Things to do in Taipei, Taiwan: Visiting the coal mining villages of Pingxi

If you are bored of Taipei city, take the train to Pingxi. In 40 minutes, it will take you back 40 years.

Pingxi (pronounced 'ping shee') was built about a hundred years ago. The coal mining industry attracted young people from all over Taiwan to dig black money from deep under the earth. The railway came: winding and climbing into the mountains. And so the remote town developed, deep inside the Keelung river valley. 

The town continued growing during the Japanese colonial era, which began in 1900. Japan exploited every source of energy to fuel its expansion as conflict loomed. At the end of the Second World War, the Chinese Nationalists arrived from China and took control of Taiwan. 

During all those years, most of the men in the town worked in the mines. Digging in the twisting tunnels making black money, breathing and spitting coal dust, their lives usually ending with black lungs.

People have called the coal mining towns "The City of Sadness" (悲情城市), because the mines, in earthquake-prone Taiwan, were dangerous. Coal miners never knew if they would come into the light again. Their children never knew if they would have dinner with their father again. The young boys had to leave school to go underground and support their families, even though they were often not yet strong enough. 

Forty years ago, this city of sadness, Pingxi, slipped into a deep sleep. The mines were exhausted and there was no more black money to dig out of the ground. The train that had pumped life into the town now drained it away. Young people fled into the cities to find work. Only the old coal miners were left behind in the ruined town full of mining waste, wheezing for fresh air with their blackened lungs. Pingxi, gnawed by mines and money, blackened by coal dust, needed a long rest.

 

 

 

Reawakening

Today, gradually, the sleeping town has begun waking up again. People from the hectic city like to rest themselves in this slow and peaceful valley. As the old train rocks gently up into the hills and through the old coal mine towns, it carries a new cargo: not coal or miners or job seekers, but tourists. The travellers are moving into the past, accompanied by the astonishing Keelung river valley scenery. 

The train arrives in the Japanese style wooden train station, which was build in 1920's. If you are arriving from the city, be prepared! There are no 7-11s, no Starbucks around the town center. So be prepared for a local experience. 

The travellers enjoy shopping in the old grocery stores, eating old Taiwan-style noodle soups, drinking a cup of home made lemon jelly and eating grilled sausage is a delicious treat. If you buy your own food, there are plenty of places to sit down outside. A simple stir-fry restaurant would be the fanciest place in most of these towns. 

If you take a walk up into the hills, there are many Japanese colonial era houses. Those are well looked after, as they have become an attraction for visitors. They are now reopened as tea shops, guest houses, restaurants and so on. 

 

Sky lanterns are very popular with people who want to make wishes for the future. They write their hopes and dreams on a paper lantern, and let it fly into sky, lifted by flame. Apart from the wishful lanterns in the sky, well dressed couples have their wedding photos taken by the railway in a symbolic romantic start to their marriage. 

The best thing to do in Pingxi is walking in the small towns or river valleys or hiking paths, simply enjoying nature, and the quietness of the mountains. That's if you don't want to write your wishes on a sky lantern or have wedding photos taken by the railway...

 










When to go

Pingxi is very popular and gets crowded at weekends and public holidays, so visit on a weekday if possible. The towns are at an altitude of about 200 meters, so they will be 2 or 3 degrees cooler than the city. The nearby city of Jilung (Keelung) is one of the rainiest in the world, so if there's any sign it might rain, bring an umbrella.


Where to stay

There are only a few guest houses around Pingxi, with prices from about NT$2500 up. Most of the owners can't speak English. If you're staying in Taipei, it's very easy to go by


train from Taipei Main Station or Song Shan
station to the area. If you would like to travel to Pingxi by bus, which is also a beautiful scenic trip, try the Holiday Inn in Shenkeng. Public bus 1076 to Pingxi stops outside of the hotel. It is not expensive and takes only 40 minutes to get to Pingxi. Here's the Holiday Inn website: http://www.holidayinntpe.com.tw/

 

How to get there

By bus

Take Taipei MRT and get off at Muzha Station. Then take Taipei Bus 795 Muzha-Pingxi line.

But 795 route, only in Chinese
http://www.tpebus.com.tw/image/5163.pdf

By train

The train is especially convenient if you want to see several of the old coal mining towns on the Pingxi line, because you can buy one ticket that allows you to use the Pingxi line all day, and you can easily visit 3 or 4 different towns. Trains run every 30-45 minutes until early evening.

From Taipei Main Station or Song Shan Station, take the Eastern Line (trains heading for Yilan, Hualian, and Taidong) and get off at Ruifang or Houtong Station. This costs NT$70-80 for adults, and takes about 40 min. Buy tickets at the station – you should not board the train without a ticket.

Next take the Pingxi line train. The Pingxi line ticket gives you unlimited use of trains on the Pingxi line on the day of issue. It costs NT$52. You can buy a Pingxi line ticket at any station. In fact, there's actually a special ticket window selling this ticket on the platform at Ruifang (If you're buying the ticket there, and visiting Ruifang, buy the ticket as soon as you arrive at Ruifang, to save time)

 

Train stations on the Pingxi (Ruifang to Jingtong) line:

Ruifang - Houtong - Sandiaoling - Dahua - Shihfen - Wanggu - Lingjiao - Pingxi - Jingtong

 

Walking and cycling

There is good road access in the area. It's possible to walk between most of the stations on the Pingxi line, as they are only about 1-2 miles (2-4 km) apart. The area is about 15 km from Taipei in a straight line, but closer to 25 km if you use the road via ShenKeng and Shihding (Route 106). This road rises in altitude from 20 meters to about 250 meters. There's also road access from Taipei via Hsichih (Sijih) and Ruifang, but we don't have any information about this route at the moment. It may be possible to take bicycles on the train.


 

Information

Pingxi website: http://www.pingshi.com.tw/EN/locationinfo.aspx

 

 

Photos by Joyce Tay


 


 


 


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