Pingxi is an area this blog has discussed before with a overview of the Shifen waterfall. On a recent trip back there it was discovered the waterfall is no longer a pay-to-see attraction and now has new viewing platforms. You can see the whole article about that here. Pingxi is also a township located farther down the rail line, and river, from Keelung than Shifen, and is worth a stop on a day that includes Houtong, Shifen, Pingxi, and Jingtong. It's a one day trip through mining towns and market streets where you're surrounded by nature at every turn.
View from the 106.
The big reason to come out this far is it's incredibly picturesque. The little village is nestled in the mountains, sits above several tributaries as they form the Keelung river, and is surrounded by great hikes which lead to numerous waterfalls. Take the initiative to get away from the old street, since each town has one which is nearly identical, and enjoy the area around it. If you're not inclined to nature you should be able to enjoy Pingxi in the half hour or so it'll take the train to come back for the next leg of your trip.
Heading down from the train station.
Compared to my first visit seven years ago, things had (obviously) changed. There were a lot less closed stalls, less mom and pop shops and a lot more of that ubiquitous night market / old street feel. I really enjoyed the fact that these small little communities are getting some life again, but I felt frustrated at once again having to choose between the same four night market snacks, all with huge lines. There were also tourists and weekends everywhere, which was a huge change of pace from the deserted hamlet I remembered. After an exhaustive search for a meal, I discovered that the street just below the train tracks offered some good eating. Standard noodle and rice fare with double-sized portions compared to what you'd get back in Taipei.
At the temple above the village.
Weekenders beware: Pingxi's sky lantern business is booming at about the same clip as the one in Shifen. That means being approached twenty times a minute by card waving sales people if you linger around the train station. You should definitely do the lanterns in one of these towns, with real prices hovering around 150NT for smart shoppers. If you hate being bothered while you're out, visit on a weekday to get more of the old time feeling where you enjoy arriving at your destination.
The train station, with visitors.
Lanterns take flight from near the train station.
Shifen is the more popular place for doing lanterns at Chinese New Year, but Pingxi isn't a bad second choice. If you're able to arrange transportation see both Pingxi and Shifen at sunset and at night as everyone's wishes take to the skies.
Here's an insiders tip for driving to the entire Pingxi area: Get gas before you come. There aren't any gas stations along the 106 or in any of the towns. Shiding, Ruifang, and Xizhi are the closest places to fuel up.
I found that part out the hard way. Before motorcycling up to Shifen to see the now-free falls I noticed my gas was a bit low. After asking at the noodle shop about nearby stations I got directed back to Jingtong where an auntie kept a stash of emergency fuel for those who needed to top up to get into Shiding. Her prices weren't bad, and if you're in a pinch, she's located inside the old street in a shop that sells candy. Don't get lazy and abuse this though, because she'll only help you if you're actually running too low on fuel.
To get here you can take the Pingxi line train from Ruifang and buses come here from Taipei's Muzha station or the train station in Keelung. You can drive from Taipei along the 106 which starts near the zoo, or you can use highway 5 then get off and follow signs for Pingxi. From Keelung you can pass through Ruifang or use the alternate route 2.
There are 7-11s and the usual convenience stores, but other services - including food - are limited. If you hike here be aware the trail may end at the railroad line in the middle of nowhere and your only way back is to return the way you came or follow the tracks. It's technically illegal to walk on the tracks and there are a lot of dark, narrow tunnels. If the train comes while you're inside you're likely going to be hit. Enjoy the amazing hiking Pingxi offers, but use common sense about getting home safely.