Taipei’s EasyCard (悠遊卡 Yōuyóukǎ) and Kaohsiung’s iPass (一卡通) are the main public transportation smart and electronic payment cards, and replace the need to buy separate tickets for most national, regional and city buses, metro (MRT), as well as train services (TRA) all over Taiwan, and they can be used at retail establishments that display the respective sign, like convenient stores (7eleven, Family Mart), parking lots and some restaurants and shops. Though originally accepted only in their respective cities, the two cards can now be used interchangeably at most (but not all) locations.
Besides saving you the hassle of having proper change ready for your ticket, it mostly always gives discount on the chosen journeys. For instance, the price for any train (TRA) is calculated based on the price of a local train and a 10% discount. Thus, you can even take the faster trains with it (but not THSR) like the Tzu-Chiang limited express. The only disadvantage is that you will not have a reserved seat, which however is not an issue except on Saturday morning/noon and Sunday afternoon. The EasyCard also provides discounts on Taipei’s public transportation network, and likewise with the iPass on Kaohsiung’s network.
The EasyCard can be bought at the airport, in any of stations of Taipei MRT and most convenient stores. As of Dec 2019 the price was NT$500, consisting of a non-refundable deposit of NT$100 and NT$400 in electronic cash. If you want to add money onto the card, you can do so in MRT stations (including Kaohsiung MRT), TRA stations, and the common convenient stores. The card can hold amounts up to NTand the common convenient stores. The card can hold amounts up to NT$5,000. Student IC cards with even deeper discounts are also available for purchase, but only upon request at a desk and a recognised student ID like ISIC.
Whether the card needs to be tapped only once or twice on city buses (on entry or on exit, see below) depends on which city you are in and sometimes how far you travel. Do not forget to tap twice (on entry and exit) where it is necessary, especially on regional and national buses outside of cities (and some unstaffed railway stations). Otherwise, your card will be blocked with “incomplete journey” (for all bus companies), and you will have to settle this issue with the responsible bus company. This can be a problem, because bus companies only serve certain regions. When leaving that region, e.g. by train, which is still possible with a (bus) locked card, no one will be willing to unlock your card, even though also other bus companies are able to do so. Be insistent and with the help of the tourist information centre tell them that you cannot go back to fix the problem, or that you tried and they did not solve the issue even though they told you so. Make sure that it is really unlocked (with a different bus company) and do not just trust them – it seems some cannot operate their machines properly. If you forget to tap the second time, you will only be charged a small initial fee instead of the whole journey, but unless you are at the end of your vacation to Taiwan or possess a second card, you should avoid situations where your card is blocked. That said, most bus drivers and railway staff will pay close attention to the tapping. So, it is hard to miss.
It costs NT$14 to get in and out of the same railway station within an hour, in case you instead decide to take the bus. At the end of your travel, do not put too much money onto your card, because it can only be given back and cashed-out at certain locations, like some THSR stations. In addition to the NT$100 purchase fee, there is a NT$20 fee for returning the card within 3 months.
Taiwan’s train system is excellent, with stops in all major cities. Train stations are often in the centers of most cities and towns and serve as a convenient hub for most types of transportation. In addition, the train system allows you to bypass the highways, which can become extremely crowded on weekends and national holidays. The main downside is the lack of cross-island routes between the East Coast and West Coast; for instance, there is no rail line from Taichung to Hualien, so you will have to either drive, fly, or take a major detour via Taipei or Kaohsiung.
The new train backbone is Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR, 高鐵 gāotiě) , a high speed train based on Japanese Shinkansen technology that covers the 345 km (214 mi) route on the West Coast from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 min. Other stops on the route are Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi and Tainan, but many THSR stations have been built a fair distance from the cities they serve (e.g. a taxi from downtown Tainan costs up to NT$400, but there’s a free shuttle bus). Taipei, Banciao, Taoyuan, and Kaohsiung (Zuoying) stations are connected with metro. Taichung station is built next to a railway staiton, convenient to transfer to the city center. Hsinchu and Tainan stations are connected to the city center with branch railway lines. Other stations can only be reached by bus. A one way ticket from Taipei to Kaohsiung costs NT高鐵 gāotiě),630 in economy or NTa high speed train based on Japanese Shinkansen technology that covers the 345 km (214 mi) route on the West Coast from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 min. Other stops on the route are Banqiao,140 in business class, but economy seats have plush seats and ample legroom, so there’s little reason to pay extra. All signage and announcements are in English as well, making navigation a snap. Bookings are accepted online and via phone up to two weeks in advance at +886-2-6626-8000 (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 FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. You can also avoid the queues for long distance tickets at major stations by buying your tickets from the automated ticket machines. The English prompts on the automated machines are hard to spot but they are present,usually in the top left corner of the screen. The stations and platforms are wheelchair-friendly and all trains include a wheelchair-accessible car (wider doors, ample space, accessible bathroom). The Official English guide for online reservations distinguishes between “senior or disabled tickets” and “handicap-friendly seats”; while it’s possible to buy a ticket for the former online (“correct passenger ID” required), a ticket for the latter has to be reserved by calling the ticketing office on the phone. Early Bird tickets are sold from 28 days before the day, and the discount to is up to 35% off.
All train announcements are made in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English.
The Taiwan High Speed Rail issues a THSR Pass for use on the high speed rail trains. These cost NTor NT$3,400 for a regular 3-day pass, or NT200 for a flexible 3-day pass. While a regular 3-day pass must be used in 3 consecutive days,200 for a flexible 3-day pass. While a regular 3-day pass must be used in 3 consecutive days, the 3 days in a flexible 3-day pass may be spread out over any 7-day period. The 5-day joint passes allow for unlimited rides on the high speed rail for 2 days within a 5 day period, and unlimited rides on TRA lines within the same 5-day period. These cost NTor NT$3,800 for a standard pass, which does not allow you to ride on Tzu-Chiang trains, and NT200 for a flexible 3-day pass. While a regular 3-day pass must be used in 3 consecutive days,600 for an express pass, which allows you to ride on all TRA lines. The THSR passes may only be used by foreigners who are in Taiwan on tourist visas (or visa exemptions), and must be purchased from travel agents overseas before you arrive in Taiwan.
Mainline trains are run by the separate Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA, 台鐵) , whose services are generally efficient and reliable. Reserving tickets well in advance is recommended when traveling with the train on weekends, especially for long distance travel. Slower (but more frequent) commuter trains without reserved seating are also available. Train timetables and online booking (up to 2 weeks in advance) are available on the TRA website for 24 hours. Booking and payment can be made online. You can also pay for the tickets you reserved at your local train station or post office to actually receive it. You can also buy the tickets of TRA in convenient stores now (you can reserve first and take the tickets in convenient stores). The way to buy tickets is same to high speed rail’s. Children under 115 cm (45 in) height go free, and taller kids shorter than 150 cm (59 in) and 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 vending machines at the larger stations.
The fastest train is Tzu-Chiang (limited express), and the slowest is Pingkuai (Ordinary/Express). There is often little to choose between prices and destination times for adjacent train classes, but the gap can be quite large between the fastest and the slowest.
- Tze-Chiang (自強 zìqiáng): The fastest (and most expensive). Assigned seating. Non-reserved (standing) tickets are supposedly sold at full price, but the boarding is possible with an Easycard for local train prices. There are Taroko and Puyuma for Hualien, which only sell reserved tickets.
- Chu-Kuang (莒光 júguāng): Second fastest. Assigned seating. In western Taiwan, it is as slow as a local train; in eastern Taiwan, it is still a fast, convenient train.
- local train (區間 qūjiān) : Short to medium distance commuter train, stops at all stations. No assigned seating. There are a few local-fast train, which don’t stop at every station.
- Express / Ordinary (普通 pǔtōng): Stops at all stations, no air conditioning, most inexpensive. No assigned seating. Some Express trains (the light blue ones running on West Trunk Line) are air-conditioned while others (dark blue ones) are not equipped with air conditioners.
For travel to nearby cities, you can travel on local commuter trains. These arrive very frequently (about once every ten to fifteen minutes). In addition, “standing tickets” may be purchased on trains with assigned seating that have no available seats. Standing tickets are 80% the original ticket price and may be useful for last minute travellers. The downside is, of course, that you will be required to stand during your entire trip.
Station announcements are made in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English.
Some trains offer a bento box meal onboard for an extra charge (not expensive); you can choose vegetarian or with meat.
Similar to Japan and South Korea, Taiwan also offers several rail passes to foreign tourists for unlimited train travel within a stipulated period. The TR Pass can be used by foreigners for unlimited travel on TRA lines for a stipulated period of time. The TR Pass can be bought at railway stations in Taiwan. The TR pass also allows you to reserve seats for free on trains that have assigned seating.
Taiwan has an extensive bus network, run mostly by private bus companies. Travelling by bus is generally cheaper than by train, especially for long-distance trips. However, on holidays, travel time may be much longer and tickets are more likely to be sold out. There are two categories: intercity buses (客運) and local buses (公車).
Taiwan Tourist Shuttle is a set of distinctly branded bus routes (some intercity, some local) that serve tourist sites, and are generally easier to use than regular routes. The official website offers route maps, timetables and recommended itineraries, but is somewhat confusing to navigate. There is, however, a toll-free number for inquiries. There are also information desks at major transport hubs.
Many cities have local buses. They are managed by local governments, therefore information can generally be found on the websites of the respective transportation bureaus. Drivers are usually happy to help, but may not speak English. Route maps at bus stops are mostly in Chinese. For visitors, it may be helpful to have your hotel or accommodation host suggest some routes for you and circle your destination on a map, then show it to the bus driver to make sure you’re on the right bus. Announcements are in English, but hopefully the driver will remember to tell you when to get off in case you miss it. Most buses accept either cash (no change) or IC cards (like the EasyCard). Minor cities and towns do not have local buses, but have intercity routes that make frequent stops. These can be found using the method in the previous paragraph.
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. (Taiwanese traffic law and regulation prohibit vehicles from stopping or parking within 10 m (33 ft) of 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 are taking as you see it coming – much like hailing a taxi. The terminal stop of the route is 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.
For city buses, sometimes you pay when boarding, sometimes when alighting, sometimes both (whether with cash or an IC card). As you get on the bus there will be an LED sign indicating that, opposite the entrance. Sometimes it’s only in Chinese: 上 means on boarding, 下 means on alighting (or just watch other people). In some cities such as Kaohsiung and Taichung, failing to swipe your card correctly will result in a locked card.
Google Maps is a quick way to find a route to your destination, but is not always reliable, especially for trips with changes and for longer distance (like in the south and southwest). Often it will highly overstate bus travel times, because it will consider each stop while the bus might only stop at every third or forth. Hence, a trip from Kaohsiung or Pingtung to Kenting will be stated with 3-4 hr, even though it will just take 1 hr. Therefore, it will also often suggesting the wrong connections and transfers. However, it gives a very good indication on the possible route, vehicle number(s), frequency, availability and price of buses and trains.
Besides, the Bus+ app (Android/iOS) is quite reliable with schedules. You can find bus numbers on it, and it will list its (live) route. This is much easier than reading the Chinese bus stop signs. In combination with Google Maps route search it is quite handy.
Furthermore, http://taiwanbus.tw/ has a likewise good overview, in case the Bus+ app is not that helpful.
The following areas are served by metro, also known as MRT:
- Taipei and New Taipei by Taipei Metro
- Linkou Plateau, western Taipei and northeastern Taoyuan City by Taoyuan Metro
- Kaohsiung by Kaohsiung MRT
All metro systems are reliable, safe, clean and accessible. Disruptions are rare. The Taipei Metro in particular is widely lauded as one of the world’s most reliable and efficient, and is often held up as a gold standard for other Metro systems around the world to emulate. Nearly all stations have toilets, elevators and info desks. There are also special waiting areas that is monitored by security camera for those who are concerned about security late at night.
Taxis are very common in major Taiwanese cities. You don’t need to look for a taxi – they’ll be looking for you. The standard yellow taxis scour roads looking for potential riders such as lost foreigners. It is 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 or using mobile apps.
Drivers generally cannot converse in English or read Westernized addresses (except for special Taoyuan airport taxis). Get the hotel staff or a Taiwanese friend write out your destination in Chinese, and also take a business card from the hotel. Show the driver the Chinese writing of where you are going.
Taxis are visibly metered (starting point priced at NT$70), and taxi drivers are strictly forbidden from taking tips. A maximum of four people can ride in one cab, and for the price of one. Compared to European or American taxis, those in Taiwan 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 23:00). 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 (文山) or Wulai (烏來). Such attempts to cheat are against the law.
From Taoyuan Airport (TPE), buses are a much more economical option but if you want a direct route Taoyuan airport drivers are the best choice. They’re quite comfortable and get you to your destination as quick as possible. All the TPE taxi drivers are interlinked by radio so they could be forewarned if there are police. Sometimes, if there are traffic jams and no police around, the driver will drive in the emergency lane. Taxis from TPE to destinations in Tao Yuan, parts of Taipei county 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 there are stories of passengers boarding fake taxis and being attacked by the driver, it is best not to be paranoid about it. Drivers may be more worried about passengers attacking them!
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 women.
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.
Taxi drivers, as elsewhere in Asia, are not keen on exchanging large notes. Try to keep some smaller denomination notes on hand to avoid the hassle of fighting with the driver for change.
Taxi drivers are known for their strong political opinions. Many are supporters of the pan-green coalition and Taiwanese independence, spending all day listening to Taiwanese political talk radio. Drivers also have negative connotations as being former prisoners. Be careful about your opinions on sensitive political subjects (including, but not necessarily limited to cross-strait relations); also be careful of describing your destination which may be perceived politically (such as the President’s Office or Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall). Also watch out for drivers who discriminate against other cultures such as taping “No Korean passengers” on their cars. This is sometimes unavoidable as some drivers provoke such discussion. 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 (see box). 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 require a license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner’s name. Foreign nationals with stay less than 30 days do not have an easy way to get a scooter license. Until 2003 it wasn’t possible to get a scooter above 150cc. 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 (重型, heavy format) scooters are now quite common and can be rented for short-term use, or found for sale used at English In Taiwan if you’re going to need it for a while. They are not allowed on freeways even if they are capable of going faster than 100 km/h (62 mph) unless used for certain police purposes, but that just means you have to take the scenic route.
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. One Taipei motorcycle and scooter rental service with English language service is Bikefarm, which is run by a very friendly and helpful English guy called Jeremy. In Taichung, Foreigner Assistance Services In Taiwan F.A.S.T offers a rental service for foreign visitors. Otherwise, scooters are generally easy to rent in most major cities, with many such places being near railway or bus stations. Most usually require some form of identification even if, in some cases, it consists of your expired Blockbuster video card! The average price you may expect is NT$400 for 24 hours, this includes one or two helmets.
Another option is to rent a motorcycle. Many foreigners swear by their 125cc Wild Wolf (野狼) motorcycles, and a trip around the island on a motorcycle can be a great way to see the island up close.
It is to be mentioned that since 2007, scooters and motorcycle over 550cc are allowed to go on expressway providing that they have a red license plate. They are however to be considered as cars, and as such cannot be parked in scooter parking spaces.
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. All road directional signs are written in both Chinese and English, though the non-standardized Romanization means that English names can vary between road signs, making it rather confusing. The highways are in excellent shape with toll stations around every 30 km (19 mi). A car driver pays NT$40 when passing each toll station on a highway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores and at the “cash” toll-boths themselves, allowing faster passage and eliminating the need to count out exact change while driving. Traffic moves on the right in Taiwan.
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 is 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.
While known for being a major player in the bicycle industry (through companies such as Giant and Merida), until fairly recently, bicycles in Taiwan were considered an unwanted reminder of less prosperous times. This has changed, and 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.
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 is using standard freight service from the Taiwan Railway Administration between larger stations. A price table is available here (Chinese language only). 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 10:00-16:00 on weekdays, check with your local station personnel to confirm).
- Taipei MRT Bicycle Information
- Taipei MRT Route Map , bicycles may be loaded at designated stations:
- Kaohsiung MRT Bicycle Information (passengers traveling with non-folding bicycles are assessed a flat rate NT$60 fare irrespective of distance)
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 the rapid transit EasyCard system, but require a deposit paid via credit card. The is YouBike in Taipei, which are available all over the city and even 30 km out – see Taipei for more details.
Additionally, many local police stations provide basic support services for cyclists, such as air pumps, and as a rest stop.
Domestic air travel in Taiwan is primarily for outlying islands, as Taiwan is fairly compact with a modern and efficient rail network. There are also routes that connect the east and west coasts, since there is a geographical barrier between the two. There are no longer any west coast only routes as high speed rail has made them redundant.
The main carriers are Mandarin Airlines, a subsidiary of China Airlines; and UNI Air, owned by EVA. There is also Daily Air and Far Eastern Air Transport. Flights are frequent, and it is usually unnecessary to book flights in advance, except during holidays.
Fares for domestic flights are not too expensive, and local planes are very good. The domestic airport in Taipei is Songshan Airport, which is in the north of the Taipei and easily reached by MRT or taxi. Other domestic airports include those in Taitung, Hualien, Makung (Penghu/Pescadores), Kinmen, Taichung, Nangan and Beigan. Travellers heading to Kenting can use the direct and frequent bus service from Kaohsiung airport that connect with flights arriving from Taipei.
If you want to visit Taiwan’s smaller islands, the plane is still the best option, and is the only practical option for travelling to Kinmen and the easiest method of reaching Penghu and Matsu. For travel to Green Island and Orchid Island, the plane from Taitung saves several hours over taking the ferry which is notorious among Taiwanese for its rough ride.
Taiwan is an excellent place for hiking and trekking, providing many interesting and picturesque trails in its mountainous centre, or just north-east of Taipei. For reliable maps and comprehensive trails and map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).