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Alishan Travel Information
“Shan” is Chinese for mountain, and A-Li Mountain is the centerpiece of the Alishan National Scenic Area. The area is massive and offers much more than a single hike up to the mountain’s peak. In all, the area is a natural wilderness preserve clocking in at 415 square kilometers, and produces Taiwan’s internationally-famous Alishan tea.
The mountain area holds a fantastic reputation in the minds of the Taiwanese, famous for such pleasant things as idyllic sunrises, high-quality tea, spring cherry blossoms, hiking trails, and much, much more.
Facts About Alishan in Taiwan
The Alishan National Scenic Area lies east of Chiayi and is more or less smack-dab in the middle of Taiwan. The weather is hot and humid but obviously gets cooler and thinner as you make your way up the mountains. The area was originally settled by aboriginal tribes, and the Japanese used the mountain’s lush forests for lumber – a rail system that you can still see with your own eyes.
Keep in mind that this is a highly popular place for Taiwanese tourists, so holidays and weekends will be busy.
Finding your way around the village and the park is quite straightforward. The main central point is the the big parking lot in front of the train station. Around that parking lot, you’ll find restaurants, the shuttle bus stop, shops, and the tourist information center. All the walking paths converge here too, so it’s really hard to get lost.
Things to do / Attractions
The park is a relatively family-friendly tourist attraction for nature-lovers and tea enthusiasts. The Ali shan area also offers sublime hiking and mountain climbing.
Chase the Sun
Like most places in Taiwan, Alishan has its primary claim to fame – the sunrise! If you ask any local what the most important thing to do at Alishan is, they will almost all mention heading to one of the high peaks in the scenic area to catch the sun peeking up from underneath the “sea of clouds”.
You’ll want to take the old Alishan train from Ali-shan station to the top of Chushan, where you and dozens of others will be crowding around to get a glimpse of the phenomenon. It might be worth it to wander around or hike up a bit, away from the train station, to find some more personal space. If you’re willing to get up early enough, you could also make the hike up the Chushan Sunrise Trail.
Departure time are announced one day earlier and are written on the board above the ticket booth at the train station in the village. One way tickets are 150NT$.
Giant Tree Trail
More hiking in Alishan reveals more natural wonders, and the Giant Tree Trail is no exception. The photogenic giant cypress trees make it totally unnecessary to stop and think about why Japanese colonialists would want to take advantage of Taiwan’s timber. Their legacy lives on in the trail; Japanese temples as well as the Tree Spirit Pagoda are remnants of that time, which you can spot if you remember to look down as well as up.
A friend once told me a story about Alishan tea: a Taiwanese man was on a business trip to Russia and brought several containers of the stuff to give as a gift to his Russian acquaintance. The Russian customs agent, recognizing the high-grade drink, corruptly inquired as to what the purpose of bringing so much tea was. “It’s for my friend in Russia,” the Taiwanese said. The customs officer, eyeing the tea, replied “I’m not your friend?”
Alishan is a name that rings out across the tea-drinking world, and it’s your chance to get a couple containers and bring it home. Recently, throughout Taiwan, stuff falsely billing itself as “Alishan tea” has been crowding the shelves, but you can be assured going there yourself is a great way to ensure authenticity.
Traveling Around / Local Transport
Getting around is quite easy, and will involve some combination of trains, buses, and walking. Maps are widely available in English for travelers, and signposts clearly mark every trail and direction. Getting lost will be a challenge.
For the forest railway, be sure to check the train times with your hotel as some may only depart for sunrises and the like, and they are also prone to shutdowns due to the volatile mountain terrain.
Eating / Restaurants / Food
Most restaurants in Alishan are more or less on the same level, serving up a mixture of local mountain veggies in Chinese / Taiwanese style. Food is quite expensive up here – you are warned! Strolling around Alishan’s main square near the car park will give you a good sampling of what you’ll need. Most restaurants close around 8pm. There is a 7-11 where you can buy treats and beer, and some shops sell traditional Taiwanese snacks.
Coffee is also grown in the mountains around here, and a few shops even roast their own beans right in their shop in front of customers. A simple cup of black coffee isn’t cheap, but there isn’t any better way to start the day before a hike.
The Train Station’s surrounding area is jam-packed with hotels, but be aware that during major Taiwanese holidays, long weekends or the Cherry Blossom Festival it may be nearly impossible to find an open room. As an additional incentive, many hotels have highly discounted weekday rates. If you must go on a weekend or holiday, booking in advance is absolutely necessary! I highly recommend you use HotelsCombined to book, they usually have the lowest prices – you can use the form below.
Alishan House – from NT$4890
This beautiful 5 Star, luxurious accommodation provides stunning views over the Central Mountain Range. It sits at 2000 meters of elevation, next to the Sakura Garden. The average temperature in the area around this hotel is around 10 degrees Celcius, so if you need to take a break from the heat of Taiwan, Alishan House is the place to be! The hotel has a restaurant, gift shop, business center, and a bar.
Gau Shan Ching Hotel Alishan – from NT$2197
This cheap hotel is not too far from Cihyun Temple, and Giant Trees Trail, and many other scenic spots in the Ali Mountain area. The rooms are clean (but not too modern), and the staff is very friendly.
Bus and Train Travel to Alishan
Your Alishan experience starts before you even get there, especially if you take the Forest Railway from Chiayi Station into the park area. However, the trains are sometimes infrequent (a few times per day), and in this case you’ll be able to take buses from Chiayi as well. Both options will be scenic and rewarding, but the train is a bit more of a story to tell.
Travel from Taipei to Alishan
This is the most reliable way to get to Alishan as the Alishan Forest Train is NO LONGER OPERATING.
- Step 1: First, travel from Taipei to Chiayi by High Speed Rail (HSR); 1.5 hour; NT$860 or by normal train (TRA); around NT$500; 3.5 hours.
- Step 2: If you took the HSR, you’ll need to get to the Chiayi TRA Station, which is located in downtown Chiayi. You can either take a taxi or a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus is easy to locate as there are English signs in the station.
- Step 3: From the Chiayi Bus Station (next to the train station), you can take a bus (NT$220; 2.5 hours) all the way to Alishan.