It is very common for train tickets to sell out in Taiwan. We highly recommend buying tickets as soon as they go on sale 14 days prior to the travel date, BUT, if you do end up in a situation where all the trains are sold out, you have a few other options to try out.
Option 1: Take a Plane
This option can save you time and is easily booked online. The Uniair flights take around 50 minutes and typically cost around NT$850 per person. It should be noted that these flights depart from Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA), NOT Taoyuan International Airport.
You can book plane tickets here.
Option 2: Combo Transfer
If you can’t get tickets with an express or direct train from Taipei to Hualien, you can try a train to train combo or a bus to train combo.
Combo Option A: Express Train to Express Train Combo
With this technique, you purchase the whole trip in advance but in two sections, taking the same train the whole route but changing seats in Yilan. As many people get off the train in Yilan, this can be a way to beat the computers automated seat selection system. This technique doesn’t work unless you can purchase BOTH legs of the trip in advance, but it does work surprisingly well.
First Leg: Express Train No. 202: Departs Taipei at 6:05 am, arrives in Yilan at 7:12 am
Second Leg: Express Train No. 202: Departs Yilan at 7:15 am, arrives in Hualien at 8:14 am
Combo Option B: Express Train to Local Train Combo
With this technique, you purchase the first leg of the trip in advance, taking different trains and changing trains in Yilan. This technique doesn’t work unless you can purchase the express train for the first leg. The local train can be purchased at the station and doesn’t need to be booked in advance.
First Leg: Express Train No. 202: Departs Taipei at 6:05 am, arrives in Yilan at 7:12 am.
Second Leg: Local Train No. 4124: Departs Yilan at 7:34 am, arrives in Hualien at 9:22 am.
Combo Option C: Bus to Local Train Combo
With this technique you take a bus to Luodong and then switch to a local or express train. This one can be a bit trickier to time as busses can contend with traffic. Typically it is recommended to not purchase any train tickets in advance, and instead purchase a ticket on the next available train in Luodong when you arrive.
First Leg: Kamalan Bus: Departs Taipei Bus Station at 6:15 am, arrives in Luodong at 7:35 am.
Second Leg: Local Train No. 4124: Departs Luodong at 7:45 am, arrives in Hualien at 9:22 am.