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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Spring in Taiwan 2017 - Itinerary and Public Transportation Navigation

Earlier this year in March, I went on a backpacking trip with my good friend, SWW. Two mothers leaving their families behind for 9 days for a break! LOL.

For this trip, it's going to be our first full public transport trip. Most travelers to Taiwan will arrange for day tour or get a private charter driver. But being just two of us, a private charter will be too expensive and day tours doesn't encompass exactly the things we wanted. So, it was all free and easy with trains and buses, and an occasional taxi if we missed the bus, of which we did, LOL.

I will be sharing how I arranged for my whole trip.

Taiwan is a country where public transportation is very affordable, and convenient. Most of the information is available online.

I went in spring, right at the time when it's cherry blossom season. So, we definitely had to find a location to view cherry blossoms. Actually Alishan is at its peak during our visit, but because both of us wanted to visit Taroko National Park, Alishan is out of the way. So, I found another cherry blossom spot which is along our journey to Hualien, and that it Wuling Farm. The cherry blossom season in Wuling has past its peak, but still, there's lots of cherry blossoms around.

Yang Ming Shan is another popular spring flower viewing destination.  But the cherry blossoms in Yang Ming Shan is not impressive, it's scattered and doesn't have a wow effect. But the calla lillies on Yang Ming Shan is worth a visit. Fields of calla lily grown on the mountain is near its peak during my visit.

For this trip, we covered
Seasonal Flowers: Cherry blossoms, calla lily
Culture cuisine: Hakka villages in Hsinchu, Aboriginal cuisine in Hualien
History: National Palace Museum, Lanyang Museum
Nature: Taroko National Park, Wuling Farm
Beach/sea: Qixingtan in Hualien, And northern east coast
Old Streets: Jiufen
Hotspring and geological features: Beitou and YangMingShan, and Northern coast of Taiwan
Waterfalls: Shifen
Night market: Dongdamen and whichever we might go to in Taipei

and I think it's quite comprehensive.

So, this was our original itinerary.

9/3/2017 Thurs
1. Arrive in Taipei
2. Collect Sim card from Unite Traveller
3. Purchase Easycard, put in TWD500
4. MRT to Taipei Station. Last train 11.37pm. Or take Citiair bus.
Sleep: Taiwan Youth Hostel, Taipei

10/3/2017 Fri
1. Morning: Yang Ming Shan - Qingtiangang 擎天崗 , Zhuzihu 竹子湖 + Early Lunch, Luihuanggu 硫磺谷,
2. Beitou Thermal Valley 北投地熱谷 - Early Dinner at Shilin and sightseeing
3. Evening: National Palace Museum 國立故宮博物院
Sleep: Taiwan Youth Hostel, Taipei

11/3/2017 Saturday
1. Morning: Maokong Gondola 猫空
2. Lunch: Mao Kong Tea house or Stinky Tofu Street in Shenkeng 深坑老街
3. Visit Shifen Waterfall, Pingxi, Jingtong 十分, 平溪,菁桐
4. Evening: Train to Jiufen. Lepak in Jiufen.
Sleep: He Feng Xiao Chu, Jiufen

12/3/2017 Sunday
1. Morning: Visit North East Coast (Nanya, Shuinandong, ShenAo)
2. Bus/Train Return to Taipei @ Songshan Station
3. Wufenpu Shopping Street 五分埔
4. Evening: Taipei 101, Ding Tai Fung
Sleep: Taiwan Youth Hostel, Taipei

13/3/2017 Monday
1. Morning :Take bus to Lanyang Museum
2. Lunch at Toucheng
3. Train to Yilan Station, Take Bus, Visit Wuling Farm
Sleep: Wuling Farm

14/3/2017 Tuesday
1. Morning: Return to Luodong
2. Short visit to Luodong Night Market /Sanxing village 三星村/ Toucheng
3. Train to Hualien 花莲
4. Evening: Dongdamen Night Market 东大门夜市
Sleep: Jack House, Hualien

15/3/2017 Wednesday

1. Visit Hualien market, pack food for lunch
2. Visit Taroko Gorge
Sleep: Tianhsiang Youth Activity Center, Taroko

16/3/2017 Thursday
1. Visit Taroko Gorge
2. Lunch at QixingTan 七星潭
3. Train from Hualien - Taipei
4. Longshan / Hwahsi Night market
Sleep: Taiwan Youth Hostel, Taipei

17/3/2017 Friday
1. Visit Beipu 北埔老街 , Neiwan 内弯
2. Fly back to Malaysia
Sleep: AirAsia

18/3/2017 Saturday
Activity: Arrive in KL

The itinerary was supposed to be very manageable if we adhere to the plans, but alas, weather was not nice to us. and we had to play by ear when we were in Taipei. It was raining, but yet manageable.
We shifted some of the night activities to be done on the first day, the rainiest day during our trip.

Public Transportation

First and foremost, get an Easycard for cashless public transportation use. Once you land at the airport, head to a convenience store and buy it, load it and use.

Transport links:
Local Bus in Taipei :
Taiwan Tourist Shuttle: : very useful for tourist spots area
KuoKuang Bus :
Hualien Bus :
Taiwan Express Bus :
High Speed Rail:
Taiwan Railway:

So, how did I know which bus to take? I used Google Maps. Key in the locations that I want to go, and set the time I intend to be there. The bus options will be shown. Then, find out the exact bus stop from the bus stop icons to check the buses that stop there.

Gone are the days when one just stands there waiting for the bus, not knowing when it's coming. Taiwan buses are tracked with GPS and users can check their position and be informed of their approaching time. Taiwan City buses, Taiwan Tourist Shuttles and Express Buses are trackable, but it all depends on the internet connection. For example, in Taroko National Park, the tracking isn't reliable in the park itself, due to bad connection. Bus stop names on Google map are matching with Taiwanese tracking sites.

Here's how it looks like, the buses will look like blue boxes with a triangle (circled in pink on map) and on the left, information regarding waiting time will be displayed.
I had no trouble with the accuracy and information of the buses.

Click on that blue bus stop and buses that stop there will be shown.

Sometimes, I do it this way instead. I look for bus stops near the landmark I am going to. I see what buses stop there, and from there I try to find are there direct buses and connecting buses from my previous location. It's good that timetables are easily found online, if one knows the company the bus is under. All it takes is just some googling work.

It seems the homework that I did is crazy, but I think it's important to ensure my flow of logistics is smooth, without standing there not knowing what bus to take or when will the next bus comes. My friend told me, she was travelling with a compass, hahaha!

The only problem with Taiwan buses, is the payment system. Although the Easycard makes it cashless, but yet, some buses collect payment upon getting on, some will need to pay when one gets off, some buses need us to tap twice (on and off)... and some requires taking a queue number from the MRT station and what if I didn't come up from the MRT station? It's pretty silly if you ask me.

Some of the bus drivers are pretty nasty. Some are nice. Some look nice but will talk nasty thinking you don't understand. I met all three types during my visit. Taroko National Park bus drivers are the worst. One scolded us because we ran to chase the bus, saying "Why didn't you wait in advance??"... hello.. it was 10 minutes early!!! And another driver on Taroko #302 seemed courteous, but once we sat down, we heard him talking on the phone calling us tortoises. Another bus driver (Jiufen-Keelung #788) won't tell me the real fare, whether I should tap my card again or I won't need to. He joked too much or was just being plain sarcastic. I tapped anyway and my friend just ignored him, didn't tap and got off the bus.

The nicest bus driver would be the one I encountered on my Wuling Farm trip. I was waiting at the wrong bus station at Yilan, and he stopped his bus, opened his door and told me to run to the correct station because that bus stop does not allow picking up. Then when we came downhill, it was the same bus driver. 10 minutes into the journey, one passenger told the bus driver she left her backpack at Wuling Farm's bus stop and he stopped the bus at a safe spot. The roads were very narrow and there's no way the bus can make a U-Turn. So he halted a passing car, asked the driver to help fetch the passenger back to Wuling Farm to get the backpack that has her passport in it. The whole bus waited and this bus driver didn't nag a bit for delaying his journey.

Trains and subway rides are pretty much easier to navigate. The trains can be booked ahead of time, paid using credit card, even when I'm from Malaysia. Mark down the given serial number (or print out the receipt) and get the ticket when you arrive in Taiwan. The tickets can be collected at convenience stores or at the station itself. Taiwan Railways' website will provide a clear explanation regarding the whole process.
I bought two tickets and our numbers were 21 and 23 and we were sitting together.

Odd numbers seat on the left, Even numbers on the right of the carriage.

Oh yes, and do visit Taiwan Tourism Board's office to collect a freebie. Bring along proof of flight tickets and 3 nights of hotel bookings.

Travelling in Taiwan with public transportation 
is easy, convenient and pocket friendly, 
but not for the lazy :) 


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