Day Trips From Taipei - The Pingxi Rail Line, The Cat Village and Shifen

train-passing-through-Shifen

The Pingxi rail line is a railway line was built in the early 20th century to service coal mines in the mountains as well as the towns that grew to support the mines. Today it is a tourist attraction containing preserved sites from the mining era as well as some spectacular scenery. It is easily accessible from Taipei making for a great day trip.

Take A Pingxi Day Trip

A trip to the end of the Pingxi railway line takes you past a few notable places. Houtong, a cat village. Pingxi and Shifen, two old mining towns whose well preserved buildings and many artifacts from the mining era have made them a tourist attraction. They are also notable because the train line runs right through the main street. There is also Shifen waterfall plus an abundance of mountainous tree-covered scenery.

This page will describe the more interesting stops (in our opinion), we will provide a step by step guide to getting from Taipei to Houtong, Pingxi and Shifen plus some assorted tips to ensure a fun experience.

The very comfortable train interior

The very comfortable train interior

Things To Do On The Pingxi Train Line

There are several Pingxi line stations where you might you want to disembark from the train.

A platform at Ruifang train station

A platform at Ruifang train station

Ruifang

You will actually have to disembark here to get your day pass for the Pingxi train line and to change trains.

Ruifang is a quiet mountain town. If you have time before your Pingxi line train departs, go for wander around. Especially if you are staying in Taipei the peaceful streets of Ruifang are a pleasant change. Apparently the town is home to some Chinese and Japanese style tea houses but we did not have time to track one down.

A smiling happy cat at the cat village

A happy cat at the cat village

Houtong (The Cat Village)

Houtong is a quiet mountain village, similar to many of the neighbouring villages. It is however distinguished by the huge population of cats that call the village home.

If you stop at Houtong there will be cats. It is a pleasant enough stop if you are in no rush. There is not a great to do except have a wander around, pet a few cats, take some photos then head back to the train station.

The view from Houtong Cat Village

The view from Houtong Cat Village

As with this whole area the scenery is rather lovely. Houtong sits on the slopes of the mountain so there are panoramic views of the valley below.

The main Shifen street with the rail line down the middle

The main Shifen street with the rail line down the middle

Shifen

Inline with Shifen's old worldy charm there are a variety of traditional foods available along Shifen Old Street. Honestly, our poor knowledge of the region's traditional food let us down here. We frequently had no idea what was on offer and when we got food it was not always entirely clear what we were eating. It was all very tasty even if we were not sure what it was. This peanut soup came with some good advice.

Some spoons with good advice written on them

Put on your clothes, go to school. Good advice

Sky lanterns are strongly associated with Shifen. Although there is a sky lantern festival around Chinese new year, sky lanterns are available for sale all year round as far as we could tell. A sky lantern is a paper contraption that you write wishes on before releasing it into the sky.

There is a coal mine museum 20 minutes walk from Shifen station. We did not have time to visit so we will not try to tell you about it. We prefer to only describe things we have experienced personally.

Tanya and Andrew at the Shifen waterfall

Tanya and Andrew at the Shifen waterfall

The Shifen Waterfall

Perhaps fifteen minutes walk from Shifen train station is Shifen waterfall. The whole area gets a lot of rain plus there is spray from the waterfall itself so some sort of terribly attractive poncho is advisable.

Walking to Shifen waterfall

Walking to Shifen waterfall

The walk to Shifen waterfall is very pleasant. It takes you past a variety of old buildings plus the river upstream of the waterfall.

Getting To The Pingxi Rail Line

Step 1) Get to Ruifang

From Taipei Main Station take a northbound train NOT going to Keelung. You will be getting off at Ruifang so to make absolutely sure, double check that the train you intend to catch stops at Ruifang. The trip to Ruifang takes about 40 minutes.

Trains heading north out of Taipei fork and either continue heading north to Keelung or turn east to Ruifang and beyond. As far as I know no train going to Keelung goes through Ruifang. Hopefully that simplifies your train search.

Ruifung fare adjustment, get your Pingxi day pass here

Ruifung fare adjustment, get your Pingxi day pass here

At Ruifang there is a place in the station where you can buy a Pingxi one day pass. A one day ticket for the Pingxi line for an adult is NT$52 ($1.60 US). There is a discount fare which is $NT28 ($0.85 US). There is a big sign laying out the prices and also the Pingxi train line timetable. The signs are written in both English and Chinese.

When you buy your day pass they will also be able to supply you with pamphlets, a map of the line and a paper copy of the train timetable. Trains leave Ruifang roughly once an hour between 5am or so and 10:55pm.

A copy of the Pingxi rail line timetable we picked up along the way

A copy of the Pingxi rail line timetable we picked up along the way

Step 2) Get to Houtong

Houtong, the cat village. Houtong is actually the very next stop from Ruifang. I believe that both Pingxi and regular trains stop there. If you are reading this to go to Houtong specifically and do not plan on carrying on to Shifen and Pingxi you can most likely just stay on your train out of Taipei but double check this.

Step 3) Get to Shifen and Pingxi

Next up is the Pingxi line proper. All of the stops are along a rail line that trains regularly run back and forth along. They will all stop at Pingxi, Shifen and the various other stops on the line. Jingtong is final station for the Pingxi rail line with trains simply waiting then going back the way they came.

One of the signs at Pingxi train station

One of the signs at Pingxi train station

Do not worry about getting off at the wrong station on the Pingxi train line. The stops are all clearly signed and it is pretty hard to get lost. Worst case you do a bit of spontaneous exploring while waiting for the next train.

Tips For Your Pingxi Day Trip

An electronic sign on the train platform at Ruifang

An electronic sign on the train platform at Ruifang

Looks for electronic boards in the stations and on the train platforms. There are TVs dotted around that provide a schedule of up coming trains. Electronic boards like the one above tell you what train is leaving next from each platform. In Taipei you can expect both English and Chinese but you will encounter progressively less English as you move out into the countryside.

If, like us, you cannot read Chinese double check everything just to be sure. Do not be shy about getting out a timetable, your phone or whatever else so you can compare symbols side by side to make sure you are about to get on the correct train.

When in doubt, ask someone friendly looking for help. Mostly we never even had to ask as people would offer to help us as soon as we started looking puzzled.

If you have a choice try to avoiding visiting on a weekend. Being so lovely and so close to Taipei it can get busy. Unless you absolutely have no other option I would avoid heading to the Pingxi train line on any sort of national holiday.

This area of Taiwan gets a lot of rainfall so bringing along an umbrella or some sort of raincoat is probably a good idea. Better safe than sorry.

sweet potato for sale on the Pingxi railway line

Get yourself a sweet potato on the Pingxi railway line

If you see a vendor selling sweet potato, get one. You might think "why would I want a potato?" but we got a purple one and it was really delicious. Salty, charred, warm deliciousness. Perfect for a drizzly day.

Bonus tip...

Jiufen Shifen Day Trip

We did not get there but if you want to include Juifen in your Pingxi day trip you will need to backtrack to Ruifang. Jiufen appears to be a similar old worldy mountain village. It became famous after being used as inspiration for the Japanese animated film Spirited Away.

Once in Ruifang walk approximately one minute south from Ruifang train station and catch bus 788. The bus trip should be just under 20 minutes.

Us thoroughly enjoying a wonderful day trip to Pingxi and Shifen from Taipei

Us thoroughly enjoying a wonderful day trip to Pingxi and Shifen from Taipei

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