The Taiwan lantern festival is an annual celebration that occurs in Taiwan to mark a very special time in Taiwanese culture. While living in Taiwan, we have not been able to experience the joy of the lantern festival due to timing; I was pregnant in Ecuador for the 2016 lantern festival, just a few months before we moved back to Taiwan. It was only until earlier this year that we were able to attend the Taiwan lantern festival and what an experience it was!
Personally I love lights and lanterns. In my early 20s, I use to love riding around in a car with friends to check out the Christmas lights each year in Sydney. I loved when we attended the 10,000 lantern release in Chiang Mai, and even loved it so much that we released over 50 lanterns at our destination wedding in Thailand. We’ve also been to one of the smaller lantern festival exhibits in Kaohsiung Taiwan back in 2013.
I think there’s something beautiful and whimsical about lights and lanterns glistering in the night. I love the meaning behind it too. For many cultures, it’s a symbol of hope, a practice to send bad spirits away and bring good luck to your loved ones. It also brings so much joy and of course warm fuzzy feelings to little kids as well as big kids like me. I think I will always love and continue to share with my husband and now my daughter for years to come lights and lanterns.
So when the opportunity came that we could attend the Taiwan lantern festival, I was so happy that we could finally witness it in all it’s glory for the first time.
What is the Taiwan Lantern Festival?
Each year on the 15th of the first lunar month, the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in Taiwan hosts the lantern festival, which comprises of different events and activities that celebrate the Chinese new year. From the Pingxi Sky Lanterns in Taipei City (north of Taiwan) to the Yanshui Beehive fireworks festival in the Tainan (south of Taiwan), the lantern festival is the celebration that many people from around the world come to enjoy. It is definitely the most renowned festive period in Taiwan. The dates do move a little each year but are set according to the lunar moon and the Chinese new year.
I have to say that it is a big deal over here, with many smaller events taking place to include local communities, clubs and volunteer groups throughout the 1 month period of celebrations. There’s even long weekends and public holidays to allow families to enjoy the celebration beyond the weekends.
An interesting fact about the lantern festival is that it is held in different locations annually. Having the lantern festival in a different location each year allows many families to visit new places and cities that they would often not visit. This allows involvement from all different parts of Taiwan, to be able to celebrate what each city or area of Taiwan has to offer and to encourage tourism in parts of Taiwan that may not get as much love. For us, it was definitely an opportunity to visit Yunlin even just for a day!
The main lantern festival event for 2017 was held in Yunlin, more specifically it was located from The High Speed Rail (THSR) Yunlin Station Area to Agricultural Expo Ecological Park, Beigang Lantern District at Zhongzheng road all the way to Beigang Tourist Bridge.
Getting to the Lantern Festival
As the lantern festival is organized by the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, you can understand that getting to the lantern festival every year has always been made very accessible and easy for locals and travelers alike.
The Lantern Festival is always held in a different part of Taiwan each year and generally located nearby a High Speed Rail station. This year it was located at the Yunlin High Speed Rail station. Since we lived in Tainan, we took a free shuttle service to the High Speed Rail station, catching a train to Yunlin. This takes roughly about 30 minutes depending on traffic.
In other cities, there are no free shuttle services to connect you to the nearest the High Speed Rail station. So you would make your way to THSR Yunlin station from your nearest High Speed Rail station via bus, train, taxi, MRT or your own mode of transport, either car or motorbike. One thing I wanted to mention is that transport here in Taiwan is incredibly reasonable. Most prices are $1USD or under for a one-way ticket via public transport. Taxis are also very affordable in comparison to the United States, Europe and Australia.
The Lantern Festival
It was our first time to go to the main lantern festival in Taiwan. In previous years when we use to live in Taiwan back in 2013, we went to one of the smaller events held in Kaohsiung, a nearby city from where we lived. This is where we got our first taste of the lantern festival. We also went to the Yanshui Beehive fireworks festival in the same year.
With a 4 month old baby, we decided to only go to the main lantern festival event held in Yunlin this year. It didn’t seem appealing to take a newborn baby to a festival where there would be massive amounts of loud noises, huge crowds and smoke from the fireworks. Plus, since Zoe sleeps from 7PM, it was already a big leap to attend the main event at night.
Although it is recommended to come to the Taiwan lantern festival at night, it is a completely free event which is opened throughout the day as well. The night markets and games will not be opened, but the lanterns will definitely be there. We planned ahead of time and aimed to get to the lantern festival at about 6pm. The sun normally goes down at about 5:30PM. We knew that it would be crowded and wanted to make the most of the time at night. We also wanted to take advantage of the night markets and have our dinner there too.
The Lantern festival can be broken down into three parts; food, rides and games and of course, the lanterns.
1. The Food
If you’ve ever experienced the infamous night markets of Taiwan, you’ll arrive at the Yunlin High Speed Rail station exiting to a walkway directing you straight to a small night market. This is not the main event but like in many other events and activities in Taiwan, it’s not complete without some food and snacks! There’s all the typical foods that Taiwan is known for.
We particularly love the friend mushrooms, french fries, fried squid, taro shake and little sweets filled with cream and sweet goodness. Of course there are heaps of vendors selling fruit shakes, tea and even burgers, Taiwanese pancakes and a big bowl of noodle soup.
For those who are not vegetarian, you can find chicken popcorn, skewers of meat, sausages and more. Prices are fair and the food is always delicious and freshly made. There are a few tables and chairs around as well, but you typically eat on the go. Many of the foods are easy to eat while walking around.
2. The Rides and Games
There were some pretty cool and innovative rides at the Taiwan lantern festival. A lot of the rides there I’ve never seen before, but they looked so cool! There was the futuristic version of bumper cars pimped with LED lights and also a one person transformer ride where you literally stand in a transformer and walk around.
There were also games there too, a lot that you might see at a carnival mixed with a few quirky games, like a fishing game where people actually sit on a stool and scoop little fishes to win prizes. We didn’t end up going on any of the rides as Zoe was fast asleep by the time we were at the games. Plus, we didn’t have enough time as we wanted to check out the lanterns.
3. The Lanterns
Now for the main event! There are so many lanterns. Too many to count, too many to see. We made our way from the entry all around, as much as we could fit into the few hours we had there. There were a lot of people despite being the second last day of the lantern festival. We were glad that we brought the pram instead of the baby carry. Even though there was crowds, Zoe was able to sleep through some parts of the night, allowing us the time to really take in and appreciate the lanterns.
I was really impressed with the quality of the lanterns. So much work had been done for this free event. I had never seen so many lanterns in one area and such huge lanterns too. Being the year of the rooster, there were many lanterns handmade which focused on this theme. But a lot of cute animals and characters. It definitely had a family theme running through the festival, which was nice.
The lanterns also explored Taiwanese culture, showcasing the importance of temples and Buddhism. There was even a large portion of the festival that had only spiritual and Buddhist related lanterns. I think this is wonderful for those curious about the culture but also for young Taiwanese children who are still learning about their spirituality and religion. These were huge and beautifully made. You could even pray in the temple lantern display too.
Another theme that ran throughout the lantern festival was multiculturalism, a celebration of the many individuals who live and work in Taiwan from other parts of Asia. This included the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
Taiwan is also heavily influenced by Korean and Japanese culture. The lanterns at the festival also expressed this through the vast array of anime characters. There was a section of lanterns that are made from children and students who entered into a lantern festival competition. These were adorable and creative.
Overall I was definitely impressed with the Taiwan lantern festival and feel that it went beyond my expectations. There were way more lanterns than expected and the sheer size of these lanterns was something I had never seen before anywhere in the world!
By the time we left, we felt so tired and over stimulated by what we had experienced. Zoe was knocked out by the end of the night. Overall the experience was unlike any other. I would highly recommend coming if you are interested in light shows or just want to experience a unique celebration in Taiwan.
It is very over stimulating to say the least and you need to come early to give yourself enough time to go through the festival. We left the festival at about 10pm and we were all tired and ready to go home by the end of it. I would be interested in going every year and feel that it’s a great night out for travelers and for families alike.
If you are interested, we do have a vlog up on our YouTube channel of the Taiwan lantern festival. You can check it out here or head over to our channel at AlbieandFufu. Please comment below any questions. Have you been to the Taiwan lantern festival? If so, what was your favorite part of the event?