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Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan

Taiwan Getting around

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By plane

Taiwan's main domestic carriers are Mandarin Airlines, a China Airlines subsidiary; UNI Air, controlled by EVA; and TransAsia Airways. Flights are frequent, and it is usually unnecessary to book flights in advance. Taipei and Kaohsiung have regular services and links to the outlying islands and the east coast cities of Taitung and Hualien. However, flying between west coast cities is no longer common - the popularity of the high-speed train has drastically cut flights on these once popular sectors. There are now just a few Taipei-Kaohsiung flights each day.

If you want to visit Taiwan's smaller islands, plane is still the best option, and is the only practical option of travelling to Penghu, Kinmen or Matsu. Fares are not too expensive. The domestic airport in Taipei is Songshan Airport; it's easily reached by taxi or MRT. Domestic destinations include Kaohsiung,Taitung, Hualien, Magong (in Penghu County), Kinmen, Hengchun, Nangan and Beigan (these last two are in Mazu). Travelers heading to Kenting can avail themselves of the direct and frequent bus service from Kaohsiung Airport to the resort.

By train

Taiwan's train system is excellent, with stops in all major cities. Most train stations are located in city centers and serve as convenient hubs for other forms of transportation. In addition, the train system allows you to bypass the highways, which can become crowded on weekends and national holidays.

Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR, 高鐵) runs bullet trains based on Japanese Shinkansen technology, covering the 345km (215 mile) from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 minutes. Other stops on the route are Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi and Tainan. Note that some services don't stop at every city, and that many stations have been built a fair distance from the cities they serve. A taxi from downtown Tainan to the HSR station costs up to NT$400, but there's a free shuttle bus (takes 40 minutes) and a commuter rail link (22 minutes, NT$25 one way).

A one-way ticket from Taipei to Kaohsiung costs NT$1,490 in economy or NT$2,440 in business class. Economy seats have plush seats and ample legroom, so there's little reason to pay extra. All signage and announcements are in English, making navigation a snap. Bookings are accepted online and via phone up to two weeks in advance at +886266268000 (English spoken), with payment required only when you pick up the tickets. Credit cards are accepted.

Bookings can be easily made by Internet, and you can pay online or pay and pick up your tickets at almost every Family Mart and 7-Seven.

Conventional trains are run by the separate Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA, 台鐵) whose services are efficient and reliable if not terribly fast. Reserving tickets well in advance is recommended when traveling on weekends, especially for long distance travel. Slower but frequent commuter trains without reserved seating are also available. Train timetables and online booking (up to two weeks in advance) are available on the TRA website; however, the online services only work between 8am and 9pm. There is a small charge, NT$7, for online bookings, and the website isn't especially user friendly.

Note that booking online only establishes a reservation as there is no Internet payment option. You must pay for the tickets you reserved at your local train station or post office to actually receive it. Children less than 115cm tall go free; those below 145cm or under 12 years of age get half-price tickets. If you get return tickets there is a small discount depending upon travel distance. There are also ticket vending machines in many stations, but these don't give seat reservations.

Round-island tourist rail passes are also available. These allow the holder to embark and disembark a set number of times for a fixed price are also available at most larger train stations. A foreign passport may be required for purchase.

TRA Services

TRA's fastest trains are Tzu-Chiang (自強, zi-qiang) expresses which serve major cities only. EMUs (區間車, qudianche) are frequent local trains that stop at every station. There is little to choose in terms of price and speed for adjacent train classes, but the gap can be quite large between Tzu-Chiang and EMU services.

Seat reservations are available on Tzu-Chiang, Chu-Kuang (莒光, ju-guang) and Fu-Hsing (復興, fu-xing) expresses; these often sell out on weekends and national holidays, so it pays to get your tickets a few days in advance. Taipei to Kaohsiung on a Tzu-Chiang train takes almost five hours and costs NT$843 one-way.

If no seats are available, you can still buy a ticket for the train (at the same price) and hunt for a space once aboard. On EMUs (sometimes called LTs on timetables) there's no assigned seating, and in peak hours you may not be able to sit down. If you miss your train, you can use your tickets on a later service at no extra cost (provided it's the same class of train) but you won't have assigned seats.

Do try to get your destination station written down in Chinese as town spellings sometimes vary and announcements in English are a rarity.

By bus

Intercity buses are called ke-yun (客運) as opposed to gong-che (公車) which run within cities. Buses run by private companies are generally more luxurious (wide, soft seats, foot-rests and individual video screens) than those run by government-owned companies. Nonetheless, government buses are comfortable, punctual, safe and clean - as well as cheaper and quicker than TRA trains over long distances, such as Taipei to Tainan. Mid-week fares are usually discounted; Tainan to Taipei one-way is currently around NT$400 on weekends, but just NT$240 between Monday afternoon and Thursday evening.

In major cities, bus transportation is extensive. Route maps are almost entirely in Chinese, though the destinations indicated on the front of buses are in English. If you're staying at a hotel, have the clerk suggest some routes for you, and circle your destination on the map. Show this to the bus driver, and he/she will hopefully remember to tell you when to get off. In smaller cities, there is often no local bus service, though the out-of-town buses will sometimes make stops in the suburbs. There are taxi ranks at all airports and bus terminals.

Occasionally a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb at a bus stop. Sometimes it is due to a vehicle illegally parked at a bus stop. However, a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb just because he or she does not want to wait for overtaking traffic while leaving a bus stop. Therefore, be much more careful when getting on or off a bus stopped away from a curb, as many motorcycles, motor scooters, and bicycles will definitely be tempted to overtake on the right side of the stopped bus where people get on and off! (As traffic drives on the right side of the road in Taiwan, buses have doors on the right side.)

In Taiwan you need to hail the bus you want as you see it coming, much like hailing a taxi. Both end points of the route are listed on the front of the bus in Chinese and sometimes English, so it is important to make sure the bus you get on is going the right direction. In Taipei, you sometimes pay getting on the bus and sometimes getting off (whether with cash or the ubiquitous EasyCard). As you get into the bus there will be an illuminated sign opposite you telling you if you should pay when you get up or when you get down.

By metro

Taipei has an excellent, fairly comprehensive subway system called the MRT that makes traveling around the city a snap. Kaohsiung's metro, the KMRT, opened in 2008 and consists of two lines. Prepaid travel cards such as the EasyCard in Taipei for bus and MRT travel are available at metro stations. EasyCards are read via proximity sensors so you do not need to take the card out of your wallet or purse. The MRT is very clean; no eating, drinking, or smoking is permitted inside stations or on trains. There is also a special waiting area monitored by security camera for those concerned about security late at night.

By taxi

Taxis are a dime a dozen in major Taiwanese cities. You don't need to look for a taxi - they'll be looking for you. The standard yellow cabs scour roads looking for potential riders such as lost foreigners. It's possible but generally unnecessary to phone for a taxi. To hail one, simply place your hand in front of you parallel to the ground. But they'll often stop for you even if you're just waiting to cross the street or for a bus. In less heavily trafficked areas further out from the transit hubs, taxis are always available by calling taxi dispatch centers.

Drivers generally cannot converse in English or read Westernized addresses (except for special Taoyuan Airport taxis). Have the hotel desk or a local friend write out your destination in Chinese, and also take a business card from the hotel. Whenever possible, show the driver your destination's Chinese address.

Taxis are visibly metered, and cab drivers are strictly forbidden from taking tips. A maximum of four people can ride in one cab, and for the price of one. Relative to American taxicabs, Taiwanese cabs are inexpensive.

Although taxi drivers in Taiwan tend to be more honest than in many other countries, not all are trustworthy. An indirect trip might cost you half again as much. A cab driver using night-time rates during the daytime will cost you 30% more (make sure he presses the large button on the left on his meter before 11pm). Avoid the especially overzealous drivers who congregate at the exits of train stations. Also, stand your ground and insist on paying meter price only if any driving on mountain roads is involved - some drivers like to tack on surcharges or use night-time rates if driving to places like Wenshan or Wulai. Such attempts to cheat are against the law.

From Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, buses are a much more economical option but if you want a direct route taxis are a better option. They're quite comfortable and get you to your destination as quick as possible. Sometimes, if there are traffic jams and no police around, the driver will use the emergency lane. Taxis from the airport to destinations in Taoyuan, Taipei and some other destinations are allowed to add an additional 50% to the meter fare.

The badge and taxi driver identification are displayed inside and the license number marked on the outside. You must also be wary that the driver turns on his meter, otherwise he might rip you off - in such a case, you aren't obliged to pay; but make sure you can find a police officer to settle the matter.

If you do call a taxi dispatch center, you will be given a taxi number to identify the vehicle when it arrives. Generally, dispatch is extremely rapid and efficient, as the taxis are constantly monitoring dispatch calls from the headquarters using radio while they are on the move. This is also the safest way to take a taxi, especially for females.

Taxis are also a flexible although relatively expensive way to travel to nearby cities. They have the advantage over the electric trains in that they run very late at night. Drivers are required to provide a receipt if asked, though you might find them unwilling to do so.

Taxis, as elsewhere in Asia, are not keen on exchanging large bills. Try to keep some smaller denomination bills on hand to avoid the hassle of fighting with the driver for change.

Taxi drivers are known for their strong political opinions as many spend all day listening to Taiwanese talk radio. Be careful about your opinions on sensitive political subjects (including, but not necessarily limited to cross-strait relations). In addition, if you see what looks like blood spewing from the driver's mouth, or him spitting blood onto the street - not to fret, it's merely him chewing betel nut. Keep in mind, however, that betel nuts are a stimulant.

Taxi drivers are generally friendly towards foreigners, and a few of them take the opportunity to try their limited English skills. They are most likely to ask you about yourself, and are a patient audience to your attempts at speaking Mandarin. If you are traveling with small children, don't be surprised if they are given candy when you disembark.

Women are sometimes warned not to take taxis alone at night. This is not an extreme risk, although there have been incidents where women have been attacked. To be more safe, women can have the hotel or restaurant phone a cab for them (ensuring a licensed driver), have a companion write down the license number of the driver (clearly displayed on the dashboard), or keep a cell phone handy. Do not get in if the driver doesn't have a license with picture clearly displayed in the cab.

By scooter or motorcycle

Scooters with an engine size of 50cc or greater require a license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner's name. Foreign nationals with stay less than 30 days don't have a easy way to get a scooter license. Many of the scooters within cities are only 50cc and incapable of going faster than 80 km/h (50 mph). The more powerful versions known as zhongxing (heavy format) scooters are now quite common and can be rented for short-term use, or found for sale. They are not allowed on freeways even if they are capable of going faster than 100km/h (62 mph).

If you're just learning to drive a scooter on the streets of Taiwan, it would be a good idea to practice a bit on a back road or alley until you have a feel for the scooter - attempting to do so in the busier cities could easily be fatal. Certainly, things can get pretty hairy on Taiwanese roads and Taipei in particular has narrower more congested roads than many other cities. However if you know what you're doing, it's the perfect way to get around in a city.

It should be possible to rent a scooter by the day, week or month, depending on the city in which you're staying. Most rental outlets insist on a local ROC license; some accept international licenses. The average price you may expect to pay is NT$400 for 24 hours; this includes helmets but only a small amount of fuel.

In Taiwan, the law stipulates that all road-users drive on the right. In reality, many motorcycles and bicycles break this law.

By car

An international driving license is required for driving in Taiwan and may be used for up to 30 days, after which you'll need to apply for a local permit. Some municipalities may impose additional restrictions, so check ahead with the rental shop. VIP Rentals in Taipei is quite happy to rent cars to foreigners, and will even deliver the car to a given destination. A deposit is often required, and the last day of rental is not pro-rated, but calculated on a per-hour basis at a separate (higher) rate.

The numbered highway system is very good in Taiwan. Most traffic signs are in international symbols, but many signs show names of places and streets in Chinese only. Nevertheless, almost all official directional signs will be written in both Chinese and English. However, the non-standardized Romanization means that English names can vary between road signs, causing confusion. The highways are in excellent shape with toll stations around every 30km (19 mi). Currently a car driver pays NT$40 when passing each toll station on a highway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores, allowing faster passage and eliminating the need to count out exact change while driving.

While driving may be the best way to get around the countryside, in larger cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung, traffic jams are a problem as well as the difficulty of finding a good parking space, especially during the rush hour and traffic tends to get chaotic so you might be better off relying on public transport instead.

By thumb

While Taiwanese themselves don't generally hitchhike, foreigners who have done so say that it was very easy. However, in rural areas people may not recognize the thumb in the air symbol, and you may have to try other ways - flagging down a car might work on a country lane with little or no public transportation, but doing so on a major road might lead to confusion, with the driver assuming that you are in trouble. A sign, especially one in Chinese, would therefore be of great help. The east coast around Hualien and Taitung enjoys a reputation for being especially good for getting rides. Taiwanese people are very friendly and helpful, so striking up a conversation with someone at a transport cafe or freeway service station may well see you on your way. However, to avoid possible confusion later, ensure that the driver realizes that you want a free ride.

By bicycle

While known for being a major player in the bicycle industry (through companies such as Giant and Meridia), until fairly recently, bicycles in Taiwan were considered an unwanted reminder of less prosperous times. Thankfully, this has changed in recent years. Bicycling is again on the rise, both as a tool for commuting and recreation, and support infrastructure is slowly being put into place. Several bike paths have been built, and recreational cycling has become quite popular amongst locals, especially on weekends. However, you should also be aware that local drivers have a well deserved reputation for recklessness. As such, you should exercise extreme caution when cycling outside of designated bicycle lanes and trails.

In recent years, the government has been promoting bicycling as a method of clean recreation. Several designated bicycle paths have been built throughout Taiwan (especially along riverside parks). Additionally, long distance rides, including through the Central Mountain Range, and along the coastline around the main island have become popular For long distance trips, bicycles can be shipped as standard freight on TRA trains. Non-folding bicycles may also be transported aboard the Taipei and Kaohsiung rapid transit systems if loaded at specific stations, during off peak hours (usually 10am-4pm on weekdays, check with your local station personnel to confirm).

Giant Bicycles Corporation operates a large network of bicycle retail stores that offer rentals for as little as NT$100 per day, if requested one week in advance Public shared bicycles are also available for rent at automated kiosks in Taipei's Hsinyi District, and in Kaohsiung. Rental fees in Taipei may be paid using EasyCards, but require a deposit paid via credit card.

Many rural police stations provide basic support services for cyclists, such as air pumps and drinking water, as do some 7-Eleven stores.

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