The Alishan National Scenic Area was the most magical and memorable place I have visited in Taiwan during my 6 months on the island. From its picturesque sunrises and sunsets, Japanese-built trains, peaceful hiking trails with sacred trees, and the production of Taiwan’s internationally-famous tea. Alishan is definitely not to be missed.
What and Where is Alishan?
With an average of 2500 meters above sea level, the Alishan National Scenic Area lies in the eastern mountains of Chiayi County. In the winter, the air is cool and thin with temperatures as low as 5°C at high elevations. In the summer, it can get a slightly humid with temperatures between 14°C and 24°C. My girlfriend and I arrived in January and it was about 8°C!
Entrance Fee to National Scenic Area: NT$150 (~£3.80) per person via public transport, NT$200 (~£5) per person via car, and NT$100 (~£2.50) per person for concessions.
Getting to Alishan from Chiayi
From Chiayi, you can get to Alishan by;
- Direct bus (7322 from Chiayi TRA station)
- The famous forest railway to Fenqihu from Chiayi TRA station, followed by a bus to complete the journey that has had unfortunate damage from a recent typhoon
Many people highly recommend the longer but scenic route by taking the forest railway to Fenqihi where you enjoy a 3-hour ride through mountain tunnels and scenic bridges before you catch a bus for the final stretch to Alishan. However, we were a bit pushed for time so we took the direct bus from Chiayi TRA station which cost NT$236 (~£6) pp
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Alishan
1. Alishan Forest Railway
You will see this time and time again on most, if not all, blog posts about Alishan and that’s because you simply cannot miss it! The railway was built by the Japanese Colonial Government in 1912 to help with the logging of wood. Some of the line was destroyed by typhoon damage in 2014 (hence why you are currently unable to travel directly from Chiayi) but you can still take the following lines from the scenic area to view some breathtaking sights for as little as NT$100 (~£2.50).
- Sacred Tree Route: This train runs every 15 minutes from 09:30-16:30 and takes just 10 minutes. We took this train one afternoon to watch the sunset from one of the two recommended viewing points. It was a 45 minute walk back, but the views are great and the trail was well lit.
- Zhaoping Route: This is an extra special route in Spring for the cherry blossom season
- Zhushan Route: This route runs just once a day (there and back) at around 06:00 and takes 30 minutes. This is the route that takes you to the sunrise and sea of clouds
2. Hiking trails
There are so many amazing trails to go on so make sure you bring your hiking boots or comfortable trainers! All of them are extremely well sign posted making it super-easy to navigate and the tourist information point in the main square will help you with any questions. They also have maps all along the trails telling you where you are currently. The routes are deep within the forest and open up to some great views along the way.
3. Shoujhen Temple
Taiwan’s highest elevation temple and Alishan’s largest temple. You must go to the second floor to see the surreal room of 10,000 miniature Buddhas!
The surrounding area has a few nice food stalls where you can grab a quick snack and drinks to help you continue on you way back to the hotel area.
Bonus points if you can recreate this photo!
4. Sunrise and sea of clouds
This was by far my most memorable experience of Alishan. Getting up at 4:30am in 8°C temperature wasn’t my perfect idea of fun, but it was definitely all worth it in the end! You need to check and book tickets at the main train station the day before as train times are adjusted according to the estimated sunrise time the following day.
Unfortunately, it was a little foggy when we went, but it was still a magical experience.
Note: Get there early! The queues build up quickly and we had to wait for a few trains before getting on. This will also ensure you beat some of the crowds to get a better view.
5. Send a wooden postcard home from 2,216 meters above sea level
Make your Mum, Granny, Grandad, siblings, friends smile with a unique wooden postcard all the way from one of the highest summits in Taiwan. The post office is situated in the main square and delivers worldwide. My girlfriend and I sent a few from here and it was a perfect ending to the perfect trip!
What to Eat and Drink in Alishan
Although you won’t find a variety of food choices in Alishan, you won’t go hungry either. Around the main square you can find a few places to eat to suit all budgets. We couldn’t find a place to eat with indoor heating, so I would recommend ordering some warm food in the winter months!
Street food: You can find some street food around the Alishan main square, as well as around Shoujhen temple. Scallion pancakes, taiwanese sausages and hot clear soup are all available. You will also find a lot of hot drink stalls, selling hot chocolate, coffee, and of course, their famous mountain oolong tea
Restaurants: The restaurants are found around the main square where you can get local cuisine and some Alishan specialities
7/11: Like the rest of Taiwan, you won’t struggle to find a 7/11, even at 2,500 meters above sea level! There are two 7/11 shops in the main square, where you can grab a quick snack or microwave meal. We found this useful when we were eager to get out to explore and just wanted something on the go
Local tourist shops: As well as eating out, you can also purchase dry foods, tea and spices that are native to the area
Where to Stay in Alishan
The best advice I could give you is, avoid staying anywhere outside the recreational area. Staying inside the Alishan National Scenic Area is slightly more expensive but well worth it! It really added to the experience to wake up in the hotel area and enjoy a short walk to the main square with spectacular views.
Another factor to consider is the entrance fee, if you want to return daily, you’ll have to pay every time you return.
- Hotels: They can range considerably in price. You will find hotels that are very pricey, but other cheaper, quite basic rooms too. (Alishan House, Alishan Gou Hotel, Dafeng, Gao Shan Ching and many others). Check out Booking.com for the best rates.
Note: There is often little to no heating in the budget hotels. There can also be a time restriction on hot water, so please bare this in mind when booking. Bring an extra blanket with you if you can and some pyjamas!
Camping: Not permitted within the Alishan Scenic Area, however there are a few campsites within a short driving distance. For us, we wanted to stay within the grounds so we opted for a hotel.
Where to Next?
It is fairly easy to return to Chiayi by bus. You can however visit the following two locations if you want to extend your trip:
- Sun Moon Lake: It is quite common for tourists to visit Sun Moon Lake after Alishan, or vice-versa, due to the proximity of the locations. There is a direct bus to Sun Moon Lake that leaves Alishan at 1pm and 2pm daily
Guanzihling Hot Springs: Visitors often visit the hot springs on their way back to Chiayi. There are regular busses that return in this direction