Taipei with day trips to Hualien & kaohsiung
This do-it-yourself guide to explore Taipei by public transport including taking day trips to Hualien and Kaohsiung, is a useful reference material for independent travellers planning their own free and easy trip. Total expenditure is about US$800 or S$1,000.
Cheapest way to get there is by Tiger or Jetstar. Both websites have hotels to cater to your preference for price and locations. Exchange rate is S$1 = NT$22 as in March 2011.
To get around Taipei by public transport particularly MRT or Trains is easy. But you need to know Bus Number and connections, if you use buses. Not to worry Tourism Bureau Information Center (www.taipeitravel.net)
are conveniently located at MRT stations.
By bus from airport to Taipei and back to Taoyuan Airport
Exit departure hall and go the Tourism counter for maps and brochures. At the
opposite end of the hall are booths selling bus tickets. Go to Kuo-Kuang booth and buy express bus ticket (NT$125) for Bus No. 1819 to Taipei Main Station. Journey is about 1 hour. From there go down to basement 1 and follow signage to underground MRT station.
Should you decide to take a bus on a return trip to airport, go to the West gate
of Taipei Main Station. Turn left and walk towards Shin Kong Life Tower (2nd tallest building in Taipei). Do not cross road to Shin Kong. Instead turn right and cross a small road to a green glass cladded building with Dunkin Doughnut at the corner. Walk into the building and buy an express bus ticket (NT$125) to the airport. If are flying Tiger or Jetstar, stop at Departure Hall of Terminal
If you are hungry go to Level 2 of Taipei Main Station, the entire area is
called “Breeze”. Here you can eat at food courts or restaurants. Prices are reasonable and you get a wide choice of food.
There are 2 main lines from Taipei Main Station – Blue (Bannan) and Red (Danshui). From these two, you can transfer to either Wenhu (Brown) or
Zhoughe/Luzhou (Orange) lines. Prices range from NT$20 to NT$65. It is cheaper to buy single trip than one day pass or Easycard.
Above each automatic ticket machine is a chart showing the various stations and
respective prices. At the ticketing machine you will see a screen showing either “touch screen” or a series of prices. If you touch screen, the price screen comes on. Press the amount you want to buy and drop your coins or note into the slot. (If you do not press the amount and the colour does not change from beige to orange, the coin slot remains locked.)
A plastic token is released, followed by your change. Take the token and touch the entry pad at the gate and go through. When you reach your destinatiom, drop the token into a slot at the gate and it will open.
On escalator passengers stand on the right side to allow others to walk up on the left. It is an offence to obstruct passengers walking on the escalator. By the way vehicles are left hand drive.
On MRT platform, people queue in one row on one side of the train exit, and enter the train after passengers have left. The reserved seats for elderly and
pregnant are generally left vacant even during peak hours. Apparently they are reserved for those who need them and not to be filled because they are empty. It is an interesting approach and you can sense the discipline of the passengers.
Apparently street names are not indicated at street junctions like in Singapore
or Malaysia. The few signs in English are positioned next to traffic lights on an elevated pole. So do ask around provided you have your street names or locations in Chinese. Taiwanese are very helpful if approached for assistance, so don’t be shy. Caution – vehicles in Taiwan are left hand drive, so be conscious and look both sides rather than to cross instinctively.
Independent travellers need to be more sensitive to etiquette and practices of
locals during interface. In eateries customers clear table and throw rubbish into a garbage container, before placing the plastic/paper trays/glasses into recycling bins. Observe and follow.
Highlights of Taipei
Taipei 101 (one of the tallest buildings in the world)
From Taipei City Hall MRT station, walk 5 minutes to Taipei 101. Go through the shopping mall and proceed to the 5th floor via escalator or elevator. The Observatory is on 88th, 89th and 91st floor. Ticket costs NT$400 and the elevator takes only 27 secs to the Observatory. Havesacks must be kept in lockers on the 5th floor.
On 89th floor a free wireless mobile is available if you need information or
translation. There are merchandise and cafes on the same floor . Eat at the food court in basement 1, prices are fair and food is good. There is diversity of choices. The 91st floor is open to those who want to feel what it is like at the top of the building. Here a theater shows films regarding construction.
At the 88th floor you get to walk on a glass floor where white clouds disperse
and roof tops of buildings below are revealed. A yellow ball suspended by four thick ropes on top and four hydraulic cylinders below, is the wind damper of Taipei 101 that stablises the building in strong winds.
Shilin night market is located near Jiantan MRT Station not Shilin Station.
There are 2 night markets at Jiantan Station . One is a food court in a building directly opposite Jiantan Station. Crowds queue only at the Hot Star stall (blue colour) selling large fried chicken (size of 2 palms) for NT$55 each. This is a food and beverage location.
The other market is diagonally across the MRT station on the right hand side.
Cross two roads at the cross junction to the road parallel to the MRT line and turn 1st left where rows of small shops sell fashions, beverage and food. Here the street food is interesting. Join queues if you are patient and be surprised by the cheap price
If you proceed on the road beside the MRT line towards Shilin Station, you
will reach another section of Shilin night market that is not connected to the 1st section. If both sections are combined, Shilin night market is certainly the largest in Taipei. Most tourists seem to have missed the 2nd section.
Behind the Station is a park facing the river, where musicians perform or sell
their CDs. Shops sell BBQ squid at NT$50 and NT$100. Danshui is at the mouth of Danshui River. In the evenings many people stroll along the bank. On a parallel road shops sell souvenirs and food items.
Huaxi & Guangzhou St
Longshan Temple is at Guangzhou Street. The columns are carved in great details and is a protected national heritage site. Two night markets are located nearby at Huaxi St and Guangzhou St. Huaxi St is covered, the passageway is one car wide with restaurants on both sides. Exotic food like turtle, crocodile and snake are on sale here. Guangzhou St on the other hand, is outdoor and on a street much like Temple St in Hong Kong.
This is the young people shopping area comprising of shophouses and hole-in-the -wall businesses near Ximen MRT Station (Exit No 6). This is where
young people hang out. Shops, boutiques and F&B outlets are cramped into buildings upwards. High end merchandises are not sold here. They are located elsewhere.
Must try Ay Chung flour rice noodles (mee sua) with intestine bits at NT$45 or
NT$60. If you stand in front of KFC, turn right to get to Ay Chung. A competitor is located at Chengdu Rd.
Another is Ji Guang fried chicken at NT$55. It is only 10 meters from Ximen Station Exit No.6.
Lao Tian Lu offers local specialities like goose wings, braised toufu, chicken
and bean curd. It is frequented by Hong Kong tourists. Walk straight from KFC and turn to the left after Rainbow Hotel.
If you want to try local food, there is a mixed rice restaurant behind 7 Eleven next to Lao Tian Lu. Enter a little lane beside 7 Eleven. Mostly it is
takeaway if you eat there pick up a paper tray and take whatever you like to eat. At the end of the buffet spread show your tray to the boss and she will give you a bowl of rice and an empty bowl for soup. Price is cheap but after eating you have to clear the table and put the paper bowls and tray in a container outside for recycling. Follow the other patrons. If you need fibre in your diet, this is the place. Help yourself to the free soup.
At Lane 27 Chengdu St between KFC and Today is Victoria Restaurant where there is a constant queue. Hours are from 12:30 to 10 pm. Leave your phone
number and they will call whenever a table is available.
For food souvenirs go to the corner of Chengdu St and Xining South St, buy
your stuff at Hsin Tung Yang. At the airport the same items cost at least 20% more.
National Palace Museum
If you are interested in the finest collection of Chinese art and culture go to
National Palace Museum in Taipei not Beijing. It contains 700,000
artifacts from Neolithic period to Qing Dynasty. When Kuomintang left
China, they took the entire collection of antiques and heritage pieces to Taiwan. Entrance fee is NT$150. Website is http://www.npm.gov.tw
Going to the museum, gives you an opportunity to understand the bus system in
At Jiantan MRT station (Exit No. 1) you will find bus stops along the side of the
road. Each pole is for a particular bus and it has a rotating barrel in the centre. On the barrel are data concerning the time schedule of the bus and its various stop locations. The bus number is located at the top of the pole.
The buses to the museum are S18, S19, R30 and 304. S stands for small bus and R is for red bus.
The bus fare is NT$15 one way. In the bus there is a sign indicating the next stop in addition the bus driver announces it as well. Stop is in front of the museum. R30 bus goes into the museum compound.
For the trip back to Jiantan Station, turn right and wait at the bus stop. If you
want to take a taxi, the taxi queue is on the left.
Take Wenhu line to Taipei Zoo. Miakong Gondola Station is about 200 meters after the Taipei Children’s Recreaction Center.
It costs NT$50 return. Distance covered is 4 km and last Miakong Station is 275
meters above sea level. This ride is the price for a cup of hot coffee.
There are 2 types of cabin – regular has an aluminun floor, while crystal cabin
has a glass floor for added excitement of a roller coaster ride as the gondola travel uphill and down valleys, brushing tree tops. Along the way you will see a wide span of forest.
At Miakong station you can hike on various trails to visit places of interest
like tea plantation, temples, countryside. The types of tea grown here includes Tieguanyin, Wuyi and Baozhong.
Price of tea per pack starts from NT$300 upwards. The teahouses are interested in selling you a pack and charge another NT$50 for a large kettle of hot water. For food go to the only food court across Miakong Station, price for a bowl of whatever is NT$55 while hot dessert is NT$35. There are 2 modern restaurants serving western food at higher prices.
Wufenpu fashion area
From Exit No 1 of Houshanpi MRT Station walk across 2 roads towards Cosmed cosmetic shop and Formosa Chang restaurant. After the cosmetic shop turn 1st
left into a covered street with rows of shops selling fashion at cheaper prices than Shilin or Ximending. This is the wholesale market catering to locals. Clothes are sold from large transparent plastic bags on the floor instead of shelves or counters.
Caution – as this place is rather large with many exits, do remember your bearings or you will get lost.
For food I suggest eating at Formosa Chang – a local fast food chain. It has
fusion Taiwanese and Japanese food.
Discovering new sights
- Understand another night market worth visiting is Raohe Night Market. It is located between Yongchun and Houshanpi MRT stations. The best way to get there is take a TRA train to Songshan Station and Roahe is a 5 minutes walk.
- Lin Family Mansion and Garden at Fuzhong MRT Station is in an excellent state of preservation. The garden with its courtyard and streams are the best kept private garden in northern Taiwan. It is 10 minutes walk from Fuzhong Station and is open from Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 5 pm.
- If you fancy Korean fashion, accessories and dry goods, the place to go is Dingxi Station. Shops are located at Zhongxing St and Lixing ST.
Day trip to Taroko Gorge – Hualien
Taroko gorge in Hualien is a one day trip from Taipei. Take the 7:20 am Taroko
Express from TRA station at Taipei Main Station. Journey takes 2 hours. It costs NT$440 one way. Normal trains take 2.5 hours while the slow train that stops at every town along the route takes 3.5 hours. So when you buy a ticket, always check on the travel time before paying.
The ticket will indicate which platform, which car (train number) and seat number. Do check with the Conductor when you get to the platform because trains come and go at short intervals on the same platform in basement 2 of
Taipei Main Station.
The journey is quite pleasant after exiting from the tunnel. There is plenty of
greenery and before Hualien, mountains are on the right and pacific ocean is on the left. In addtion there are little towns dotted along the stretch.
At Hualien Station exit at the front entrance, walk 20 meters to the Visitor
Center where you can pick up brochures or join a half day bus tour for NT$650. It starts at 10:50 am and ends at 16:30 pm. Alternatively you can join a Taxi Group tour for NT$750 per person.
Entrance to Taroko is a Chinese style adorned gate
If you take the taxi, the driver will take you to Changchun Temple on top of a hill
and you have to hike downhill to Eternal Spring Shrine. Along the way you will pass the Watch Tower, Guanyin cave and hike on a narrow trail that is carved on a cliff. The trip takes about an hour. The reward is arriving at the Eternal Spring Shrine where water gush out of the cliff. Surprisingly the water is not cold. From the shrine you have to walk through a series of tunnels to get to a cantilevered
platform for taking pictures of the shrine and spring. By the way Changchun Temple contains the remains of workers who died constructing the road and Eternal Spring Shrine is built to honour those who made the sacrifice.
The Tunnel of Nine Turns is closed due to road repairs but visitors can still go
through for 200 meters only. Wearing of helmets is compulsory. If you look at the tunnel roof you will notice that the tunnel was roughly chiselled out.
The Liwu River cuts through marble cliffs and winds along creating caves resulting in the Swallow Grotto.
To experience and appreciate Taroko Gorge, hiking and walks are a must. Having a camera to capture the scenery is also essential. Below is a scene of
heavenly peace at Guanyin Temple.
Day trip to Kaohsiung by HSR (High Speed Rail)
The HSR Information Booth and Ticketing counters are located at the East
Gate of Taipei Main Station. Buy a ticket (NT$ 1,265 one way) to HSR’s final destinaton Zuoying (in the outskirt of Kaohsiung). Take the life after purchasing the ticket to basement 3.
Determine which platform the train is located. Seats are assigned. Check which
cabin and seat you are allocated.
The trip takes only 96 mins. Speed varies from 280 to 297 km/hr. Conductor checks ticket along the way. Lunch box (Bento) and drinks are sold on board. Later someone will come around to collect the trash. They only come around once, should you want anything, buy them immediately, don’t hesitate.
Landscape is flat with many padi fields along the way. After Taichung industries stretch all the way to Kaohsiung.
At Zuoying, transfer to the MRT line which is located in basement 1 of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store next to HSR Station.
Taipei International Fora Exposition from 6/11/2010 to 25/4/2011
The entire expo spreads over 4 sites – Yuanshan Park Area, Fine Arts Park area,
Xinsheng Park area and Dajia Riverside Park area. The main entrance is at Yuanshan Station. Free shuttle bus is available to bring visitors to various areas. Entrance fee is NT$300. The expo is open from 9 am to 10 pm daily. To get there take MRT to Yuanshan Station.
The Expo consists of many open areas and pavilions where vistors queue to view
exhibits. Queue waiting time is from 1 to 2 hours. Even if you give all queues a miss, it takes about 8 hours to cover the entire grounds.
To save time and avoid crowds, take a free shuttle bus from Stop No 1 Yuanhan to Stop No. 5 Dajia West to view the Gardening Competition Area followed by
Sea of Flowers. At Stop No, 6 Dajia East take another shuttle bus to Stop No. 4 Xinshenng to visit the Fujian Style Garden. From there cover Flower Base under Trees.
Go through the Floral Tunnel to the Pavilion of Aroma of Flowers. Walk across the pedestrian Overpass to the Flower Landscape and Shanghai Charm.
Within these areas you will see a rolling field of multiple flowers
and some rare ones as well.
This schedule will get you to cover all the worthwhile sites in the least time.