The Alishan National Scenic Area is a highly popular travel destination located at the east of Chiayi. Local and foreign visitors flock in all year round to get a glimpse of the wonderful sceneries that this place offers. Alishan is particularly famous for its sunset, sunrise and the sea of clouds. The place gets especially crowded and busy during holidays and weekends.
How to go?
Almost all visitors start their journey to Alishan from Chiayi city. From the city, there are quite a few alternatives that visitors can choose from. The easiest way to get up to Alishan is to hire a cab. This alternative though convenient, it’s definitely more costly as compared to taking public transports.
As for public transports, you can choose from either taking a direct bus or taking the Alishan Forest Railway. The easier option is of course to take the direct bus, but I’d strongly recommend you to take the Alishan Forest Railway! The railway takes you through mountains and ridges and the scenery along the way is just breathtaking. Besides that, the staff on board will constantly give informative explanations and fun facts about the rail and about the various viewpoints. This educational and scenic ride will take about 2.5 hours and it cost 384NTD per pax. I’d recommend you to book the train tickets online 1st because the train gets a lot of commuters even during weekdays. You can do the booking from this website (unfortunately, only in Chinese. Leave a comment if you need help!)
In the past, the small train gets all the way up to Alishan National Scenic Area. But due to the wrath of mother nature, the route that proceeds to Alishan is somehow destroyed, so the furthest that the train can bring you to is this small town called Fenqihu. From Fenqihu, you can board a direct bus to Alishan but there are only 2 timings for the direct bus. If you choose to take the take the direct bus, please head to the bus station earlier to queue up for the bus. Alternatively, you may board a bus to Shizhao from Fenqihu and from there on, take a bus up to Alishan. The buses are more frequent for this option!
- From Chiayi
- Cab or Bus (Chiayi -> Alishan)
- Alishan Forest Railway (Chiayi -> Fenqihu)
- From Fenqihu
- Bus (Fenqihu -> Alishan)
- Bus (Fenqihu -> Shizhao -> Alishan)
What to do?
The locals have came out with Alishan’s very own ‘5 wonders‘ (阿里山五奇) that every visitors shouldn’t miss!
1) Forest Rail
The construction of the Alishan Forest Railway began way back in 1904 during the Japanese colonial occupation. Its sole purpose during that time was to transport logs. Over time as the demand for travel grows, its primary function switched from transporting logs to transporting passengers. The railway is indeed an attraction itself because of the unique features during the ride, such as the spiral railway and the horseshoe turns. Besides that, the mountainous views along the way is amazing!
Another ‘wonder’ of Alishan is definitely the forest recreation area. To allow visitors to get up close with the nature, there are nice wooden plank boardwalks paved around the forest. Be awed as you walk through the majestic trees that are over a thousand years old. If you’re a nature person, you’ll definitely enjoy the walk along the trails. The trails also provides for excellent and mysterious photography opportunities from point to point!
3) Sea of clouds
Alishan is particularly famous for the ‘sea of clouds’ view. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that favorable during my visit, hence I didn’t get to see the legendary sea of clouds that everyone talked about. On better days, you’ll get a breathtaking view as the fluffy clouds lay low, resulting in the visual effect.
Despite not having any luck with the ‘sea of clouds’, I was compensated with an amazing sunset. As spoken with the locals, there are 2 spots that allows you a better view of the sunset. The 1st spot is the viewing platform on the second level of Alishan Station while the 2nd spot is at the viewing platform near the entrance of Alishan National Scenic Area. The rich hues of the the sunset looks as if it contains every tone in the color spectrum! Alright, words won’t do any justice to the amazing view, let the picture do the talking!
Just like the sunset, there are 2 places to catch the sunrise. The 1st place is on Chushan which can only be reached by taking the Chushan Sunrise Watching Train from Alishan Station. As sunrise time varies everyday, the timings of the rail will only be announced on the day before after 1pm at the station. It is recommended that you purchase the train tickets prior to the day you wanna view the sunrise.
Another place where you can view the sunrise is at a viewpoint in the middle of a highway. You can only get to this spot by purchasing the shuttle bus ticket on the day before (When you 1st alight at Alishan, one of the staff will come asking if you want to get on the shuttle bus to catch the sunrise. Return trip costs 300NTD).
The shuttle service will pick you up from your hotel and bring you straight to the viewpoint. Unfortunately again, the weather wasn’t in our favor. Hence we got a cloudy sky instead of the beautiful sunrise that we expected. But oh well, I still manage to get a shot of the mountain valley from the viewpoint!
Where to stay?
There are a lot of accommodation choices in the recreation area that visitors can choose from, ranging from the expensive exquisite stays to the cheaper basic lodgings. However, majority of them gets fully booked most of the time. If you’re planning a trip up to Alishan, you’d better settle your accommodation as soon as possible!
Since I’m on budget and traveling alone, I’m looking for a budget stay. After researching on the internet, I found Catholic Hostel. A night stay here costs 1500NTD and the owner guaranteed that it’s the cheapest within the recreation area. It’s not a bad stay, neither was it good. I found the stay slightly creepy because of the stillness and the rundown furnishing in the room. In addition, I was the only one occupying a room on the 2nd level, hence it gets awfully quiet during the night. You can only make bookings with this hostel through the phone (Tel: 05-2679602, Website). If you have the budget, I’d suggest you stay somewhere else!
Getting off the mountain
I bought my return trip ticket from the sunrise shuttle bus driver. The return trip cost 250NTD, which is 20NTD more than the regular public bus. BUT, this shuttle bus is fast and efficient and it brings you straight to the Chiayi Station without stopping (unlike public buses). If you still prefer to go with public buses, you can get the return trip ticket from 7-11.
Off-topic: When you reached Chiayi, don’t forget to give the Turkey Rice across the station a try! It’s one of the specialty of Chiayi.
That’s all about Alishan that I have to say! It’s a really beautiful place and you get to see the wonders of mother nature! If you’re a nature lover, then you definitely shouldn’t miss this place! Til next time~ (YAY TO 20th POST!)
(Date visited: Oct 2016)