Getting round a new city can be an intimidating thought; lack of local knowledge, language barriers, price, it can all add stress to what should be exciting and fun. Not so in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, which has one of the best underground train systems in the world. Why? Take a trip with me and discover why I love it so much.
Their slogan “A world-class metro, a wonderful Taipei” (source: Taipei Metro website) gives you a good insight into how seriously they take customer experience. Taipei is fiercely proud of its Metro system, and for good reason. It’s clean, safe, easy to navigate, and has stops at all the right places. Let’s look at it closer.
I don’t think I’ve ever travelled on a subway system as clean as this one. Trains are gleaming inside and out, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any litter at any station, and users are very good about cleaning up after themselves. The fact that eating and drinking is banned on the trains probably helps. Don’t get caught either, as they impose heavy fines (you can carry food and drinks, just don’t consume it on the train).
Coming from a transport background (mainline trains in the UK), safety is one thing I always look for when using public transport. Happily, this is a major concern for Taipei, with barriers at every station, loud (but pleasant!) warning alarms prior to a trains arrival, and staff at busy stations to help the less able bodied (I’ve watched staff assist blind travellers, they are professional and caring), not once did I fear for my safety. Stations are well lit too, and most of the major stations appear to have staff of some capacity during all times of the day, another plus for solo travellers (especially women).
Easy to navigate.
All signs are in Chinese (Mandarin) and English, so it’s not overwhelming if you can’t read kanji. Announcements are in Chinese, English, and Japanese both at stations and on trains, and electronic displays on the trains in all three of these languages also help you to see where your stop is in plenty of time, so boarding and alighting is a lot less stressful! Prior to boarding, of course you must pay for your journey! Several ways you can do this, depending on how much you will be using the Metro. Let me break it down for you.
- Single journeys. These can be purchased from either the machines or the manned kiosks near the gates. It’s pretty simple, just look at the metro map near the machines for your stop (in Chinese and English), you’ll see a number on it (for example, if you’re at Taipei Main Station looking to travel to Ximen, you’ll see a 20 on Ximen). This is the fare in Taiwan dollar for that journey. Click on your language (Chinese is automatic, but you can switch to English or Japanese too), select single journey, select the desired fare (20, 25, 30, etc.), insert cash only (coins or notes), and voilà! It’ll issue you with a little plastic disc, like a token, that you can use to tap in at your origin station. At your destination, simply tap then pop it into the slot where it will be eaten up by the gates, allowing you to exit. Just don’t lose it!
- IC cards. Hit up the closest convenience store (usually a 7/11), to purchase an IC card for 100 Taiwan dollar. These can be topped up with as much as you like at all stations. The machines have an option for top up, just click it, click how much you want to top up (100 for example), tap your card on the plate (it’s pretty obvious, it has a sticker on it showing an IC card) and you’re good to go! 100 Taiwan dollar will get you a lot of journeys, and the gates will show you how much you have on the card as you enter and exit, so you won’t be caught short (don’t worry if you are, there are fare adjustment machines if you need them). Simply tap in and out at every origin and destination! (you can also top up at kiosks if you have issues with the machines).
- Day passes. These are great for tourists. They are a fixed price and allow unlimited travel on the system for 24 hours. They can only be purchased at the kiosks.
Here’s a map to help you out:
As you can see, this one has both Chinese and English translations. It’s an extensive system, with stops at major attractions such as Taipei 101 (an architectural feat that towers over the city), Shilin (one of Taipei’s biggest night markets), and the Exhibition Centre. Their website has a route map and timetable, as well as links to an app to help you navigate the Metro like a pro: find it here. As a general rule, the closer the station is to Taipei Main Station, the cheaper the fare. There are five lines: Wenhu (brown), Tamsui-Xinyi (red), Songshan-Xindian (green), Zonghe-Xinlu (yellow), and Bannan (blue). If there’s a change to be made, signs will point you in the right direction at stations, as well as announcements and signs on trains. It’s pretty simple. As long as you know the stop you need, and the line it’s on, you’ll have no trouble getting your bearings.
Other things to love.
It’s almost an attraction in itself. There’s a mascot called Majimeow, an adorable cat character poised to greet you and ensure you have a pleasant trip, souvenir shops at major stations allowing you to buy Majimeow and train-themed goods, photo booths so you can commemorate your journey (no joke, I have one from the Taipei 101 stop!), and services such as lockers, free wifi, toilets, and care for disabled users. Want to remember each station you visit? Get yourself a notebook and collect station stamps! These can be found next to kiosks, a great way to see where you’ve been.
Enjoying Taipei couldn’t be easier.