Last month I had the privilege of being invited to Taiwan by the Taiwan Ministry of Tourism to enjoy the island nation’s annual Lantern Festival. What an amazing treat.
The Lantern Festival is traditionally celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month and we spent a full day at the incredible Sun Moon Lake (coming in the next post) before arriving in the city of Taichung where the official opening ceremony was taking place.
I purposefully didn’t do any research because I wanted to go with the flow and enjoy the experience. I have to admit I expected things to be a bit crazy because of all the tourists, but like everything else I had experienced in the previous couple of days in Taiwan, the festival was very well organised. There were signs in multiple languages, clean toilets and plenty of volunteers, security personnel and police around.
The atmosphere was electric and a serious sensory overload (in a good way). It was a festival filled with fireworks, flying lanterns, barbeques and, well, a sheep petting area.
Our small group went to find out where we were seated before going off to explore and we were more than happy to discover we’d been given VIP seating. We understood the handbag check and the metal detector before we were allowed to take our seats, but the Secretive Service seemed a bit over the top for us out-of-towners. Then we discovered we were seated in the same area as President Ma Ying-Jeou and Premier Mao Chi-Kuo. I love a good hook up!
When we ‘checked-in’ we were greeted by a line up of gorgeous women and we each received a beautiful gift on our seat. Then we had about 40 minutes to take a look about so I headed straight for the ‘street food’ section. The Taiwanese are apparently bigger foodies than Singaporeans. Who knew? There was a huge assortment of sweet and savoury stands run by locals and other than the odd wave of ‘stinky tofu’ everything looked and smelled delicious. (Yes, they actually call it ‘stinky tofu’ and it’s an extremely popular, delicious snack with a horrible and unforgettable stench).
The ceremony started exactly on time and I have to say I love the punctuality in Taiwan. This year’s festival featured a giant goat lantern that stood a record 23.4 meters high. We were treated to a variety of performances before the speeches from the President and the Mayor with opening greetings in Mandarin, Taiwanese, English, Japanese and Korean. Once the speeches were done the sky was lit up for the next twenty minutes. I was struggling to balance between watching it in real life and through the lens to capture the magic. (You can see a video on our instagram feed). It was so impressive and made me feel like a kid all over again.
We finished the evening by taking a look at all the lanterns that were submitted in the public competition. There were so many different shapes, sizes and characters it was hard to believe most of them were lanterns.
It was one night of fun but I had an incredible time and I definitely think the Lantern Festival should be on your travel list. You don’t have to take my word for it though. If the pictures haven’t convinced you yet, then know that the Discovery Channel has rated the festival one of the top tourist festivals in the world. I can understand why, it is far more magical than anything I can display here and I really look forward to experiencing it again soon.
A very special thank you to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for inviting The Travel Manor to enjoy this incredible experience.