Every 15th day of the first lunar month, thousands of people from Taiwan and around the world come together with a grand destination in mind– the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival, a dazzling dreamland adorned with thousands of colorful illuminated displays, transforming over 50 acres of Chiayi County Hall into an explosion of lights and colors.
Every year the Taiwan International Lantern Festival rotates among different hosting cities within Taiwan. The 29th being held Chiayi County, South of Taiwan – this year’s being the largest festival of its kind in Taiwan.
Be amazed by larger-than-life lantern displays as it opens free to the public from February 16 to March 11, 2018.
Here’s a first timer’s guide to Taiwan’s Lantern Festival…
HOW TO GET HERE:
From the Taipei Central Station ride the High-Speed Rail all the way to Chiayi Station. There will be free shuttle buses (Bus A) that will directly go to the main lantern area.
It took us one hour and thirty minutes to get to Chiayi. Best to buy the reserved seating tickets especially on a long journey such as this. (Regular tickets: NTS 1080)
Enter the large reception gate called the “Tree of Life” that convey’s richness and prosperity interpreted by the lights and shadows.
The lighting of the main lantern marks the open of the official ceremony. The dynamic display depicts an indigenous child with a Taiwanese dog, portraying the theme of Loyalty.
The child looks like it’s waving and sending good wishes with a smile.
The displays vary from modern technological marvels to traditional customs with auspicious themes.
Did you know there are more than 20,000 light bulbs and 2000 circuits used to light up more than 6000 individual lanterns?
This is not your typical red Chinese Lantern, the displays are quite colorful and can take just about any size, shape, and form you can imagine.
What makes this year different from the previous spring festivals in the past is the modernization of this lanterns integrated with technology using eco-friendly materials.
Besides hiring local craftsmen in creating these innovative marvels, the student, local citizens, and even inmates help in producing the lanterns you’ll see on site.
(c) Taiwan Tourism Bureau
Modern latern installations using eco-friendly materials.
Aside from marveling at the dazzling displays continuos folk-culture activities, live entertainment, and art installations entertain the guest, giving them the opportunity to explore more of Taiwan’s modern and indigenous culture.
Among the performers are the Kahayag Dance Company, a community-based dance group from the Philippines. Showcasing different Pinoy dances from pandanggo sa ilaw, maglalatik, and even festival street numbers to name a few was impressively compressed into one single act.
The Tsou tribe, one of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous people, were dressed in their traditional clothing and performed with an elegant voice and powerful dance number.
It’s street food paradise! One of my favorite part of the trip is sampling different Taiwanese street food that I’ve been craving to try.
I dare you to get the stinky tofu! A Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. This dish is either a hit or miss!
Taiwan is a place rich in food culture with different places featuring different cuisine. Chiayi is famous for its chicken rice, ice cream popsicles, seafood, grilled meat and street food.
Tip: International visitors can get a free 2018 Year of the Dog DIY paper lantern from the main booths as long as they present their passports and flight tickets.
In addition to visiting the lantern festival, we took the opportunity to explore more of Chiayi county from visiting the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum, catching the sunrise and the sea of clouds in Alishan, visited villages of the Tsou indigenous tribe on the mountain and drank tons of Alishan’s famous tea.
YuYuPas (Tsou Tribe Cultural Park)
Alishan is a popular scenic attraction in Taiwan, but it is also home to the Tsou tribe. They are one of sixteen indigenous aborigines whose culture and beautiful home in the mountains are well-preserved.
YuYuPas means “very rich”, the park covers an area of two hectares and is surrounded by vast tea gardens planted with oolong tea. The Tsou tribe are distinct in their rituals, clothing, architecture as well as exquisite leather art, rattan weaving and wood sculpture.
My favorite feature was the performances of customary rituals, dancing, and singing, that’s eye-opening to the beauty of Alishan and Tsou Tribe culture.
Don’t forget to sample Alishan’s High Mountain Tea. The cold climate, swirling mists and humidity help create a tea that is sweet in taste, fragrant in aroma and impressive in quality.
The higher the tea is planted, the better the quality.
Tip: Alishan’s tea can be soaked up to 8 times while regular tea can be used 2-3 times only.
Long Yun Leisure Farm
We stayed at Long Yun Leisure Farm. After dinner we were treated with different activities where we participated from late night hiking, learning about herbs and preparing glutinous rice dessert.
It was fun trying the traditional way of pounding the glutinous rice and making it into muaci. It was a group effort, and everybody enjoyed it.
Alishan National Scenic Area
Alishan National Scenic Area is one of the country’s most visited parks. Recognized around the world for its picturesque sea of clouds, sunset glow, views of plains, high-mountain tea, and famous railway filled with endless rows of Yoshino cherry trees.
Walk into a magical forest full of hundred-year-old Japanese cedar trees. The paved trails are easy to navigate, full of signs so you won’t ever get lost.
They also have maps all along the trails telling you where you are currently. The routes are deep within the forest and open up to some great views along the way. The climate in Alishan is a bit chilly, make sure to bring a jacket and wear comfortable shoes!
You’ll find Taiwan’s highest elevation temple and elementary school in Alishan.
After the long hike, make sure to treat yourself with their famous fig jelly dessert.
The jelly is made from the gel from the seeds of a variety of fig. It is so refreshing that it’s popularly sold at the night markets because it makes a great drink to balance the savory street food.
Cherry Blossoms at Alishan (Late Feb to Early March)
(c) Ayo Rin Mangoroban
We often think of Japan and Korea at the mention of cherry blossoms. But being occupied by the Japanese during 1895 and 1945, there were a lot of seeding of Sakura done in Taiwan.
Alishan is probably the best place in Taiwan to see cherry blossoms. Without Sakura, Alishan is already amazing with its beautiful scenic high mountains and lush greenery.
Luckily we were able to see cherry blossoms where it just began to bloom on late February till early March.
What I Love About The Lantern Festival
– It was very well organized.
– The continuous performances and activities.
– I love the mix of traditional and modern designs that’ll cater to different ages.
– You can visit other nearby tourist attractions.
– Street food galore!
– Portable potties and trash bins are conveniently found all over the area.
– A new experience to get to know more of Taiwanese culture.
P.S. The lanterns during the festival in Chiayi are not the kind you release into the sky (It depends on the host city). I suggest you go to the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in Taipei Taiwan for the sky lantern releasing.
Live an Awesome Life,
ABI of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: We were media guest of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.