Located in central western Taiwan, Taichung may be the second most populous city in Taiwan since July 2017 with a population of about 2.79 million people, but it is somehow not the first that comes to mind for travellers to the Formosa Island. Why? Maybe because it is an industrial city & not highly publicised on the tourism front. Or maybe because there is no MRT network in the big city so many think that it is less accessible to move around compared to Taipei or Kaohsiung.
Just to give you an idea of the area covered under Taichung, here’s a map divided by district:
If you do some homework, you will realise that Taichung actually has quite a comprehensive public transport network of buses & trains. To sweeten the deal, travelling in Taichung is cheap & affordable, because you get to travel on the bus free for the first 10 km of your journey! But first, you need to get yourself an Easy Card (which works like our EZLink Card in Singapore) available from convenience stores such as 7-11 or Family Mart, as you need to tap in & out of the bus so the distance travelled can be calculated. So cool right? In addition, the Easy Card is not just good for travelling on the bus, it can also be used for train / MRT travel, or even paying for your purchases in convenience stores etc. So having the Easy Card definitely makes your Taiwan trip more convenient.
During my recent 3-night Taichung trip, we didn’t engage any driver nor did we join in any private tour. This was because we could move around easily by taking a bus and/or transfer to a local train if we needed to. It is a cheap way of transport, compared to engaging a private driver for at least 3,500 TWD/day (~S$158/day) which is not economical for just 2 pax. It also helped that just less than a 10-min walk from our hotel, is the bus stop where we could find several buses that connects us to major attractions such as Tung Hai University, Taichung Railway Station & Gaomei Wetland.
At the above bus stop, most of the buses (#300 series mostly) will go to Taichung Railway Station where you can transfer to the local train or elsewhere to explore the big city. I like that all buses in Taiwan will not only flash the name of the next bus stop on the display behind the driver’s seat, but also announce the next bus stop (in Mandarin) through its speakers, so just make sure you know the name of the stop you are supposed to alight & you won’t miss it.
There are many private day tours available in the city, but the cost is typically around 1,000 TWD (~S$45) per pax or more. Using the popular Gaomei Wetland in Qingshui district as an example, which is a popular site for enjoying the beautiful sunset, Hotel Mapp wanted to charge us 1,600 TWD (~S$72) per pax for a 2-way transfer (1 way distance is about 26 km from the hotel). But if you take the bus, it will cost you a mere 32 TWD (~S$1.45) per pax given that the first 10 km is free! At Shin Kong Mitsukoshi / Top City Dept. Store bus stop, there is bus #309 which you can board for an approximately 1-hour journey to Gaomei. Enroute, you can also stop by Tung Hai University where the famous Luce Chapel is, or enjoy some affordable & trendy shopping in the shops nearby the university.
Besides the cheap public buses, we also made use of the local trains frequently throughout our stay in Taichung. While they are not free, they serve as a good & reasonably priced mode of transport to connect to buses. For example, to get to Houli district in the north where Zhongshe Flower Market is, it will take almost an hour’s drive from Xitun district (about 25 km). We decided to take the free bus to Taichung Railway Station then take a 25-min train ride to Houli district at just 31 TWD (~S$1.40) per pax followed by a quick taxi ride to the flower market.
Having shared so much about the cost savings & convenience of opting for public transport in Taichung, I must put a disclaimer here. This option works better if you are the type who prefers to go slow & easy & fine with just exploring 2 or 3 destinations in a day. This is because as we all know, all public transport networks run on a schedule. So you will need to fit your itinerary to suit the bus or railway schedules, which may not be as frequent as you wish, or there may be traffic jams, a common sight for city areas. Transfers between different modes of transport may also be required just like examples I quoted above. If you are travelling in a big group, i.e. more than 4 pax, it may be worthwhile checking out private driver rates since the cost can be split amongst many while you save on travelling time. Nonetheless, using the public transport network of buses, trains & the occasional taxi certainly worked for 2 of us throughout the 3 days to enjoy Taichung at a relaxing pace affordably.
Below is a snapshot of our 3-day itinerary where we relied entirely on buses, trains & the occasional taxi:
Day 1: As it was about 4 pm when we reached Taichung’s Xitun district, we didn’t travel out that day. Instead we only explored the nearby Maple Garden, checked into Hotel Mapp & rested for a while. After that, it was time to shop & eat to our heart’s content at one of Taiwan’s biggest night markets – Fengjia Night Market.
Day 2: Being some sort of a railroad fan, I decided to check out Zhuifen & Chenggong Railway Stations in Dadu district. If you can read & understand Chinese characters, you will know that combined together, the 2 stations have a lucky meaning “Pursue to Success”. Furthermore, both stations have been around since the Japanese Occupation & are quite unique in their own way. Thereafter, we continued the train journey to Qingshui from Dadu so that we could proceed to Gaomei Wetland to try catching the much-raved-about sunset. In the evening, we took bus #309 back to Xitun district directly, where we checked out the trendy UNO Container Market, as well as hunted down more yummy treats & shopped at Fengjia Night Market again.
第二天：自从上次的台湾行之后，我好像渐渐地变成一名铁道迷了，所以这次安排探访大肚区的追分及成功火车站。虽然已经远离需要追分的日子，但因为觉得这个火车名字组合很有趣，而且听说这两个火车站都是从日据时期就兴建的古迹，就更要前往参观了。之后，我们继续搭乘火车前往清水火车站，从那里再共乘计程车前往高美湿地。傍晚时分，我们直接搭乘公车回到西屯区。除了到正夯的 UNO 货柜市集逛逛，也再度到逢甲夜市继续血拼和品尝台湾美食。
Day 3: Today was a day for beautiful flowers. The day started with a train ride to Houli district where the popular Zhongshe Flower Market was. Around lunchtime, we took a short taxi ride to Taian Police Station in the vicinity, where the Cherry Blossom Festival was held till 18 March 2018. Thereafter, our original intention was to head to a traditional night market – Hanxi Night Market in East district. However, the heavy downpour prevented us from exploring this open-air night market so we settled for dinner near Taichung Railway Station before returning to the hotel.
Stay tuned for my upcoming posts where I will share more about my experience navigating around Taichung on a free & easy mode!