How to Ride Inter-city Buses in Taiwan

I’ve never been a fan of inter-city buses in Taiwan because I’m afraid I’ll just miss my stop if I ride them. It doesn’t help that you’d mostly find a bunch of numbers mixed with Chinese characters at their stops. So in the past 4 years of my Taiwan existence, I limited myself to MRT rides and Youbikes. I only rode buses when I’m traveling to other places out of Taipei (and being el cheapo against HSRs) or riding the airport bus.

But during my mom’s recent visit, I discovered how incredibly convenient Taiwan’s inter-city buses are. On Sundays, we go to a Church that’s in the middle of two MRT stations. Since my mom has a heart condition (and also don’t fancy walking too much tbh), she’d often bug me about taking a cab from the MRT station instead of walking, which will take us to Church for another 10 minutes (15 if we follow her pace). Problem is, it’s not that easy to find one where we get off from. So, one Sunday she finally noticed buses (or probably just got tired of my jokes about the benefits of walking) passing by and asked, “Can we ride one to take us straight to Church?”

Well that episode turned out to be a blessing in disguise. And in the spirit of sharing is caring, I’ve decided to write about it here for all you tourist folks and fellow foreigners out there.

Ride must-haves

If you don’t have the skills to read or fluently speak Chinese, it would be best to have these before you take an inter-city bus ride in Taiwan:

1. An EasyCard or NTD 15 coins – Even if you are fluent in Chinese you still need this to pay for your ride. Every bus route has a flat rate of NTD 15, end to end. If you transfer to another bus to continue your journey you pay another NTD 15.

If you pay by cash, make sure you have the exact amount because the driver won’t be giving you change. You drop your fare by the steel box beside him. The most convenient mode of payment is EasyCard/iPass card which you can just tap on the scanner beside said steel box.

2. A mobile phone with mobile data – The 3rd stuff would explain why you’ll need this.

3. A bus app for Taiwan – I personally like Google Maps and Bus Tracker Taiwan. And since you’ve already gone this far, you can keep on reading below to learn how to use them.

Google Maps

This app is my travel bff. I’ve used it mostly for searching specific places to get to on foot. But now, it also shows real-time statuses from buses and trains arriving at various stops and stations in Taiwan!

I’ve only used this nifty feature here so I’m not sure if the same works in other countries. Anyway, here’s how you can use it to ride inter-city buses in Taiwan for destinations that are too far from the MRT, or too tedious to reach by foot.

1. Download the Google Maps app on your Apple or Android device.

2. After launching the app, tap the target-like icon to set Google Maps at your current location, then tap Go.

3. Type where you plan to go inside the “Choose destination” box. You can also switch things up if you want to see how to get back to your home or hotel from a destination. Google Maps may suggest places as you type which is quite helpful to choosing your destination.

4. Tap Search once you’re done selecting or entering the location, then voila! You’ll see all possible transportation options to take. The car icon is for a car route (if you plan to hail a taxi or rent a car), while the man icon is for folks who don’t have qualms walking, never mind if it takes a day.

5. You can scroll through the public transport options, then choose the one that fits your time. You might notice that fares are also displayed per route, so anything beyond NTD 15 means you’d need to switch buses if you choose that option. You can tap your chosen option to see its full details, which is incredibly useful when trying to figure out how many more stops it’ll take to reach your destination.

Google Maps works perfectly with the details of every bus stop here in Taiwan. All you need is mobile data or Wi-Fi to take full advantage of it. Some bus stops and buses even have free Wi-Fi you can connect to so all’s good, all’s truly good.

Bus Tracker Taiwan

If for some reason you can’t use Google Maps, another reliable inter-city bus app for Taiwan is Bus Tracker Taiwan. I’m not sure if it works with Apple devices though. Learned about this from a local so you can be sure the information’s accurate.

I use this when Google Maps takes time to load, or when I also want to see other transport options such as nearby Youbikes and other relevant Taiwan maps. This app detects your device’s language so if you’re using English then it’ll automatically install its English version in your device.

To use it for riding buses, just:

1. Download, launch, then tap Directions.

2. Enter your destination in the To: box. You can also switch it up, if you want to find your way back home from a destination, by tapping the arrows beside the From and To boxes.

3. Tap the search icon to display possible options. Results are displayed from the shortest to the longest route.

Taiwan Bus Stops

Truth is, there’s no specific identity among bus stops here in Taiwan, even in the small city of Taipei. Their appearances range from a literal stop sign to some fancy waiting shed complete with living room showcase. I stopped trying to figure out if there’s some sort of format per district.

actual chairs may vary

What’s important is that you figure out that a post is a bus stop and not just a traffic sign. I usually end up searching for the bus stop using Google Maps when it’s my first time to ride from that stop.

Note that not all bus stops cater to all bus lines. They would only show the bus numbers and routes they service, so if you can’t find the bus number you’re looking for, perhaps you’re on the wrong stop even if you’re in the right area.

And you’ll know you’ve found bus stop gold when it’s fitted with a LED screen because it will constantly update you, in English, where your bus is and how long it’ll take before it arrives.

Inside the bus

There are only three important things you must know as you ride an inter-city Taiwan bus. And these are:

1. Pay as you get on or get off the bus. – In Taipei, you can scan your card or pay your fare as you get off or get on the bus. The same is true for other inter-city buses like Taichung.

BUT some longer routes outside Taipei would require you to tap as you get on and as you get off to track the distance you rode the bus BUT these are mostly provincial buses or those that travel between cities.

2. Use the LED screen to check which stops are coming up and press the stop button as the bus leaves the stop before yours. – Okay, so here’s how it works: You’re getting off at Point C. Now, the LED screen flashed Point B. As soon as the bus stops at and then leaves Point B, press the stop button to make sure it’ll stop at your Point C.

Sometimes, the bus doesn’t stop at each of its supposed stops. So in case you see the LED screen flash Point B but noticed that nobody pressed the stop button (it’s not lit up even if the LED already flashed Point B), wait for point C to appear on the LED screen and immediately press the stop button.

3. Mind the PWD seats and be prepared to yield them especially to old folks. – I usually seat way back when I ride inter-city buses or just stand throughout the ride. Reason is that I’d most likely just give up my seat when gramps or grandma comes in. It’s a reflex action I’ve learned here in Taiwan. You can still sit at those PWD seats though if there aren’t too many passengers. Just prepare to give them up anytime lest you get dagger looks from people, that or your conscience will start eating at your soul.

Enjoy your ride, and I’m sure you will, as these buses arrive on time. If you miss your stop, don’t panic. The next best thing to do would be to just wait for the next stop where you can get off, or try to talk to the driver. Take note that Taiwan’s buses never stop anywhere. These drivers get paid a fixed salary so they won’t care for the number of passengers they get to take, only that they get them to where they need to go safely and legally.

And should you ride them one of these days, if you got time, well maybe you’d want to give a few helpful suggestions too. Just make sure you do it safely. 😉

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