I’ve never taken the shinkansen or bullet train in Japan because I’ve had no chance to do so and the fares can be prohibitively expensive. Hence, I was excited to try out the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and have my first bullet train experience. To get the full experience, I went from north to south and back, between Taipei and Kaohsiung (Zuoying).
WHAT IS THE TAIWAN HIGH SPEED RAIL
Opened in 2007, the Taiwan High-Speed Rail (THSR) is the first shinkansen (bullet train) technology export from Japan. It uses the THSR 700T trainset, which is based on the trainsets being used by JR Central and JR West in Japan but customized for Taiwan’s climate and geography. The THSR 700T train can reach a maximum service speed of 300 kph, and it carries a maximum 989 passenger seats (66 business and 923 standard).
The THSR line spans 345 kilometers divided into 12 stations, namely (from north to south) Nangang, Taipei, Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan, and Zuoying. The station in Taoyuan will soon be connected with Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport by an MRT line.
PLANNING THE TRIP
After outlining all the things I wanted to see and do in Taiwan, I decided to allot two days each in Taipei and Kaohsiung. Getting from Taipei to Kaohsiung cannot be done by flight—my first choice of transportation—but only through bus, regular train, or high-speed rail. Given I had limited time in Taiwan, the bus and regular train options were out; I therefore planned around taking the high-speed rail or THSR. Seeing the fares, I thought they aren’t too pricey, especially when distance is considered.
BUYING A PASS
I was planning to buy a round trip Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) THSR ticket. Before seeking other means, I checked out the Klook app—my first go-to for transportation and attraction tickets—and saw that they are indeed selling THSR tickets at a discount. But as I was getting ready to purchase, I saw they also offered a three-day THSR pass. I realized that it made more economic sense to buy that instead of just a round trip ticket, for the pass would also cover my trip from Taoyuan, which is near the airport, to Taipei at practically the same cost.
Buying THSR tickets, as with everything they offer on the app, is easy—with just a few clicks, I had my voucher for the pass ready for redemption. I was also able to use my credits from referring friends and followers and by writing reviews for past purchases, making the pass even cheaper.
After redeeming my pocket wi-fi, which I also got from Klook, I sought the bus that was to take me from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Taoyuan THSR Station. The trip took only 20 minutes, and the fare was 30 TWD (46 PHP). By the way, taking a direct bus to Taipei would’ve taken about the same amount of time as taking a bus-THSR combo (wait times considered) and would’ve cost less overall, but since my THSR pass covered the Taoyuan-Taipei journey, I took advantage of it.
Bearing my Klook voucher, I approached the ticketing counter, and the friendly staff sorted the reservation out and later gave me my pass. I thought the pass was a card I can tap onto the turnstiles, but I was given a booklet. Although the pass can be used to take unreserved seats in the train, I decided to make reservations for my three trips for the three days: Taoyuan-Taipei, Taipei-Zuoying, and Zuoying-Taipei. The lady made the reservations and wrote them down on my booklet. Again, I was expecting to get tickets, but I was told that I needed to show my booklet and my passport to the staff at the turnstiles each time instead.
Taking the THSR from Taoyuan to Taipei only took 20 minutes, with a couple of stops in between, so the experience felt like riding the fast airport trains in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. It was only the next day on my trip from Taipei to Kaohsiung did it feel like a true THSR experience.
Traveling from Taipei to Kaohsiung takes approximately 350 km (~218 mi)—by comparison, that’s about the same distance as flying an hour and ten minutes from Manila to Kalibo for Boracay. With a mere two stops in between (Banqiao and Taichung), I was to travel that distance in just an hour and 34 minutes.
I boarded the train as scheduled. It was a busy Saturday morning; people were on their way to the countryside for the weekend. I was assigned a seat number, but for some reason, somebody already took my seat, so to avoid discussion, I just went to an empty seat nearby.
The seat, which can be swiveled 180 degrees to face passengers on the row behind, had legroom way more generous than a typical economy seat in a plane, and it had ample recline. Suffice to say it was comfortable by my standards.
On the other hand, the train cars—one of which is accessible to disabled passengers—featured clean toilets, luggage storage areas (aside from the overhead racks), coat hooks, vending machines, and a cool cabin temperature. There were also snacks and beverages for sale being rolled out on a cart periodically.
Although the screen said we were reaching top speed, I didn’t get the ear-popping sensation I was expecting—like when riding a super fast elevator. In fact, the ride was so smooth, I fell asleep both ways (to Kaohsiung and then back to Taipei) in no time, occasionally waking up when stopping at stations.
In all, riding the Taiwan High Speed Rail was quite the experience—especially on the first time. The seat and the rides themselves were comfortable, and I arrived as scheduled on all my three trips. Sure, a trip from Taipei to Kaohsiung (Zuoying) and back cost a small fortune, but with fast, safe, efficient, and comfortable service, the premium price was worth every dollar paid.
Klook, Asia’s leading platform for booking attractions and travel activities, offers Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) tickets. They also offer a three-day tourist pass with unlimited rides on the THSR and a five-day joint pass with two days unlimited rides on the THSR and five days unlimited rides on Taiwan Railway. For more information, check out www.klook.com, or download the app for iOS and Android.
Some images above are from Wikipedia Commons.