All aboard! Are you planning to travel through Taiwan using trains? Here’s a special guide to railway travel for all train aficionados. There’s something magical about embarking on train rides as time seems to slow down with the changing scenes outside the window.
Taiwan’s railways offer the most convenient and enjoyable way to travel around the island. The trains have been serving the locals since 1887 during the Qing Dynasty. Over the years, more railway tracks and stations have been added to form the round-the-island train network.
You may have noticed many similarities between your train experiences in Taiwan and Japan like the design of the trains and stations, the fun commemorative train ‘stamp’ counter, and even train bentos. It is because both countries share close historical ties as some of the train facilities and tracks were built during the Japanese period.
This guide introduces the two major railway systems Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) 臺鐵 and Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) 台灣高鐵. Both railways have been enhancing their facilities and services to cater to international travelers and offering more sightseeing train and railway travel routes. As some of the websites are in Chinese, I have summarized information of recommended train experiences that you should not miss for your next trip to Taiwan. Enjoy planning and embarking on your railway adventure!
Guide to Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA)
Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) 臺鐵 operates a comprehensive network of trains connecting cities and small towns around the island. TRA celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2017. It has been serving the locals for many years.
There are several types of passenger trains such as intercity, Fuxing, Juguang, Ziqiang, and more so you can select the train that suits your budget and time.
TRA operates a dazzling selection of sightseeing train routes that you can embark on for relaxing day trips. A popular train excursion is on the Pingxi 平溪 Line that brings you to stations like Ruifang 瑞豐, Houtong 猴硐 (also known as the cat village), Shifen 十分 for its waterfalls, and of course Pingxi 平溪 old street where you can enjoy the stunning views of railway tracks running close to the streets and participate in its annual Sky Lantern Festival. There are other popular branch lines like Jiji 集集, Neiwan 內灣, and the Old Mountain Line 舊山線.
Book your tickets on TRA website or the TRA app. You can also purchase and print the tickets in convenient stores, which are truly convenient as they provide many types of services on top of selling delicious food. Advanced reservations for weekend and special scenic train routes are highly recommended, especially for tickets to Taitung.
I like using the TRA app (台鐵e訂通) as it is user-friendly. I use it to check train timings and purchase the hard-to-get tickets for the train that connects Taipei and Taitung. The scenic ride from Taipei to Taitung will take 4-5 hours and you will be treated to gorgeous vistas of the ocean and mountains for the stretch between Hualien and Taitung. If you are planning to visit Taitung, check out my guides to the top 10 experiences in Taitung and cycling in Taitung.
Breezy Blue 藍皮解憂號, this vintage train was retired when TRA went fully electric and relaunched in 2021 after ten months of restoration. The “romantic blue” train evokes nostalgic memories for the locals who commuted to work and school on the blue diesel-powered train.
This train transports you down the “off the grid” South-Link line that connects Taitung and Fangliao station, which is the gateway to the rustic Pingtung County. The train route resembles a smiling curve. Look at the train map! Does it look like a =)? This joyous ride is flanked by the picturesque Pacific Ocean and greenery of the more rural parts of Taiwan.
Serious work and research were done to ensure that travellers can enjoy the most authentic train experience. Everything from the exterior colors of the train to the interior set up was refurnished to recreate the nostalgic train experience . One of the highlights of the train ride is the open windows as you can feel the breeze as the train chugs through the island.
The signature aluminium sun shades, luggage racks, handle straps and the green leather seat covers are all installed to mirror the original train.
Even the retro electric fans are restored and installed inside the trains with much care. Not to worry, there is air-conditioning if the weather gets too warm in summer!
A round-trip between the two station is only NT$299 and there is one full ride daily. Lion Taiwan organizes fun tours for train enthusiasts like the premium train package that comes with a tour guide and includes round-trip fare, commemorative ticket and gift, and even a special train bento.
There are also multi-day packages when you can join bus tours after the train rides, which will bring you to recommended places and activities to do in Taitung like Luye and the Taiwan international Hot Air Balloon Festival, and even down south in Kending. Purchase the tickets and packages on Lion Travel 雄獅旅遊 website.
Check out this nostalgic video that shows more about the renovation and refurbishment process!
I have been receiving many questions about Breezy Blue and I hope to experience when I visit the eastern part of Taiwan. One of my readers Millie shared:
I just returned from Taiwan to Singapore yesterday. One of the highlights was experiencing round trip on 藍皮解憂號 (after reading your blog). So much care and attention to details in the restoration of Breezy Blue and when the train slows down during that section closest to the sea, it was totally breathtaking. This experience is one I will not forget.
If you are looking for a luxurious railway experience, Future Express 鳴日號 is the experience to splurge on and indulge. When it was first unveiled to the public in late 2022, the seats were sold out for the pilot train ride on New Year’s Eve.
The premium train is refurbished from the old Chukuang Express trains and covered in striking black and orange hues. The posh interiors are elegantly decorated. There are two types of trains: the Future Express 鳴日號 and the Future Express Kitchen 鳴日廚房. The Future Express train consists of business-class cabins, lounge cars, and bar. The Future Express Kitchen train comes with dining car and kitchen where you can see how the fine dining meals are prepared by top chefs. Not surprising, the trains received the Good Design Award from Japan Institute of Design Promotion.
To enhance the overall travel experience, VIP rooms in Hualien, Nangang, Sinwurih and Sinzuoying railway stations are specially prepared for travelers to take breaks during their journey.
Let’s tour the exclusive Future Express Kitchen! Travelers enjoy luxury dining service in the “five-star moving restaurant,” the Future Express Dining 鳴日廚房. Lion Travel invited Silks Hotel Group to curate gastronomical menus featuring lavish courses that travelers can enjoy during the train ride. The dishes are made from fresh local products sourced from places like Yilan where the train passes through.
A few years back, I pampered myself “accidentally” with a stay Silks Place Taroko Hotel (I almost died when I saw the final hotel bill). The hotel is nestled in the heart of the Taroko Gorge. The views from the hotel and especially the pool are just mind-blowing and the meals at their restaurants are so exquisite. I can just imagine how incredible the Future Express Dining experience will be!
Just a disclaimer that I am not paid by Lion Travel to share about Future Express. I will gladly welcome an invitation to board Future Express (hint hint)!
This lavish train ride comes with a price tag. Tour prices vary from NT$29,900 for a three-day tour to NT$45,900 for a five-day tour. Book your tours on Lion Travel website. Travelers can choose from a variety of railway tours that will bring them to hot springs, cultural destinations like temples, Aboriginal villages, and even cherry blossom-viewing spots. If you enjoy flower themed trips, check out my guide to flower viewing and leisure farms in Taiwan.
Watch this video to see the variety of fine dining you can enjoy at the Future Express Kitchen!
Guide to Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR)
Another railway system in Taiwan is the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) 台灣高鐵. Like Japan’s high speed trains, THSR connects cities and towns in Taiwan with its fast and comfortable trains. It takes only 1.5 hours to travel between the major cities Taipei and Kaohsiung. You can choose the train timings that fit your itineraries as the train frequency is quite high.
The twelve THSR stations form the “Western Corridor” of Taiwan as they connect Nanyang and Taipei in the north to the south at Zuoying, the station in Kaohsiung City. THSR and TRA train lines complement each other so you will find yourself doing long journey on THSR and then hopping to TRA to reach smaller towns.
THSR tickets are more expensive than local trains operated by Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) but you can cut down traveling time and hassle. Travel tip: save money by buying your tickets early on THSR website. The earlier you purchase your tickets, the cheaper the “early bird” tickets.
International travelers are entitled to exclusive THSR passes! The passes range from one-way ticket to five-day pass. I used some of these passes for my trips around the island. Find out more about the passes and purchase them on THSR website. You can purchase the THSR passes on travel websites like Klook. Get 10% with this code US10NEW!
THSR offers many train tour packages on their T-Holiday 高鐵假期 website and interesting travel articles on their e-magazine TLife. The main target audience is Taiwanese so the websites are in Chinese and the tours will be conducted in Mandarin too. If you are interested in any tours, you can get in touch with them and ask if they can provide any supporting language services.
Just scanning through the T-Holiday website, you will be amazed by the wide variety of tours. From themed tours that focus arts and culture (藝術散策之旅) to romantic railway lines crossing Hsinchu, Taichung, and Miaoli (浪漫台三線), I am so inspired by the railway travel itineraries. Most tours include transportation to a main THSR station, transfers by bus to a number of attractions in the local town, an overnight stay, and trip back to the station.
For this guide, I will highlight two itineraries from the Gourmet Voyages 饗宴之旅 theme.
One day tour of Tainan
Starting from Tainan 台南 station, the first stop is Guohua Street 国华街. This famous food street is the place to savour the best of Tainan’s local street food. The must-eat dishes recommended by locals are rice noodles with squid 小卷米粉, rice cake 碗粿, and beef soup 牛肉湯.
After a full lunch, head to Tainan’s Confucius Temple 臺南孔子廟. This majestic temple was first built in 1666 and it has withstood history and even natural disasters.
Take a break and enjoy the traditional drink from shuànsên beverage 双生. This well-known shop serves green bean (or mung bean) smoothies mixed with local Hu-San milk.
Continue your tour and visit Tainan Art Museum 臺南市美術館. This architectural marvel houses an impressive collection of contemporary arts.
End your Tainan food journey at A-Sha Restaurant 阿霞飯店. This dining institution has been serving high quality Taiwanese dishes since 1940. Don’t leave Tainan without trying some of their classics like glutinous rice with mud crab 紅蟳米糕 and stir-fried eel noodles 炒鱔魚意麵.
Find out more about this tour here!
Two days tour of Lukang
Starting from Changhua station, the first attraction of the Lukang 鹿港 tour is the tranquil Cheng Mei Cultural Park 成美文化園.
Next, spend some time in the atmospheric Lukang Old Street 鹿港老街 to soak in the culture and savour local snack like vermicelli soup 麵線糊, meatball 肉圓, and soybean pudding 豆花.
After a filling lunch, pay your respects to the Goddess of Sea Mazu at Lukang Tianhou Temple 鹿港天后宮. This historic temple is one of the oldest Mazu temples in Taiwan.
Enjoy a tea break and try more Lukang classics like tongue cake 牛舌餅, rice puff with sesame 麻荖, fried bun with braised pork 刈包, and more.
The final spot is Lukang Lungshan Temple 龍山寺, another historic site where the locals frequent. Find out more about this tour here!
Special recommendation: Taipei
Taipei is probably the first stop if you land in Taoyuan Airport. THSR offers a guided gourmet tour of the city. A highly recommended restaurant is the Michelin Bib Gourmand
Song-Tzu Garden Restaurant 松竹園 in Yang Ming Shan. The signature cuisine here is their chicken dishes as they use domestically rear poultry. Plan an excursion to the mountains when you visit this place.
This article is a supplement to the virtual travel session “Discover Scenic Railway Travel through Taiwan” organized by Taiwan Tourism Administration, Singapore. It is a special collaboration between whywendywrites, Lion Travel 雄獅旅遊, and Taiwan High Speed Rail 台灣高鐵. Watch the video here!
Can’t get enough of fun train travel in Taiwan? Check out my comprehensive guide to Alishan and Alishan Forest Railway Train for your next trip to Taiwan!
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