If you’re logical, you might not make the trek to the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. Depending upon where you live, this is a long way to go for just a few hours of visual splendor in the sky. The fact is that the highlight lasts no more than about 3 hours from dusk till mid-evening (6:30 - 9:30 PM). But, the experience is not about logic. It's an amateur photographer’s dream and a great example of the "collective effervescence" that drives my world travels.
So, I recommend coming up on a cheap, one-hour shuttle from Taipei in the mid-afternoon to get a feel for the town and have the time to buy a Lantern so you can write your dreams and aspirations without being pushed around by the crowds. Expect a slow pace given the crowds - but this allows you to visit the various vendors...a fun food experience.
If you want to try and get the best spot to observe the mass unleashing of sky lanterns all at the same time, then head over to the Main Stage early (before 6) and plan on standing there for the next couple of hours as the sky lights up above you.
There you'll find big screens, television cameras, celebrities, musicians, and enormous crowd control. And, every 20 minutes, the massive launching of usually one big lantern and hundreds of smaller lanterns all at the same time...Wow!
It takes your breath away when the dark sky all of a sudden becomes crimson filled with people’s wishes skyrocketing to the heavens. And the setting - mountains on all sides - is idyllic.