Lantern Festival concludes the Lunar New Year festivities on the 15th Day. There is no more exciting and impressionable place to experience the Lantern festival, than in Yanshuei, in Tainan County, Taiwan. Tourists from all around Taiwan, and even other countries, converge on this township 27 kilometers north of Tainan City on Highway 19 to experience the display of fireworks like no place else on Earth.
Experience is the keyword here, as we’re not talking about displays of light in the sky. We’re talking about an experience that requires the visitor to cover themselves from head to toe, every square inch of their body, in order to immerse themselves in a breathtaking, and dangerous, ritual hundreds of years old.
The Yanshuei Fireworks Festival hosts thousands of visitors a year, and often results in property damage and injuries. So it was on the top of my list of things to experience while in Taiwan.
I arrived at Yansheui before dusk to get a feel for the town and to find the site before it got the crowds arrived. It was a pleasant place beside a large river. All seemed peaceful, but the residents knew what chaos was about to ensue for the next two days.
I found my way to the Guan Yu Temple, the site where the fireworks parades began. They would eventually fan out throughout the town, filling just about every street with fireworks blasting in all directions, to the delight of the dancing tourists and to the chagrin of the local residents, who ran for cover to hide from stray rockets. This would go on for two days.
On the way to the temple, I passed a procession of Taoist deities on the street. Occasionally they would pause for firecrackers to be placed on the street, and the procession would continue through the firecrackers beneath their feet.
As darkness settled in, the crowds started to pour in. They also began to put on coats, helmets, just about anything they could wear to cover their skin. Some people brought shields, playfully decorated as targets. I could tell, people came to experience being dangerously close to the firecrackers and rockets screaming towards them.
Once it was dark, mobs of people gathered on the large temple courtyard and started following the processions as they fanned out onto the streets in different directions. I followed one procession about a hundred yards, and all of a sudden, people started to scatter all around me.I couldn’t see why, until a large red fireworks cart was pulled into the middle of the street in between two deity carts. The locals scattered, hiding where they could.
The tourists, brave in their full body protection, ran right up to the cart. I was just behind a dozen tourists, about 20 yards from the cart. I covered myself well, and pulled out my camera to capture what I could from close range. Everyone started to jump up and down, including the handlers of the Taoist deity carts. The fireworks cart was lit, and the explosions began. Bottle rockets screamed and shot in all directions. The front row of tourists took most of the direct hits. Still, many of the bottle rockets hit my two jackets and helmet and exploded near me. I took as many photos as I could until we were enveloped by thick smoke. Then I started to run down the street, and even after getting 200 yards away, I saw people getting hit with rockets.
As I got out of range, my heart raced. It was only 7:00 pm and this was just a warm up. The whole town was going to explode with fireworks at 8:30 pm. Everywhere I looked, during the warmups, there were fireworks lighting up the sky and crackling on the streets. When I got far enough away from the town center, it was peaceful again. I could see fireworks lighting up the sky all around me, too far away for me to feel on my skin. Sky lanterns were also filling the air. The police and fire department had their hand full on this night, and the local residents would have to sacrifice their sleep for two days. The tourists spent plenty of money at the local shops and vendors, so it was well worth the sacrifice.
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