Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Taipei: Transportation

All money amounts are in New Taiwanese Dollars. $30 NTD ~ $1 US Dollar.

To-From the airport.
Like many large international airports, the international airport is about an hour from the actual city of Taipei. Getting from the international airport to the actual city of Taipei can be done basically two ways. The first is to take a taxi that will run between NT$900-NT$1000. The second is to take an express bus for NT$110-NT$150. Go to the tourist information desk right after customs. The docent can tell you which company is best based on which hotel or hostel you are staying. Get a route map for the bus before leaving. Make sure the bus picks people up at the same stop so that you'll have a way to get back to the airport. Tell the driver, or point on the map which stop you need to be let off.

I prefer subway in every large city that I've traveled. They usually get you where you're going faster than any other means. The subway in Taipei is call the Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT). Most of it is underground, but a few of the lines are elevated above the city. The MRT is clean and effecient. People are much more patient and polite compared to other large cities I've traveled.

There are maps available at most stations that have a tour of the city by subway. This is great if you are spontaneous. I was traveling alone this trip, so I didn't have to make plans with anyone. If I saw something on the map that caught my eye, I could jump off the train and go see it.

Buy an EasyCard. You have to pay NT$500 up front, NT$100 of which is a deposit. The card uses RFID technology so you just have to tap the card against the reader to use the MRT. You'll need to use it when entering the subway and when exiting. The EasyCard offers a 20% discount from paying for each fare separately, and keeps you from having to worry about buying a ticket each time. The cards can also be used on buses. When you are ready to leave the city, go to a ticket counter and they'll give you your deposit back and the remaining balance off your card.

The trains run from 6:00 and the last train leaves at midnight. If you are going out at night, there will be a sign near the exit that says when the last train arrives at that particular station. There will also be a map that will tell you which exit to use for which attraction, and a list of connecting buses.

DO NOT eat, drink, or chew gum in the paid area (after you've gone through the turnstiles). They have posters up everywhere. The fines can run up to NT$1500.

Taxis are very common. Fares start out at NT$70 and are reasonable. Make sure to grab a card from your hotel with the address and/or map on it to give to the driver when you want to return. Also, make sure the driver turns the meter on! If he doesn't, he might demand some ridiculous amount of many when you stop. I only used a taxi a couple times when I got stuck away from my hotel after the subway shut down.

Intra-City Bus
There are a few sights--namely the National Palace Museum--that require the use of a motor vehicle. In most places there are several lines that run the same route. There are private lines and city buses. The prices are the same and so is the service. Buses also take the EasyCard which is handy. Bus fare runs NT$30 per zone. Most local rides will only be one zone. I was never able to find a map of these zone. Follow the lead of the other passengers. Sometimes, you pay when you enter the bus, and sometimes when you get off.

I made the mistake of only brining large bills (NT$100) on a bus ride. I showed it to the driver and he rolled his eyes at me. He didn't have the money for the change. He shooed me off--I got a free bus ride! You can try this if you want, but your bus driver may not be so kind. An EasyCard will solve this problem.

There are also several free shuttle buses that run from major metro stops to the large shopping areas. I know of one that runs to the Living Mall, and also one that runs to Taipei 101. Again, check the metro exit map to see if these are available.

Walk! Like I said, I prefer to take the metro to major stops and then walk to my destination. That may mean walking a mile or so to get to where I'm going. Taiwan is generally pedestrian friendly with neato animated crosswalk signs and drivers that actually yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (a welcome change from Korea).

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