking anywhere close to Pingxi during the festival, as we say in Chinese…zuo meng! (Dream on!)

How to sign up for Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival?

MyTaiwanTour, along with a handful of other local travel agencies, has applied for permits to bring guests directly on site for the 2018 festival. Over the past few years we’ve brought upwards of a thousand visitors specifically to the Pingxi Lantern Festival, and shortly after the first of the year we’ll be issued a limited number of permits for 2018’s festival. We’ll be bringing a limited number of guests to the site, arranging transportation, making sure that all are able to take part in the creation and release of ceremonial sky lanterns, as well as being a part of all connected festivities. We’ll be doing live broadcasts throughout the day (internet signal willing), so our guests will be able to share the experience with friends and family around the world.

Spots are definitely limited, so click here to find out more about taking part in this once-a-year festival.

The festival site is located 22km from Keelung, making it an ideal single-day stopover for cruise ship passengers disembarking in Keelung Harbor on March 2nd, 2018. For cruise ship passengers, we can also custom design a shore leave tour based on your shore leave schedule. Such customized tours might incorporate a culinary expedition to the famous Keelung Night Market or a trip into Taipei City before (or even after, depending on your schedule) the main Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival experience.

Why did people release sky lanterns into sky?

So now that you know how popular the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is (and how hard it is to get into), you may want to know how the festival came about.

Like many Chinese festivals, the origins of this one go way back to a time when history and legend sort of blend together. But one thing most historians agree on is that the lanterns themselves came about through utility rather than festivity during one of China’s more chaotic periods more than two thousand years ago when bands of outlaws would raid lowland villages, forcing residents to seek refuge in the mountains. Braver residents would stay behind, either fighting back or keeping a watchful eye from a discreet distance to ensure that the bandit’s visits were as brief as possible, and it would fall to these residents to inform the rest of the village that the danger had passed and that it was safe to return home.

Being long before the days of telephones and twitter, the villagers would use paper lanterns as a way to send the all clear signal to their loved ones and neighbors still hiding in the hills. Though no written accounts exist (to our knowledge), we’ll assume that the sight of these fire balloons rising skyward made the beleaguered villagers feel a great sense of relief, sort of a group SMS written in the sky, reading our village is safe, so come on home.

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Over the centuries, the danger part has given way to pure celebration, and Sky Lanterns have taken on a distinctly more celebratory nature, carrying wishes and dreams skyward as opposed to being a signal to the earthbound that the coast is finally clear. You’ll get to experience this and more at the 2018 Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival on March 2nd. (If you reserve your spot in time, that is.)