Journal

A Guide to Long-Distance Transport in Taiwan

During my 1.5 year of living in Taiwan, I had many opportunities to travel between cities, sometimes for relocation and other times for a day trip. My destinations ranged from nearby townships to crossing the entire island, and as such, allowed me to experience all modes of transportation based on time and budget.

This guide will not only advise on how to choose a mode of transport for your needs, but also share my experiences with each.

An exhibited train
An old-school train exhibited at Taipei Main Station

1/ Taiwan High Speed Rail

Undoubtedly the quickest mode of transport, the High Speed Rail emulates a bullet train, spanning from Taipei to Kaohsiung in 2 hours across 12 stations. Naturally, the high speed comes with a high price too. A standard ticket costs 1,530 TWD for the maximum distance.

The price is justifiable not just for the speed but also for the comfort and service. A free snack and drink are provided, and you can expect front or back-facing reclining seats with adequate legroom. The ride itself is smooth and considerably quieter than a traditional train.

However, THSR stations are not normally located within the main city of each county, and station transfers are not always straightforward. This was the case when I had to take a cab from the THSR station to Taiwan Railway station in Chiayi due to a tight schedule. As such, research on further travel is needed if your destination is not where a station is. THSR is also only for the western counties of the island.

I have taken the HSR on several occasions, mostly because of the longer distances I had to travel, such as between Taipei and Chiayi and beyond. That’s 6+ hours shortened to anytime within 2 hours, so the comfort is absolutely worth the price.

2/ Taiwan Railway

Perhaps the most familiar mode of transport for me is the Taiwan Railway, which runs almost the entire perimeter of the island. They offer various services, including:

  • Local: short to medium distances covering all stations.
  • Chu-kuang: short to medium distances covering most stations.
  • Tze-chiang: long distances covering major stations.
  • Miscellaneous services such as Puyuma and Taroko: long distances covering designated stations.

The local services are the oldest trains and thus slowest and least comfortable. But they are also the cheapest to travel on, and the price goes up along the services with increased speed and comfort. However, unlike THSR, which stops sales at full seat capacity, it is possible to book without seats on these trains, including those for Tze-chiang services. I ended up sitting on the floor for 3 hours on one train ride on my way to Hualien, and it was certainly not the most comfortable experience.

Nevertheless, for a classic train ride experience, Taiwan Railway is definitely not to be missed. The price costs a third of what it would take on a THSR too. I have taken all services depending on my destination, schedule, and budget, and they have always been on time.

I recommend checking the schedule beforehand, but the station staffs are usually very helpful with informing the most efficient way to get to your destination. To give an estimate, a ride from Taichung to Kaohsiung takes 3 hours on Tze-chiang, 4.5 hours on Chu-kuang, and 6+ hours on local. Any route that takes longer than 3 hours may require a train transfer.

A classic train at Jiufen

3/ Intercity buses

Where there are roads, there will be buses. Speed-wise, they can match Tze-chiang trains as they have fewer stops, although traffic can be a factor as well. Price-wise, they are sometimes more affordable than Tze-chiang services.

Intercity buses are operated by private companies, and there are several across the islands serving different regions. I haven’t had too many opportunities to use them, as it’s more tedious to find tickets and schedules for the exact routes unless I go to the station itself.

However, they have always been pleasant journeys with fairly comfortable seats. So I tend to compare between buses and conventional trains when deciding on a mode to take.

4/ Private Car and Driver Hire

While I have never hired a private car myself, I’m aware of this option whenever the need arises, such as when I need to ferry more than just myself in a comfortable ride across the island. Not only can the schedule be flexible, but I can also decide where to pick up and drop off. Of course, it does mean a heftier cost, but in a group, this would usually be shared.

Tripool is the first website app that comes up on Google when searching for long-distance Taiwanese private hires. I’ve seen it around for years and have many reasons to believe that they are legitimate. While I have many connections in the country to seek out private hires, for now, I recommend giving this option a go.

Always enjoy a train ride across the country

Choosing your transport

When deciding which mode of transport to take, it ultimately comes down to your preference. The High-speed Rail is the fastest, but the lack of stations and their proximity to their respective cities may be a deterrence. Buses travel at the same speed as conventional trains but tend to be available only regionally rather than across the entire island. The classic railway might be the most popular choice in terms of accessibility and budget.

For myself, it always comes down to schedule, destination and budget. It’s also worth noting that I almost always travel alone when in Taiwan, so buses and conventional trains are my choices for unhurried journeys. However, I do take the high-speed rail when necessary.

No matter which mode of transport you choose, you will be guaranteed Taiwan’s unrivalled hospitality. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.

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