Continuing my Two Weeks Taiwan Itinerary, this post is all about Alishan. The Alishan National Scenic Area is in the eastern mountains in Chiayi county. It’s a great place to rejuvenate with fresh mountain air, which is why it’s a popular vacation spot for many locals and travelers alike. I spent a couple of days in Alishan with my boyfriend Alan and his mom during my tour in Taiwan and got some much needed zen time fueled by the spirit of nature. Without sounding like a forest nymph much further, I invite you to come with me and take a look at this beautiful land that is Alishan! *prance into the woods.
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How to get in Alishan
I investigated several ways to get to Alishan during my travel planning for the fam. Depending on where you are coming from, here are a couple options:
Long story short, the way by train is complicated. There is no direct way, and you have to change to a bus half way anyways so I would not recommend this option. See how I just saved you lots of time there? You are welcome.
From Chiayi, there is a direct bus from Chiayi HSR station to Alishan that takes about 2.5 hours and cost less than $300NTD one way. There are only two buses a day at between 10 am and 11 am.
If you are following my Two Weeks Taiwan Itinerary and coming from Sun Moon Lake, there is a bus that takes 3.5 hours to Alishan. It departs at 8 am and 9 am daily and cost $350NTD one way.
By car or taxi
Taxi was ultimately the option we chose. Go on, call us lazy. It cost a bit more but the comfort and time saving is worth it in my opinion. The ride is about 3 hours. Feel free to stretch out and sleep with your mouth open. Only your driver might judge you…a bit better than a whole bus of travelers. We paid $3000NTD for the ride. With 3 people in our group, it came down to $1000NTD per person.
*Note: At the time of writing this post in January 2018, the exchange rate was $30NTD for $1USD.
What to do in Alishan
Basically, enjoy glorious nature! Did I mention the mountain air in Alishan is super fresh? I didn’t realize how much polluted air I had been breathing in daily during the first half of my Taiwan travel through all the big cities, until I got out of them. Here are some activities to look forward to…
Catch the mountain sunrise
Sunrise viewing is perhaps what Alishan is most famous for. There are two famous viewing spots for visitors. One on Chushan Mountain and one on Yushan Mountain (Yushan is actually a short drive outside the national park area). In either case, your hotel should have a booking service for sunrise viewing. Tickets are usually sold the previous day, with the announcement of departure time. Be ready to crawl out of bed at 4 am!
For the Chushan mountain option, The hotel shuttle bus brings all the guests to Alishan Train Station, from where everyone boards the Sunrise Viewing Train. Once arrive on top of Chushan, the wait is about an hour for the sun to rise. I’m not sure why we must get there so early to wait ugh…But grab some coffee and breakfast at the food stalls right on the viewing platform. I recommend the omelets and hot soup. Really warms you up on a cold morning!
We were there last time during December and the sun rose at about 7 am. What can I say, it was quite a spectacle. First we only saw a tiny spot of light from behind the mountain, then all of a sudden, this giant ball of fire started coming up, lighting up the whole sky. All you hear is “oohs” and “ahhs” and the sound of camera shutters. The warmth of sunshine just engulfs you and you no longer feel so cold. Definitely an experience you don’t want to miss in Alishan.
After you are done with the sunrise, you can either head back to your hotel via the same train, or be adventurous like us and walk back down the mountain. It took us an hour but it was such an enjoyable walk. We barely felt tired with the fresh mountain oxygen. *Oh god how many times have I talked about the air now? Obsessed!
P.S. Look at this photo of Alan with his mom. How precious is this?
The sunrise viewing experience at Yushan is kind of similar but not really. Instead of taking the train, you get picked up from you hotel with a small van of about 8 people. The ride goes out of the actual park area and heads to Yushan. Along the way, the driver would stop along the popular sites such as the Yushan national park sign, and the cloud sea viewing point. If you are lucky, you might spot some monkeys too!
The actual sunrise is quite similar to Zhushan, so it’s really up to you which experience appeals to you more. Or if you are a FOMO (fear of missing out) psycho person like me, do both!
*Note: All this talk about sunrise though, you must know that a viewable sunrise is not guaranteed every day. Although we were lucky, I do know people who have shown up early in the morning only to see a grey foggy sky. Let’s hope the weather god likes you during your visit!
Hike along the walking trails
There are ample walking trails in Alishan so I will not list them all. But every one of them is delightful. See trees that are more than thousands of years old (they are humongous and will make you feel so puny), spot serene waterfalls, check out the beautiful forest rail way, and visit rad temples. I suggest asking your hotel for a park map and suggestions on what’s best for your travel party.
Where to stay in Alishan
This is the nicest hotel on Alishan and it was where we stayed. The rooms are beautiful. I loved the comfy King size beds, the huge bath room, and the cozy fireplace. They also gave us fresh fruits and some addicting-ly good cookies! Unfortunately though, I cannot rave as much about the official meals. Although the breakfast and dinner buffets were huge and the selections looked delicious, the taste was a bit bland. The food was also the same everyday that we were there so we got a bit bored. I have heard though that Alishan Hotel has the best food out of all the hotels in the national park so I don’t know about the other accommodations. Yikes. Besides the food though, I would still recommend Alishan Hotel for its awesome facilities and friendly staff.
Tips for visiting Alishan
Book hotel in advance
Book like now! There are not so many options so you really want to get the accommodation part sorted as soon as possible. It gets especially busy during cherry blossom and Autumn foliage season.
Park entry fee
We didn’t realize this before we arrived, but there is a small fee for entering the park. $150 NT per person if you arrive via public transport, or $200NT per person if you arrive via car. Concession rates are also available for students.
Pack warm clothes!
It can get quite chilly on the mountains, especially in the early morning. You would want to have a warm jacket if you are going to stand in the cold for an hour while waiting for the sunrise.
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Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Taiwan Travel Guide
That’s it for my Alishan guide! I’m sure there are things that I have missed about this huge national park in Taiwan. Have you been to Alishan? Let me know what your impression was in the comments!
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