Ask any local what some of the best things about living in Taiwan are, and more often than not you’ll be led to hear about how convenient Taiwan’s public transportation is. Transportation in Taiwan’s biggest cities already excels, and with the MRT in Taipei covering 117 stations across 5 lines, and due for rapid expansion eventually reaching Taoyuan, Airport, Taiwan has one of East Asia’s cleanest, cheapest, and most expansive inner city metro lines. However, it is when travelling in between Taiwan’s biggest cities – particularly those on the west coast – that Taiwan’s reputation as a convenient travel destination shows its true worth.
Finished in 2007, the 345 kilometre long Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) spans almost the entire length of the country, connecting the capital, Taipei with the country’s biggest port and major industrial city, Kaohsiung. With the system modelling Japan’s Shinkansen technology, the trains reach top speeds of 300km/h making travel time between Taiwan’s major west coast cities remarkably speedy, and making it possible to travel to Kaohsiung from Taipei in just over 1.5 hours. In addition to Kaohsiung – which has seen a cultural resurgence over the past few years – a number of other exciting destinations are reachable within an hour or two of the capital.
Time from Taipei: 1hr 6mins
Price with Tripsle from Taipei (one-way): NT$490
It was during the Japanese colonial era and later during the early stages of the Kuomintang’s administration that Taichung became the centre of Taiwan’s light industry. During its peak in the 1970’s Taichung was churning out cheap toys, shoes and all sorts of electrical goods, fuelling the world’s consumer driven economy. However, with China’s economic rise coming in the 1980’s, the city’s manufacturing base was soon lost and the city became somewhat stagnant.
Much like Kaohsiung to the south, Taichung’s slumber didn’t last long and a cultural renaissance soon restored the city to its former glory. Today the mention of Taichung brings up images of good weather, wide boulevards, and huge restaurants offering some of the best food in the whole of Taiwan. Taichungers like to take life slowly and enjoy the finer things in life, and that is evident in the laid back vibe that the city exudes.
Lying geographically roughly halfway down the island on the main western coastal plain, Taichung is not only a convenient place to stop over for trips further afield such as Sun Moon Lake and Dajia (home to the annual Matsu pilgrimage), it’s a destination in itself. Furthermore, Taichung is home to one of Taiwan’s best museums, the National Museum of Natural Science, and it is Taichung where Taiwan’s iconic Bubble Milk Tea was invented in the 1980’s.
Time from Taipei: 1hr 45mins
Further south of Taichung is Chiayi, one of the west coast’s more rural townships. The city has a long history dating as far back as the short-lived Kingdom of Tungning in which Ming Dynasty loyalist Koxinga declared Chiayi – then called Kagee – as part of his kingdom with the intention to kick the Dutch out of Taiwan and eventually re-establish the Ming Dynasty in Mainland China. During the Japanese era, Chiayi was the fourth biggest city in Taiwan and became an important centre for the timber industry with the region’s valuable cypress trees often shipped to Japan.
Nowadays Chiayi is a quiet rural city without the big city feel that one experiences in Taichung or Taipei. There are a few sights worth checking out in and around Chiayi but visitors here usually only pass through on the way to one of Taiwan’s finest National Parks – the Alishan National Scenic Area (阿里山國家風景區). Ideal for day trips or for more serious hikers, Alishan is not actually a single mountain, but rather a range of peaks averaging 2,500 metres in height with the highest peak Datashan (大塔山) reaching 2,663 meters. Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan at 3,952m is easily visible from Alishan.
Time from Taipei: 2hrs
Price with Tripsle from Taipei (one-way): NT$945
Tainan is Taiwan’s oldest city and it’s here you’ll find amazing food, Dutch era forts, ancient temples, and some of Taiwan’s friendliest locals. There is something special about Tainan which keeps bringing this author back again and again. Mention to any Taiwanese friends you’re heading there and you’re sure to be met with envy. What’s more, with the sun shining most of the year, and considerably less rainfall than Taipei, Tainan is an absolute ‘must-visit’ for travellers hoping to discover what Taiwanese culture really represents.
When the Taiwanese rave about the delights of Tainan’s food, they’re not exaggerating. The food here is thoughtfully made and whilst cheap, the price is anything but an indicator of quality with some of Tainan’s dishes exclusive to the region, but renowned all over the country. Tainan’s famous beef soup is often served in the early morning when the meat is freshest, and other specialities such as prawn rice, coffin bread (fried bread filled with chowder), and spare ribs with rice usually only set you back around NT$60 (less than US$2).
The oldest part of town at Anping (安平) is where the old Dutch Fort Zeelandia is located, and it’s here where you can see some of the oldest Han settlements in Taiwan, as well as some intriguing Dutch influence on the region. The Dutch used Tainan as a base for their operations along important shipping routes from China to the Philippines, and although not much of the original structure at Fort Zeelandia exists, it still makes for a pleasant afternoon strolling down some of the old streets and through old merchant’s houses.
Time from Taipei: 2hrs 20mins
Price with Tripsle from Taipei to Zuoying (one-way): NT$1043
A major port city, and home to over 2.7 million people, Kaohsiung has been transformed in recent years from a grim industrial mega-city into a modern urban landscape of cool cafes, wide streets, parks, bicycle lanes, and culture and arts venues that echo the manufacturing past of Taiwan’s second biggest city. There are a number of beaches dotted around the city, including one particularly picturesque beach somewhat hidden in the campus of Sun Yat-Sen University. Cijin Island a short 5 minute ferry ride across the harbour is home to another nice beach with a number of good seafood restaurants lining the main street.
Although not as extensive as Taipei’s MRT system, Kaohsiung also has its own underground network called the KMRT. Visitors to Kaohsiung can use the KMRT to transfer to and from the HSR station which is situated on the outskirts of town in nearby Zuoying. If you’ve had enough of the city, Kaohsiung is close by to Little Liuqiu Island. A great place for snorkelling and camping during the summer months. The trip to the island can also be made into a day trip with ferries leaving back to the mainland at regular intervals throughout the day.
You can conveniently book two different types of tickets through Tripsle to suit your own travel needs. The one way ticket is a cost-effective option for single journeys on the high speed rail network. For continued travel, the regular 3 day pass is valid for 3 consecutive days whilst the flexi option is perfect for travelers without a set itinerary as this allows unlimited travel on 3 days within a 1 week period.
These tickets are valid for visitors with a tourist visa valid for 6 months or less and must be redeemed within 90 days of purchase. Once redeemed, your ticket is valid for 28 days. Redeem your tickets at a Taiwan High Speed Rail Train Station.