TRAINS IN TAIWAN: HOW TO BUY TICKETS & TRAVEL TIPS

Taroko Gorge train from Taipei treno
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The small nation of Taiwan has a great infrastructure that allows quick travelling around the country.

In addition to the Taiwanese regular railway (TRA) running around the island’s perimetre, a High Speed Railway was launched in 2007, allowing trains to travel at 300km/h.

These services are useful not only to commuters but for tourists too, in order to maximize their time during a trip to Taiwan. We will also talk about tourist trains like the Alishan red train and the Pingxi Line, which will make your excursions even more enjoyable.


TRAINS IN TAIWAN

In this guide we list the different types of trains, ticket prices, and travel times, and we explain how to buy train tickets in Taiwan, both online and at the train station.

Taiwan is a densely populated country, with over 24 million people living in its large metropolis.
Most of these are located on the wide western plain, the most urbanised side of the island. In between cities, and on the east coast of Formosa too, endless rice fields cover the area.

The central part is characterised by high mountain ranges that prevent the passage of railways and highways. As a matter of fact it’s faster to go around the mountains than using its small windin roads.

Shenmu line Alishan
Alishan Forest red train (2,200mt)


CITIES IN TAIWAN AND TRAVELLING TIMES

By distance from the capital Taipei, these cities are reachable in the following times, going anti-clockwise (hrs by high speed train/h by regular train TRA):

  • Taichung: 1hr/2hrs south of Taipei on the western side, it’s a metropolis in the centre of Taiwan (2.8 million). Known for its artistic attractions like Rainbow Village, and considered the birth place of Pearl Milk Tea (or Bubble Tea), now famous all over the world. Gateway to Sun Moon Lake.
  • Chiayi: 1.5hrs/3.5hrs in the mid-west, the city is the starting point of the red train railway that goes to Alishan Forest.
  • Tainan: 2hrs/5hrs from Taipei, on the west coast of Taiwan. Former capital known for its temples, night markets, and dubbed the gastronomic capital of Taiwan.
  • Kaohsiung: 2hrs/6hrs, in the south-west, it’s the terminus station of the HSR line (Zuoying station). Traditionally a harbour town, recently it has been transformed into an artistic-cultural hub, making it more modern and appealing. Today it boasts night markets, the Pier 2 Art Center, and the largest Buddhist monastery of Taiwan, Fo Guang Shan. A visit to Kaohsiung is well worth it.
  • Taitung: 3.5hrs/6hrs is the farthest from Taipei, a small city in the south-east known for its aboriginal culture. A destination for every trip along Taiwan’s east coast.
  • Hualien: 2.5hrs/4hrs from Taipei, the only big city on Taiwan’s panoramic east coast. As for Taitung the HSR doesn’t get here, however you can take Express trains to travel faster. Most travellers come here to visit nearby Taroko Gorge, however Hualien has its own attractions and options to explore local aboriginal culture.
  • Keelung: 1hr north of Taipei by TRA train. The northern terminus of the HSR is Nangang in Taipei. From there, you can continue by TRA to the north of the country. The harbour town of Keelung, base for major cruise ships coming to Taiwan, has many beaches and seaside locations, and a famous night market. Not far from here are the tourist villages of Shifen and Jiufen.

As you can see, you can get to almost every place in Taiwan in a little more than two hours thanks to HSR and Express trains. The HSR is not cheap but not that expensive either, considering its punctuality and quality of the service. Furthermore, there are many promotions and discounts to benefit from if you book in advance.


HOW MUCH DO TRAINS COST IN TAIWAN?

HSR tickets in Taiwan start from about 15€ for a short trip, up to 45€ for a full journey. There are also offers for multi-day travel passes on the official HSR website that can save you money if travelling a lot in 2-5 consecutive days.

At this link you’ll find the “Buy 1 Get 1 Free Ticket” promotion. This is valid for foreigners, only once per passport.
After that you can use the same link to browse for more deals, from 10% to 30% off one-way tickets, depending on how much in advance you’re booking. We explain this in detail further below.

As for the regular trains (TRA), fares are fixed but prices vary depending on train types and time of the day. Faster trains have less stops and are slightly more expensive.

In general, trains in Taiwan are very affordable and reliable. One hour routes like Taipei-Ruifang (for Shifen/Jiufen) cost only 50-80$NT (2-3€), fast trains as Taipei-Hualien (for Taroko) are 400-500$NT, around 10-15€.

High Speed Rail HSR Taiwan treno alta velocità
Taiwan’s High Speed Rail HSR. Info discounted tickets here


DISCOUNTS

As said, a few offers are available for HSR trains in Taiwan. There are 3 discount slots: 10%, 20% and 30% off.

Tickets for the HSR are accessible online 28 days in advance. Peak hour train tickets with 30% off are usually taken immediately by commuters, but you can still find them if travelling off peak. The last available discount is 10% off.

If you plan your trips in advance you have good chances of finding reduced fares. Tickets are on sale at train stations as well, but we found checking for timetables online much easier.

On the official HSR website you can see all schedules and prices. Using this link on Klook you can take advantage of the HSR 2×1 tickets and get a 100$NT voucher credited to your account.


TYPES OF TRAINS IN TAIWAN

The TRA regular railway covers the whole circle around Taiwan. Tickets can be booked online too, on the official TRA website starting from exactly 28 days in advance, or you can buy them in any train station.

There are several TRA train categories in Taiwan, knowing them can be useful when planning your trips. You’ll always find train names displayed in English next to Mandarin Chinese ideograms.

  • Local Train: the slowest train, stopping at every station. It is the cheapest too, both seated and standing spots are available. Tickets can be booked online, at the station, and you can swipe your Easy Card to pay for them.
  • Chu Kuang Express: these are the trains covering the entire perimetre of Taiwan. Seats must be booked in advance, alternatively you can buy last-minute standing tickets at the station.
  • Tze-Chiang Express: as above, but faster and making fewer stops. Standing tickets available.
  • Taroko/Puyuma Express: is the express train specific from Taipei to Taroko Gorge/Hualien, travelling over 150km/h. Mandatory ticket reservation is required, and it can sell out quickly.
  • Tze-Chiang Limited Express: as the Taroko Express, but even swifter with fewer stops. Reserved seats only.

Taiwanese railways sell specific tickets for standing spots on trains. These are cheaper and guarantee getting on the train even when seats are sold out. However only slower trains offer this solution, for safety reasons standing on TRA trains travelling over 150km/h isn’t allowed (from Taroko Express above).

Always head to the official TRA website for timetables and purchasing tickets. The TRA App (Google Play/App Store) for smarthphones is handy too for booking train tickets in Taiwan.

After purchasing online, you can validate your ticket and keep a QR code on your phone, or retrieve your physical ticket at the station counters.

  • Puyuma Express Taroko Gorge
  • Taiwan train treno Taroko Express


WHAT ARE THE TRAINS LIKE IN TAIWAN?

Despite being a crowded country, don’t be scared: trains in Taiwan are very frequent, punctual and clean, in the same way that train stations are neat and safe places.

Be mindful though of holidays and weekends, when trains fill up fast in Taiwan. Tickets can sell out quickly just after being released, especially for long weekends and popular routes (as the express train from Taipei to Hualien/Taroko Gorge). We definitely recommend to book your train tickets in advance.

Eating and drinking is allowed on trains in Taiwan, unlike Taipei‘s metro where it’s forbidden. All trains have toilets and vending machines, plus stewards often walk by with snack carts.

In general, Taiwanese people tend to be silent and quiet on buses and trains, they don’t like noisy passengers. Be respectful, talk quietly and always use earphones for music.

  • Treno per Shifen Pingxi Line
  • Stazione di Kaohsiung
  • Hualien train station


HOW AND WHEN TO BUY TRAIN TICKETS IN TAIWAN

We suggest booking 2-4 weeks in advance if you really have to take a specific train, or if travelling on weekend days. For reference, we booked our 6 am Taroko Express train from Taipei to Hualien two weeks in advance. We travelled on a Monday to find ourselves ready with a motorcycle at 9 am in order to visit Taroko Gorge on a day-trip.

In case you didn’t book, trains are frequent and you may have to wait for 30-60 minutes for the next one. However that could be slower and making more stops.

Reservations open 4 weeks in advance, or 28 days, both online and at train stations.
The TRA website has a good English version that allows to check timetables and routes. The TRA App is a valid tool too. We didn’t buy tickets in person, but we did speak with some railway employees and their English level was alright.


TICKETS DEMAND

Be aware that 28 days in advance means that tickets will be available on sale exactly at midnight. If for example you are travelling on the 28th February, bookings open at 00:00 on 1st February, which is the night of 31th January (Taiwan local time).

In case of sold out, there’s a last chance. Remember standing tickets? Many locals use this cheaper option for short trips, you can stand in the corridors or sit on the floor (Taiwanese trains are much cleaner than ours).

This may not be ideal, but at least it’ll take to your destination. Remind that Express trains don’t have standing tickets.


HIGH SPEED TRAINS HSR IN TAIWAN

Taiwan’s high speed trains (High Speed Rail – HSR) are of Japanese manufacture. The HSR is a huge engineering endeavour, of which Taiwanese are particularly proud for its excellence and punctuality.

The only line has 12 stops on the western side of Taiwan, and runs from Taipei in the north (Nangang terminus) to Kaohsiung in the south (Zuoying station).

This railway is separate from the regular one, allowing trains to travel constantly at 300 km/h without slowing down, guaranteeing an extraordinary service. We took the HSR many times to travel between Taipei, Taichung, Chiayi, Kaohsiung (Zuoying). A pleasant experience, fascinating and convenient!

biglietti treno alta velocità Taiwan
Ready to hop on the HSR train


TAIWAN HSR TRAIN STATIONS

The HSR northern terminus in Taipei is at Nangang, although Taipei Main Station is more central and connected both to metro trains, regular trains (TRA) and to the Airport MRT.

Moving southbounds, Banqiao station is in New Taipei City (the modern are around Taipei City), whereas Taoyuan links the international airport. To reach the HSR station at Taoyuan from the airport, you need to take the Airport MRT heading opposite to Taipei for a couple of stops.

Taichung HSR station is convenient to hop on buses going to Sun Moon Lake. Having visited the lake during the last days of our trip, we took the HSR from Taichung to Taoyuan, reaching the airport without having to pass through Taipei again.

The last stops in the south are Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung (Zuoying). Down here the HSR trains travels extremely fast as the cities are further away, you’ll get to your destination even more rapidly.

HSR Map
HSR Map ph.Klook


OUT OF TOWN STATIONS

It is important to know that some HSR stations are located a bit out of town. You’ll need to consider transfer times (and costs) in order to reach the city centre.
That’s why planning trains, hotels and transportation is key. If the fast train makes you save an hour, but it takes over half an hour to reach your hotel from the HSR station, then it might not be worth it anymore.

For this reason we suggest taking the HSR for longer routes, such as Taipei-Zuoying (Kaohsiung), or Taipei-Chiayi (for Alishan), or Kaohsiung-Taichung (for Sun Moon Lake). This way you’ll surely save at least a couple of hours.

In some other cases the HSR station position can be an advantage. This is true for Taichung, where you can hop quickly on direct buses to Sun Moon Lake.
Similarly in Chiayi you could take a bus or taxi straight from the HSR to Alishan, without having to cross Chiayi city (and take the red train on the way back only, or viceversa).
In Kaohsiung, the HSR station is nearby the Lotus Pond, one of the city’s main attractions. From there to Kaohsiung‘s centre, the KMRT metro works great.

Train station Taiwan stazione
HSR station at Taichung (displays are in English too!)


BUYING HSR TRAIN TICKETS IN TAIWAN

HSR High Speed Rail train tickets in Taiwan are available online on the official HSR website 28 days in advance, and discounted fares exist too. Tickets with 30% off are the first to sell out, discounts drop to 20% and 10% off thereafter.

Overall, tickets for the HSR cost twice more than regular trains, but can get you there in half the time or less. High speed trains make more or less stops depending on the time of the day, you can check timetables on the website.

Getting tickets at the station is a possibility too, though we always some queues at the counters, reason why we recommend using the good online portal.

When buying discounted HSR tickets on Klook, you can take advantage of the Buy 1 Get 1 Free Ticket offer, valid for foreign passport holders. Keep in mind that, if you buy on Klook, you have to follow instructions and later reserve your actual seat after receiving your e-mail voucher.

Since tickets are available for tourists or non-residents only, you’ll need to show your passport at the station to have your ID verified and get your physical ticket prior to boarding the train.
Ticket counters have a lane for collecting online tickets, so this should be faster than queuing for purchasing on site.

High Speed Rail HSR Taiwan treno alta velocità
HSR train ticket from Taipei to Chiayi


SERVICES ON HSR TRAINS IN TAIWAN

As we were expecting, high speed trains in Taiwan are clean and modern, despite being almost 20 years old. There are a lot of staff members (one per carriage), ready to assist you.

Not even the time to store your luggage and take a seat, that you can already enjoy the panorama of Formosa speeding at 300km/h from the windows. About luggage, don’t worry when leaving it in the dedicated space at the back of the carriage, no one will touch it or steal it. Taiwan is a very safe country with low rates of theft and crime. We always felt at ease any time of the day or evening, both in cities and out in the countryside.

Every carriage has toilets, luggage storage, and a vending machine.

Access to HSR tracks is through automatic gates (as in airports) where you need to scan your ticket. Without a valid ticket you won’t be able to get to the tracks.

HSR trains also have up to three carriage for unreserved seats in the back of the train (n.10-11-12). This means that you can show up at the station last minute and buy a full priced ticket. You won’t be guaranteed a seat, but you are allowed to stand in these carriages. As we booked online in advance we never had this issue.

Taiwan HSR train
Taiwan from the HSR window seat


TOURIST TRAINS IN TAIWAN

Lastly, in addition to commuter trains, there are some purely tourist railways in Taiwan. Here are 3 of the main ones:

  • Alishan Forest Red Train: the red little train in Alishan is a famous diesel train in Taiwan that climbs up the mountains, leaving from Chiayi (100mt) and reaching 2,451mt at Alishan! The slow panoramic journey takes three hours, including some old wooden bridges, spiral tunnels, and tiny stations in the middle of the tropical forest. Seeing is believing! The area is much loved by Taiwanese and visitors alike, read our detailed post Alishan Forest train, sunrise and best trails.
  • Pingxi Line: Pingxi is a short line crossing the valley of the same name in the north of Taiwan. Here too a diesel train connects various tourist hubs, above all the village of lanterns of Shifen. The railway goes from the terminus of Jingtong up in the valley to Badouzi, where a scenic station overlooks the ocean. A trip on the Pingxi Line costs 15-30$NT (less than 1€!), or you can buy a daily pass for 80$NT.
    You can find more info in our article about Shifen and Jiufen by train from Taipei, which includes a section of the Pingxi Line.
  • Breezy Blue: finally we mention this train in the south of Taiwan. As for the above, Breezy Blue is yet another diesel train that has become a symbol over the decades. When the railway was electrified between Fangliao and Taitung, the Breezy Blue was retired. Some months later, it was restored and turned into an attraction for tourists and for the most nostalgic locals. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the deep south of the island during our Taiwan travel itinerary. We hope we can do it in the future!
  • Shifen train track
  • treno Alishan National Forest Railway
  • Badouzi station Pingxi Line

Our guide to trains in Taiwan ends here. Follow our related links to uncover new destinations in Taiwan and plan your own trip to Formosa!


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