Travelling between Hualien and Taipei

During Taiwan’s Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping Day holiday, observed on April 4 and April 5, Peter and I traveled to Hualien.

We learned the hard way that this is one of the busiest times to travel during the year. We booked our AirBnB long before we purchased transportation there, naively thinking “the train won’t sell out.” Two days before our vacation started, my co-worker/friend, Jack, kindly sent me the link to buy train tickets online. Much to my surprise all train tickets were “sold out.” *Sigh*

Fortunately, I stumbled across this incredibly useful blog detailing how to purchase a combo-pass (bus + train) from Taipei to Hualien.  Using that blog a a guide, I wanted to share how the the ride looked from my perspective.

Since Peter and I did not have train reservations, we weren’t necessarily in a hurry to arrive early to Taipei Main Station. Plus, we were under the impression that the bus+train ride lasts 3 hours and we couldn’t check in until 5 pm anyway. That explains our 11 am arrival to Taipei Main Station (mistake #2).

The line for the Kamalan ticket formed a double-lined spiral around the center staircase. My jaw dropped. I thought, “oh, we’re definitely not getting to Hualien… DAMMIT.”  Technically, we had nothing else to do besides wait. So we waited. The the DMV-eque line only lasted a surprising 30 minutes. (Ya’ll, I wish I took a picture but this line brought a stress tear to my eye it was so long). Yet another example of Taiwan’s efficiency that blows me away.

Kamalan Bus ticket counter located on 1st floor of Taipei Main Station.

As the referenced blog mentions, the ticket agent spoke wonderful English. I timidly asked for “a combo-pass to Hualien” and she knew exactly what I needed. She booked us the first available bus to Luodong station, where we will then transfer to the train station, and told us kindly, “the bus leaves at 1:45 pm on the fourth floor, gate 413.” (Remember, it’s about 11:30 am at this point, so we had to wait a few hours at the station with all of our junk).

Each combo-ticket cost $344 NTD = $11 USD. It’s truly unbelievable how affordable transportation is here.

Kamalan bus ticket set to leave at Taipei Main Station 1:45 pm and arrive in at Luodong station 4:45 pm. Kamalan is a comfortable charter bus with nice-sized seats and AC.
TRA train tickets from Luodong to Hualien Station. There are no assigned seats as this is a typical train. This is an older mode of transportation, which is reliable but not as comfortable as other transportation.

We entertained ourselves with silent Switch Mario Kart and gaping at the fancy shops. There’s an underground mall abridging the MRT and Main Station, plus there are four gleaming floors of stores, restaurants, and more stores. It’s a dizzying maze of consumerism; products and people shoved together in a sleek, modern building.

When the ticket clerk told us to go to the fourth floor to catch our bus, we didn’t know which set of stairs to follow. As such, we found ourselves running around the mall portion of the station in a bit of a frenzy. In reality, the clerk referred to the staircase that the spiral lined formed around, visible from the ticket counter. *insert Chrissy Teigen gif* We made our bus with four minutes to spare.

View of the fourth floor of the bus station. I’m not sure if it’s always this crowded, but it was difficult to maneuver towards the restroom.
Gate to Kamalan bus on the fourth floor of Taipei Main Station.
Inside of a Kamalan Bus. There are leathery seats with a decent-sized televisions that only shows Kamalan advertisements.

Considering the mass of people travelling the country, the bus understandable traveled slower than expected. We slept through a majority of this bus ride and awoke in Luodong around 5 pm.

Sleepy Pete standing in Luodong Bus Station, which is located across the street from the Luodong Train Station.
Entrance of Luodong Train Station, visible from the bus station.

Once we arrived to Luodong Train Station, we walked up steep steps into the station and searched for a timetable. After a quick glance, we saw the next train departing to Hualien leaves in 45 minutes. At this point, I was another level of exhausted/annoyed/ready-to-start-my-vacation mode. Peter and I sat on a bench drinking juice and telling each other bad jokes in between nodding off.

A timetable of upcoming trains departures/arrivals and corresponding platforms. A majority of it is in Chinese, but sometimes English will pop up.
Ticket gate that separate general waiting area and train pick up/drop off.

Boarding the last train to Hualien felt like such a success that quickly died because there were no available seats. It was completely packed, even dogs in their travel bags got a whole row of seats. Sadly, we stood for the hour and a half train ride solving Encyclopedia Brown mysteries.

A mass of people boarding the train to Hualien.
A completely packed train ride to Hualien. Everyone is ready to vacation!
The first glimpse of the sea from inside the train.

We arrived in Hualien around 6:30 pm and were greeted by fireworks celebrating Children’s Day. I cannot understand why we thought it was in our best interest to walk to our AirBnb, but we did. The entire 45 minute walk (a little more than a mile in distance) each holding two bags through bustling streets.  

For the anguish we experienced to Hualien, I am happy to report we lucked out back to Taipei. Originally, I reserved two seats for a train that departed at 9 pm and arrived at 1 am, which is just too late.  Rather than wait for that reservation, we went to the station around 12 pm to see if they had more options. Fortunately, they had the BEST option!

The ticket agent said there is space on Puyuma Express which leaves at 12:40 and arrives in Taipei at 2:50 pm. (*gasp, only a short 30 minute wait?!*  **double gasp, arrives before 3 pm!!**) Each ticket cost $440 NT = $14. Incredible. I said yes a bit too eagerly.

A train ticket for Puyuma Express that we purchased on the spot. Oh, lucky day!

The Puyuma Express is new, which was completely obvious. It had airplane vibes, but with much more space. There AC kept the train at a comfortable temperature, large windows brought in plenty of afternoon light, and we could store our bags in storage space they provided. Plus, there are cup holders! It was such a comfortable, pleasant, and seated ride compared to the trip to Hualien.

A view of Puyuma Express from my assigned seat.
Peter acting fake grumpy. Your attention should be brought to the amount of leg room each row has!

If you’re curious to see what we did/saw/ate in Hualien, check out this blog post!

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