Tuesday, July 03, 2012

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Transportation in Taipei: Tips for travelers

7/03/2012 Taiwan Explorer
Taipei, a bustling metropolis of 6 million people, is a fascinating city, that attracts a lot of visitors from overseas every day. But those, who come for the first time, have a very important question to answer: How to get around the city? For me transportation in Taipei is very convenient and easy to use, because I live here. But even when I was just I visitor, I realized, that it's not really hard to get around. It's no problem, if you don't read Traditional Chinese or speak Mandarin, you'll survive with English. Most of the signage is bilingual and especially famous spots have a lot of information in English. You won't be able to get lost, if you have a map and a sense of orientation (an iPad or iPhone would not hurt, too). And the city is very safe, people are friendly and the food is one of the best in Asia! - So many reasons to come. Want more? Then read this.

Taipei's transportation is well organized, despite seeming chaotic at first. The MRT is one of the cleanest and most efficient in the world and a lot of new lines are constantly being built. Buses cover the whole city to the last bit and in addition, you have cabs everywhere. To connect with other parts of Taiwan, you have several railway stations and high-speed train stations. Two international airports connect the city with the rest of the world and both are well connected with central Taipei.

Let's have a closer look at what Taipei's transportation has to offer:

1. Taoyuan International Airport

Chinese name: 臺灣桃園國際機場
Pinyin: Táiwān Táoüén Gúojì Jīchǎng
Official name: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport
Abbreviation: TPE
Official Website: www.taoyuan-airport.com
Connections to Taipei: Detailed information
Taiwanese Airlines flying from here: China Airlines, EVA Air, TransAsia Airways, Uni Air

Taoyuan Airport is the biggest airport in Taiwan and also the one with most connections to Taipei City. It's located in the nearby Taoyuan County, about 40 km away from central Taipei. The price for a bus ticket (to and from the airport) is between 110-140 TWD (equals to 3-4 Eur) and there are buses from several companies leaving for the city every 15 minutes. A ride, depending on the traffic jam, can be from 50 min to over 1h long. Currently an MRT connection is being built, scheduled to be opened by mid 2013 and will cut the time in half. It will connect the airport with Taipei Main Station. The airport itself is being refurbished in recent years and works are still in progress, however some of its new wooden interior is very pleasant. It's a very small airport compared to some in the region (Hong Kong, Shanghai), but I like it a lot exactly because of that. Everything's easy to find, you don't need to wait too long to pass immigration, security check and baggage claim. Foodwise, there's not a lot on offer, so you better not stay too long there - just arrive 1h before boarding and you'll have enough time to process everything (at least that's how it is in my case). If you're coming to Taiwan, I recommend you to fly with EVA Airways (Taiwan's second largest carrier). They offer perfect service and great comfort. I mostly have to fly with China Airlines, though (which is Taiwan's largest carrier). Some of their flights to Europe are ok (Taipei-Frankfurt/Main), but some of them I would advice to avoid (Taipei-Bangkok-Amsterdam) unless you like to share one big TV screen with everybody.

How to take flight in Taoyuan Airport?
2. Songshan Airport

Chinese name: 臺北松山國際機場
Pinyin: Táiběi Sōngshān Jīchǎng
Official name: Taipei Songshan Airport
Abbreviation: TSA
Official Website: www.tsa.gov.tw
Taiwanese Airlines flying from here: TransAsia Airways, Far Eastern Air Transport, Uni Air

Songshan Airport is Taipei's "own" airport, located inside the city proper, in the Songshan District. It's a medium sized airport, very convenient for Taipei's residents, because the Songshan Airport MRT Station connects it with other parts of the city (you'll need only 16 mins from the Main Station with the MRT). Songshan airport caters to domestic destinations (such as to Hengchun, Kinmen, Makung, Matsu, Hualien, Kaohsiung and Taitung) or regional with lots of flights to China, Korea and Japan. I can only praise this airport, as I had a good experience so far. It's very well organized and neat, but feels very local (haven't seen many Europeans there). Therefore it would be very beneficial, if you speak Chinese or have a local friend with you, when you decide to fly from there. I flew to Taitung and wrote about my experience, read my post for more photos and information.

How to take flight in Songshan Airport?
3. Taipei Metro

Chinese name: 臺北大眾捷運系統 (short 臺北捷運)
Pinyin: Táiběi Dàzhòng Jiéǜn Xìtǒng (short Táipěi Jiéǜn)
Official name: Taipei Rapid Transit System
Abbreviation: MRT
Official Website: english.trtc.com.tw
Route map: Find connections between stations
Fare and travel time: Find the price and time of your ride

Taipei's Metro (or MRT) is the easiest and most convenient way to get by in Taipei. Surely, buses can bring you to more places, but they are not so foreigner friendly and they often get stuck in Taipei's notorious traffic jams. Same goes for cabs, which are in addition also more expensive. When you take the MRT, you know that you will reach a certain place at a certain time. The two core lines of the city are the Blue Line (connecting West with East Taipei) and Red Line (connecting North with South Taipei). Most of the famous spots are located close to some of the stations in these two lines, so MRT would be your best option to explore the city.

If you stay in Taipei for over a week, I advise you to buy the Easy Card (also known as "Youyou ka"), it costs 500 NTD (around 12 Eur), which includes a balance of 400 NTD and a deposit of 100 NTD. You can get the deposit back, if you return the card after 3 months or more (if under 3 months, you'll still get 80 NTD back, more info here). The easy card can also be used in most convenience stores, some shops and cafes around Taipei (check the list here). The alternative to the card would be a single fare token, which can be bought at a small vending machine at every station. You tap it on the scanner when you enter and throw it in a small slot when you exit. However, compared to the Easy Card, a fare paid with the token will be 20% more expensive. If you transfer from an MRT station to a bus, your bus fare will be 50% cheaper - that's because the government encourages people to use public transportation. You can top up the Easy Card in convenience stores or information booths at every MRT station - just ask the staff, they will do it for you. If you plan to go on extensive daily tours around the city, you can also buy the Taipei Pass, which cost 180 NTD per day and gives you unlimited rides around Greater Taipei on all buses and metro lines (read more here).

When you take the MRT in Taipei, try to follow a common etiquette, such as queueing for trains, standing on the right side on the escalator and let those in the hurry pass by on the left. Don't be noisy, because that's generally frowned upon. Taipei Metro trains are very clean and one of the reasons for that is that drinking, eating and chewing gum is prohibited. Strictly abide by these rules or someone will definitely remind you to stop eating, if you happen to do so. If you don't stop, you might get heavily fined. Blue seats are reserved for elders, sick, disabled and pregnant women - don't sit there unless you're one of the above. Generally it's not common to stand up and offer your seat to the ladies as a gentlemanly gesture. I've done so in the beginning of my life in Taipei, but some women did not want to sit down and ignored me or shyly declined - it was awkward. Last trains from depart at midnight (from their terminals), keep that in mind, if you go clubbing. I believe cabs will be your best option at night. See my images from Taipei Metro.

How to take train in Taipei Metro?
4. Regular train in Taipei

Chinese name: 臺灣鐵路管理局
Pinyin: Táiwān Tiělù Guǎnlǐjṹ
Official name: Taiwan Railway Administration
Abbreviation: TRA
Official Website: www.railway.gov.tw
Timetable: Find connections between stations

The Taiwan Railways is connecting Taipei City with the other parts of Taiwan. It's a very cheap and reliable means of transportation between Taipei and some of the nearby towns and cities (Yingge, Taoyuan, Sanxia, Keelung, Ilan). You can use the Easy Card for train rides between Zhongli City and Ruifang. Tickets can be purchased at every station from a counter or from vending machines, that are a little bit retro, but not that hard to use. Just make sure you have a lot of coins. If you don't use the Easy Card, you'll get a paper ticket, which you'll have to insert into a small slot when passing through the entrance gate. The ticket will get stamped and returned to you. When exiting at your destination, you'll repeat the procedure, but the ticket will be kept. Remember to keep your ticket with you at all times, don't throw it away. Usually there are no ticket checks inside the trains, but they might happen occasionally. Unlike in the Taipei MRT, you are allowed to eat and drink on the regular train. If you plan to go a bit further and visit other parts of Taiwan, take a faster train, the one, that doesn't stop at every small station, but be sure to reserve the seat. These trains can get very crowded, you'll see a lot of people standing in the middle of the wagon. Why? Because they bought a ticket without seat reservation (you really wouldn't want to be among them). Communter trains can get very crowded, too - try to avoid them, if you go further than Taoyuan City or Xizhi.

How to take train in Taipei?
5. High-speed train in Taipei

Chinese name: 臺灣高速鐵路 (short 臺灣高鐵)
Pinyin: Táiwān Gāosù Tiělù (short Táiwān Gāotiě)
Official name: Taiwan High-Speed Rail
Abbreviation: THSR
Official Website: www.thsrc.com.tw
Timetable reference: Full time-table with all stations for August 2012
Ride durations: Taipei - Banciao: 8min; Taipei - Taoyuan: 21min; Taipei - Hsinchu: 33min; Taipei - Taichung: 52min; Taipei - Chiayi: 1h 26min; Taipei - Tainan: 1h 45min; Taipei - Kaohsiung: 1h 36 min

Taiwan's high-speed train is not only the fastest train on the island, it's also an attraction on its own. It's a modern bullet train, that's able to reach speeds of up to 300km/h. If you want to visit some of the bigger cities in the Western part of the island such as Hsinchu, Taichung (gateway to Sun Moon Lake), Chiayi (gateway to Alishan), Tainan or Kaohsiung (gateway to Kenting), the high-speed train is your best option. It costs more, but you massively save on time. The fastest train connecting Taipei with Kaohsiung only needs 1h 36min, which is amazing. Check your time table and fare here. For your reference, in July 2012 a ticket from Taipei to Taichung cost 700 NTD (around 20 Eur) and Taipei to Kaohsiung cost 1490 NTD (around 40 Eur). If you come to Taiwan, I really advise you to take this train once, because it's a real adventure. In addition, the service is excellent, the staff very professional and usually speaks English well. There are two types of trains: The faster has fewer stops (Taipei/Banciao - Taichung - Zuoying/Kaohsiung) and is less frequent, the not as fast one stops at avery station between Taipei and Zuoying and is more frequent. Eating in the high-speed train is allowed.

How to take high-speed train in Taipei?
6. Buses in Taipei

Chinese name: 臺北市公共運輸處
Pinyin: Táiběishì Gōnggòng Ǜnshūchù
Official name: Taipei City Public Transportation Office
Official Website: www.pto.taipei.gov.tw
Websites local bus: www.e-bus.taipei.gov.tw, www.taipeibus.taipei.gov.tw
Website regional bus: www.taipeibus.com.tw
Timetable: Find connections between stations in Taipei

Taipei has a lot of buses, a whole lot. There's almost no part of the city, that would not have good bus connections with the rest of the city. In addition, Taipei is connected with regional buses, that leave for destinations all over Taiwan. The good thing is: You can use the Easy Card for rides in the Greater Taipei area, for outside that zone you have to go to the Main Bus Station and purchase tickets. Most rides inside the city center cost 15 NTD (and you tap your Easy Card once), if connecting central Taipei with a suburb, it will most likely cost 30 NTD (and you have to tap your card twice, when getting on and off the bus). You have to pay attention to this sign in Chinese "上下車收費", if you see "上車收費", you pay when boarding, if you see "下車收費" you pay when alighting (上-up, 下-down). If you're waiting at the bus stop, don't expect that every bus will stop for you - you have to indicate, that you want to take it by raising your hand. The hardest part will be reading the route map, which is found at every stop - it's often only in Chinese. But most buses have the final destination written on an LED display at the front - it's usually in Chinese and English. Nevertheless, I think it's good, if you know exactly which bus you need to take (remember the number) and how many stations it needs to reach there. Buses are actually often much more closer to some hidden gems than MRT stations. Once you know how to take them, they are very convenient for exploring the city.

How to take bus in Taipei?
6. Taxis in Taipei

Chinese name: 計程車 (slang "小黃" or "little yellow")
Pinyin: jìchéng chē (slang "xiǎo huáng")

Taipei's yellow Taxis are called "xiao huang" and are virtually seen all over the city, even in some of the most remote parts. Compared to other means of transportation, they're the most expensive option. A ride starts at 70 NTD (something less of a 2 Eur) and based on my experience, a ride between the city center and a suburb (such as Banciao, Zhonghe or Shilin) will usually cost you between 200-300 NTD (between 5-8 Eur) and the ride can sometimes be quite long, because of the oh so common traffic jams in the city. The fare at night is more expensive, but taxis are your only option for a ride home after 1 am. Taipei's cabbies usually don't speak English (guess what, some are not even very fluent in Mandarin, for most of them Taiwanese is the first language), so you better ask the hotel staff or a local friend to write the address in Chinese on a piece of paper, which you can show it to the cabby. The drivers are usually quiet and focused, but if you're from Europe, you might think that their driving way is crazy (I've only seen crazier drivers in Bucharest). Buckling up at the back seat is since 2012 enforced by law. If you don't buckle up, the taxi driver is obliged to warn you, but if the car gets stopped by the police, you will be fined.

How to take cab in Taipei?
7. Scooters in Taipei

Chinese name: 機車
Pinyin: jī chē

Exploring Taipei on a scooter would be one of the options, but I would not really recommend it to someone, who is visiting for the first time. The traffic has its own unwritten rules and based on what I saw, scooters are one of the most dangerous ways to get by in the city, especially in the suburbs. And you need to have an international driver's license to be able to drive a scooter for up to 30 days. Some foreigners find ways to drive without license, but it's very risky in Taipei, because controls are common and the laws are strict. Don't spoil your vacation with such stupidity - rather take trains or buses instead. More about riding scooters in Taipei and Taiwan on this forum.

Please always double check my information, because it can change. I don't have the time nor the means to constantly update my posts, blogging is just my hobby | Ningnuo Pinyin Table | Romanization in Taiwan

Transportation in Taipei
I hope my post will be useful to those, who come to visit Taipei for the first time. I will update this post with more information in the future. If you have any questions about transportation in Taipei, use the comment section below.

[My TAIPEI TRAVEL page][All photos by MKL, 2012]