A Walk Around the Park: a guide to navigating the labyrinth that is TAIPEI MAIN STATION
Let's begin. So there are a million ways to enter the monster but let's start with the way I am most used to, by MRT. Blue line. So you go up any escalator of your choice. The middle part has a neverending current of people that will lead you down to the red line. Turn either left or right walk to the end and that will take you to beepers that will let you out. Go up one flight. Up another flight will take you across the street from the actual station (Shin Kong, Caesar Park, KMall, etc). Go down on either side and that will be the Z mall, the underground mall that has cheap food, cheap clothes and accessories and a lot of traffic. But say you didn't want to go there. See Starbucks? Uniqlo? And the hall extending inwards? Follow that. You are now under Zhongxiao West Rd. To your left you will pass a Gakuden bakery (read: sale and samples at night), Sushi Express To Go (read: sale at night), then a hall extending down to the K mall (Eslite underground mall) which has "nicer" stores with different things from pottery to lingerie to electronics, and a lot of restaurants. And a Starbucks. It's also connected to Z mall. Back up, across from Sushi Express is a Mister Donut. Then Yamazaki, Share Tea, Yoshinoya, Xiao Nan Men and other quick eats at the mini food court. To your right there will be other stores such as The Body Shop and things like that.
Up the stairs. Left is tickets for trains (or HSR?). Slight left up the escalators will take you to the Grand Hall (ground floor, pictured above). Take any escalators up and you can find yourself at the Breeze foodcourt that wraps around the hall. On the ground level there are several convenience stores, specialty stores and of course, Railway bian dangs. Back down, say you decided to stick right. Well on the right is a parking lot, but a slight right forward will be a white hall (with extremely low ceilings and weird ads for plastic surgery next to university ads...) that will take you straight under the station towards Q-Square. At the end, on the left is specialty stores. slight left, down the escalators takes you to Y mall, which is like an older less populated version of Z mall, with cheap clothes (MIKI), accessories, and toys. Walk through it and the doors lead to Q-square, home of the bus station that will take you all over Taiwan, a department store, a HUGE food court, nice restaurants upstairs, and a movie theater. Again, backing up, if you were to take a slight left from the white hall, you'd be stepping down to the R mall, Zhongshan mall, even older, with some clothes and accessories, a lot of random bookstores and other shops that can take you straight through Zhongshan to Shuanglian station.
Oh, and HSR is on B3.
That's about all any normal person would need to know. Just remember to read the signs, notice the color of the stripe on the wall and remember that when looking for people, tell them to follow signs to something unique. Railway ticketing booth? Not a good idea. Grand Hall? Good idea.
Like whoever came up with these are geniuses. Because when it rains, when it's hot, when it's cold, when you just want to stay indoors forever but still shop for cheap, JUST HIT UP THE UNDERGROUND MALLS. And Taipei Main Station area gives you 4 to choose from! (Take that, Dongqu) My favorite is Z, since it has the most clothes, shoes, and random "box stores" (more on that on a later post), though they all sell similar stuff. I also enjoy Y, which like I said before, is a less crowded version of Z, also having cheap stores. If I wanted to eat but not go up to Breeze, I'd probably hit up K, which has nicer restaurant type eats, while Z has more "small eats". It's the newest mall so it looks a lot nicer and a lot of people lounge around there, though the stores get much less attention than the ones in Z and Y. And then I rarely venture towards R unless I am coming from or going to Zhongshan/Shuanglian. They randomly have a bunch of bookstores further down, and then some more usual clothing and shoe shops nearer to Taipei Main. They also have this weird hall place where hip hop groups go to practice. Still weird to me but hey, whatever floats their boats!
So everyone's meet up spot is always exit 6. Crowds upon crowds they actually need traffic control. That takes you to the shopping area with a bunch of stores and street vendors and performers. There is also a popular movie theater next to the giant Uniqlo. The "sketchy" alleys also have great street food and less mainstream shops. Exit 4 will take you to Partyworld, a 24 hour popular KTV spot where you can sing (and eat) your heart out at any hour. Exit 1 is the Red House Theater (right), a historical site that often has local art vendors with more "indie" shops. Exit 3 takes you to the Far Eastern Department store (which I fondly refer to as Forever 21, since it says FE21 on it). It is smaller than other ones, seems more cramped. But has great air conditioning! And a decent food court (with a noticeably older/more family population compared to younger crowds in XinYi).