Trains aren't the cheapest way of getting around Taiwan, and often they’re not the quickest. The high-speed railway will get you from Taipei to Kaohsiung in as little as one hour 36 minutes, but at four times the price of a midweek bus ticket (journey time about five hours). Very few of the conventional expresses operated by Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA), a branch of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, cover that route more quickly than buses, even though the cost is double. That said, rail travel is an excellent way to explore Taiwan. The island’s trains are safe and ultra-reliable. They don't get stuck in traffic. And while they can't carry you through Taroko Gorge or to a beach in the Penghu Islands, they can deliver you to several worthwhile destinations.
If all goes to plan, by the end of this year the famous logging railroad between Chiayi City and Alishan will again be taking sightseers from 30m above sea level to an altitude of 2,216m via a spectacular 72km-long route which includes switchbacks, the spiral ascent of a mountain, and so many bridges and tunnels you’ll lose count. (The photo above shows one of the forest railway's diesal locomotives).
Hsinchu, Chiayi and Tainan HSR stations are several kilometers from the centers of those cities, whereas TRA services convey passengers to within walking distance of downtown attractions. Hsinchu TRA Station is just 300m from Yingxi Old East Gate, and 750m from Beimen Street, a thoroughfare packed to the gills with old buildings. If you live in Taipei and
have never seen Hsinchu’s historic side, do make the trip.
At Tainan TRA Station, pick up a map from the information center and commence your walking tour. Even if you stray no more than a kilometer from the station, it’s possible to take in the city’s incomparable Confucius Temple, Fort Provintia (built by the Dutch East India Company in 1653), the exquisite Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple and several other places of worship. In the same neighborhood you’ll find Japanese colonial-era landmarks...
To see the whole article, pick up a print copy of the June/July issue of Centered on Taipei, or go here and scroll down to page 24.
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