February 1, 2012

Keelung Train Station

Past, Present and Future 

The Keelung to Taipei rail line was the first one in Taiwan and China. During the Japanese colonial period the system was expanded and typical stations added. Some of these Baroque style buildings are well preserved, as you can still see in Hsinchu and Taichung. Surviving the heavy war time bombardments, the Keelung station was replaced by the current 'modern' structure in the mid-1970's when so much of the city's heritage was demolished in the name of progress.


Now it is the turn of this building to disappear, and to redevelop the waterfront real estate. The front of the station just got a facelift, but at the platforms work is in progress to build huge foundations. The new station arrangement (under the three towers) will connect with the bus station, one that is now way too small and primitive, as well as a new cruise terminal. Great, but I'm afraid all this progress will limit most of the current wide harbor view - next time you visit on a cruise we'll be a mini Manhattan ?

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How can I visit the National Palace Museum on my own ?

View National Palace Museum in my larger map.  

Most cruise tours will offer you a very quick visit to the National Palace Museum in a large group for an hour or so before it's "back on the bus" to quickly check off the next few highlights of Taipei.

Taking the cruise tour is a convenient way - at least you can say you've been there! But you can also do this trip by Kuokuang public bus 1801 for NT$ 56 (one way) on your own from Keelung. The bus timetable shows it leaves on the hour from the KuoKuang bus station, twice per hour on weekdays. You finally get out of the bubble, and at your own pace spend more time at the floors and rooms you like.

The museum now attracts more than four million visitors a year, making it the 7th most visited museum in the world. After the four year reconstruction and closure from 2003-2006 it now needs to urgently increase capacity.

The building is open from 08:30-18:30 hours, on Friday and Saturday until 21:00. Admission is NT$ 350 for the day - let the staff know if you'd like to get back in after taking a lunch break, they will stamp your hand. In most cases, you'll reach your culture saturation point after 2-3 hours.

At times you'd think you are already (or again) in mainland China when other groups rush in. Which means long lines in your group for the 'must see' and hyped items like the "Jadeite Cabbage" and "Meat-Shaped Stone" - when there is so much more to see.

If you're going on your own and have signed up online in advance for the one hour free English tour at 10:00 and 15:00 you'll have expert advice. But even better: for NT$ 100 you can rent an English/Japanese/Korean language audio-guide. Simply press the number of the items of interest in front of you.

After all, there are only some 3300 artifacts on display for an average 2 months out of a total collection of 695.000 items to keep you coming back for years.

With help from a local like me, you can take this trip by bus to the NPM within a ten-minute walk from the museum and back. OK, spoiler alert: you can ask to call a regular cab at any 7-Eleven, or take one (charged by the GPS meter, with printed receipt) at the train station and pay around NT$ 800 for 4 or 5 in a Toyota Wish, it is slightly faster.

Check my maps and the pictures for the details, route, and stops - it takes about 35-70 minutes to get to the Shilin district this way. After driving on the highway for 20 minutes you'll first reach the Neihu district and the stops then take you past quite a number of schools and hospitals, the names of which are automatically announced on the bus in English too and shown on the LED display. Most buses now have free WiFi and USB chargers. Stops are on demand only - which means you must always push the stop button or wave down a bus to get on it. 

Don't worry, just get off the bus after passing through the long tunnel in Taipei. So once the bus is inside - push the stop button. If you did tell the driver you're going to 'Gu-gong', he or other passengers will be happy and proud to let you know: Taiwanese are very friendly and helpful.

If you have the time, do also visit the Shun Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines across the road, the NPM sells a combination ticket for NT$ 400 (saving NT$ 100) - to see the real Taiwan, and the long history of the more than 14 indigenous tribes that spread out from Taiwan across Australasia. Closed on Mondays. 

Buy hand made indigenous handicraft and souvenirs there. After all, what you will see in the big NPM is 22% of the collection which reached Taiwan by 1949 from the Palace Museum in Beijing, other museums and archives in mainland China. Most of it has nothing to do with this island.

If your next stop is Taipei 101, you can buy an NPM combination ticket at NT$ 820, saving NT$ 130. The museum can call you a cab to go there, or to Shilin metro station (about NT$ 150) on the red line which brings you to 101 as well.

Since so many of you asked me and like to have a bit of cruise adventure, here is my step by step guide (updated March 2019):

1. Recognise the route. Check the Taiwanbus.tw real-time website, enter bus line 1801. It brings up the Kuo-Kuang Motor Transportation 1801 GroupBus for departure and estimated arrival times. 

The bus has the same number in both directions "Outward" and "Return", but some of the stops are only in one direction. 

During weekdays there are additional buses to carry high school students and nurses who love to practice their English on you. These are the last two lines displayed under "Path No" and do not reach the NPM area, but from Keelung like all 1801 buses get you to and from the closest Metro station in Taipei: "Wende" at Bihou park stop BR18 on the Brown line whch runs between Sungshan Airport and Taipei Zoo. See other posts on Taipei On Your Own.

Without traffic, it is a 35-minute ride, at peak hours it could be double.

2. Ready? Walk to the new open-air bus station just off the South terminal of the train station, by crossing the blue pedestrian overpass. Buy a now NT$ 56 ticket (still less than 2 US$ or Euro) at the Kuo-Kuang bus ticket counter. 

You could ask for a separate return ticket, or on the return trip just throw the same amount into the cash box of the bus, say 'Keelung' and the driver will hand you a stub, which you hand back to him when getting off the bus in Keelung. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

3. Line up at the  bus stop marked 1801. Except in the early morning rush hour before 0800 when there are more buses, the bus departs twice an hour on weekdays, on Sat/Sun on the hour on the dot.

Just to let you know about your destination: Officially the stop is called the "Gugong Road Intersection" number 15 on the outward line identified as going to the "Zhenxing Hospital" also known as National College of Nursing; old stop names still show up in the fare table.

On the return, you board by flagging down the 1801 return bus at its stop number 11,  the "Chinese Culture and Movie Center" stop. The movie center backlot has closed decades ago to make way for expensive apartments. Anyway, this is where the return stop to Keelung is located: further away and across the road from where you got off the bus.

4. Once you get off the bus after 35/70 minutes and 13 optional stops, walk to your right in the direction you just came from. After less than 10 minutes you'll see these huge apartment blocks across the road. It is a very expensive residence complex.

Would you believe that back in 1965, when the original museum opened it was the only building in this area? now even finding parking space is difficult.

Just keep following the sidewalk, and at the bus stop (check out bus Red 30 and others back to Shilin Metro station on the red line at NT$ 15) you can orient yourself by looking at the map board shown below.

5. You can walk up the steps passing under the five imperial arches gate up to the first floor, take your picture in front of the main building.

So pass this gate and the inevitable Falung Gong displays in front of it.

I would suggest walking down from the museum through the oft-forgotten Chinese style Chishan garden, especially on a hot day it provides a nice shade. With your museum ticket entrance is free, otherwise, insert NT$20 at the turnstiles on your left side once you have come down the steps from the first floor.

This is the Chishan garden exit gate at the side of the museum steps, just go up the steps and inside.

6. Now you've certainly earned a coffee or cool drink and snack at the first-floor restaurant, before buying your ticket. You'll have to check any professional camera, bags or backpacks at the counter for free safekeeping. No water bottles can be brought inside - like most museums. You can take some pictures with your mobile phone or small camera, follow any instruction, do not use flash.

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