Houtong (猴硐) and Shifen (十分)

November 28, 2020

I finished the semester a few days ago, and the new semester starts next week.  It’s a good time to go travelling.  

Jun-Pei mentioned the Pingxi railway line:

“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.”  

In comparison, the distance from my room at International House to Shifen Old Street is iess than 40km, closer than Northbridge to Blacktown.  

I traveled only in local trains, see above.  We were in a tunnel under Taipei at the time.

First stop: Houtong (猴硐), home of the “Cat Village”.  

A dramatic location on the Keelung River amid mountains.  

All morning it had been raining non-stop, but I estimate the temperature was in the low 20’s Celsius, so I didn’t wear a jacket.

There is an excellent Foreigners in Taiwan blog post at https://www.foreignersintaiwan.com/blog-370963385326684/houtong-cat-village.

Houtong was apparently a coal-mining village, with 6,000 people and the best coal plant in Taiwan, before the coal was exhausted in the 1990’s.  You can visit the old coal processing plant and even go inside one of the tunnels.  But that’s not what most visitors have come to see.  

A cat in Houtong train station.

This cat had the right idea in the rain.

A lady offered to take a photo of me in the rain.

The sign above reads (in English) “Do not tease the cat”.

I saw what appears to be a shrine to the cats, although I’m not sure about this.

Then I caught a train to Shifen (十分) on the Pingxi Line.  

After I returned home, researching this email,  I found a YouTube clip “Pingxi Line (平溪線) Train Front Cabin View”.  This is a driver’s view of the entire line from Jingtong to Ruifang:


Shifen is strung out along the railway line – literally.  This is Shifen Old Street, tourist-focused shops bisected by the train line.

The Foreigners in Taiwan site has (again) an interesting read on Shifen.

A close-up view.  It was still raining.

Shifen hosts the Coal Mine Museum, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see it.

There were a few signs around indicating you could launch a “sky lantern”, a hot-air balloon, for a fee (around NTD500, or AUD25).  The couple above were just about to launch theirs.  The sky lantern had characters written on it:

“sky lanterns are released as a way to make wishes, as I’m sure we all have hopes and dreams that we’d love to have come true!  The hustle and bustle of tourists centre along the streets on either side of the train tracks that run through Shifen, that are lined with sky lantern stores on either side. Pick any one and they will set you up with a lantern that you can write your dreams on. Each side of the lantern has a different colour, and they say you are supposed to write wishes for different facets of your life on specific colours (for instance, yellow is for financial fortune), but really, write what you want, where you want!  Once you’ve transferred your wishes onto the lantern, you can bring it to the tracks to set it free! I hope your wishes and dreams come true!”  https://www.dottedlinetravels.com/blog/sky-lanterns-shifen-taiwan

The sky lantern is released, the fire illuminating their balloon.

There is an annual Sky Lantern Festival at Pingxi not far from here: 

Shifen Waterfall is close to Shifen but it’s a little too far to walk with my walking-stick.  You can read about Shifen Waterfall in a blog.

You can see it after Shifen on the Pingxi line (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0KcB11-bxgH); look for the suspended bridge.

That’s all for now.

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