Chiayi Travel Information
Between Taichung (Tai-Center) and Tainan (Tai-South) rests Chiayi, a city with just under 300,000 inhabitants. It is firmly grouped in “Southern Taiwan”, bringing the Taiwanese-speaking and warm weather that comes with that distinction.
While tourists usually only swoop in and out of Chiayi on their way to popular Alishan Mountain, the city does offer its own charms and sights. Viewed from the air, the city looks like a concrete jungle, just like any other Taiwanese city on the west coast. But take a stroll along one of Chiayi’s small lanes, or visit some of the quiet parks scattered around the city and you’ll discover a place with soul, traditions, and authenticity.
Chiayi’s history follows a pretty standard narrative for western Taiwan – occupied by aboriginal cultures, taken over by the Qing Dynasty, again by Japanese colonialism and finally by Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang Party.
Chiayi’s weather is warm and humid, spring brings monsoons and the temperature rarely drops below 20 degree Celcius. Summer can be as hot as in Kaohsiung and Tainan. The Central Mountain Range somewhat acts as a barrier against typhoons, a bit like Taichung. Winter usually requires you to wear a warm sweater and windproof jacket if you’ll be riding. Overall, Chiayi is considered as having some of the best weather in Taiwan. Fall can be as hot as summer, but the heat doesn’t persist after sunset. October and November usually bring the clearest, bluest skies to the region.
Most underrated city in Taiwan?
Chiayi is definitely not the first stop tourists make in Taiwan, but it can offer an endearing look into what life is like in the island’s south without the cosmopolitanism of places like Tainan or Kaohsiung. It may not offer a huge number of options, but it’s definitely worth more than just a stop-over on your way to Alishan. I personally think that it’s without a doubt Taiwan’s most underrated city.
How much time should you spend in Chiayi?
Indeed, the reason most often given for traveling to Chiayi is simply its food, so having a meal or two and taking a stroll might be the best way to spend your time. A day should be enough to see the main sights and attractions if you wake up early and explore til dusk. Two days is perfect if you want to spend some time at the Lantan Scenic Area.
Things to do in Chiayi / Attractions
Most attractions in Chiayi are located within a 2km radius around the train station, and so I recommend you get a hotel in this core area. I did all my exploring on foot, all the way to Chiayi Park. A scooter or bicycle can be handy if you want to visit the Lantan Lake area. Here are some ideas to get your trip started…
This Japanese style culture park is hot these days! Young kids flock here on weekends to use the Japanese style buildings as background for Instagramable pictures. Most buildings have been turned into cafe / dessert / tea shops and gift shops that sell local paintings, ceramics, handcrafts, and souvenirs. The black buildings were made with Taiwanese cypress during the Japanese occupation.
Hinoki is not a must-see attraction in my opinion, but it’s a nice casual place to hang out and have coffee if you’re in the area. Photographers might like it a lot as there’s quite a few interesting subjects such as relics, lanterns, gardens, and somewhat ancient buildings. Access is free.
Alishan Forest Railway Garage
I’m not that much into trains, but I found this place to be very interesting. There is a nicely laid out display of old steam and diesel engines in a beautiful park with tall trees. Walking around, you can only wonder what it must have been like to ride some of those relics.
The retired machines are in mint condition and have signs telling you where they were build, by which company, and in what year. Some of the trains are still in use today to travel the route between Chiayi and Alishan.
Song of the Forest
Song of the Forest is a cool little park with a very unique outdoor installation art that you can walk inside of. The wood used to create this structure is from nearby Alishan. Many locals come here on weekends to lie down on the grass and relax. Some say it’s best to visit at night when lights create some sort of visual illusion, but don’t take my word for it, as I went during the day. Definitely a cool place that photographers will enjoy.
Next door to Song of the Forest is the Showtime Mall where you could watch a movie, have a latte at Second Floor Cafe, or shop til you’re out of cash. There’s also a branch of Thai Town Restaurant, which I personally like a lot.
Temples in the south of Taiwan have a different flavor than their sisters in Taipei or elsewhere in the north. Chiayi has no shortage of temples dedicated to various deities. With a distinctly Sanskrit-sounding name, the Amitabha temple is one of the biggest and has some great architecture as well as gardens.
However, tons of random temples are scattered throughout, and I recommend popping into a few to be greeted by Chiayi’s notoriously friendly people and sample the intricate carvings and areas of worship. One such place is Jiuhua Mountain Temple, not too far from Chiayi Park.
Chiayi Park and Botanical Gardens
The park and the temples are not mutually exclusive. In fact Chiayi Park contains a few places of worship within its borders. A great place to walk around and absorb the lushness of the tropical climate that houses Chiayi, the park also serves as a kind of outdoor museum by telling different parts of the city’s history throughout it.
One of Chiayi’s most famous attractions is the Sun Shooting Tower, also known as the Chiayi Tower. It’s right in the middle of the park. There is a cafe on the top floor (11th) where you can relax and enjoy the view over the city. Admission is 50NT$ and it gives you access to the elevator if you’re not in the mood for climbing up 11 floors.
The city’s Confucius Temple is also within the park’s boundaries and it’s a very nice spot to walk around, relax, and observe the nature all around and take pictures. If you stop and do nothing for a minute, you’ll realize that the forest is so alive. There’s so many different sounds coming from everywhere, birds, insects, the wind. It’s a very special place and it doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of a big city.
Finally, Chiayi Park’s northeastern corner is home to the city’s botanical gardens, boasting 140 species of plants and trees. Chiayi is more or less right along the Tropic of Cancer, so the gardens have served as experimentation ground for forestation experts.
National Chiayi University (NCYU) Insect Museum
Biodiversity seems to be the name of the game here. Unfortunately there’s little in the name of English signage, but the number of Guinness Book-qualified insects here might make the fact that you don’t understand how dangerous they are a blessing rather than a burden.
Run through Chiayi University, the museum houses such appetizing features as “the world’s biggest Hercules beetle”, “the world’s biggest shovel-shaped insects”, “the world’s biggest moths” and more.
Hiking and Cycling in Chiayi @ Lantan
Lantan Lake is the nearest place where you’ll find somewhat proper hiking paths and cycling roads. I was there last weekend (October 2020) and dozens of cyclists were riding at various speeds, some solo, some in big groups. Some looked like tourists, other seemed like they were ready for the Olympics, wearing brightly colored spandex from head to toe.
Two or three short hiking trails can be found on the eastern side of the lake, I’ll include them in my Chiayi Map at the bottom of this page. The Sunliao Trail is a favorite as it takes you through bamboo forests and offers you the opportunity to (maybe) see an eagle or two. Wear long pants and proper shoes that can handle mud.
Getting Around Chiayi / Local Transportation
For the bold or the Chinese-adept, Chiayi’s fairly comprehensive bus system might prove useful. While stop announcements are in English, it will require good Chinese skills to navigate to the right location. An alternative option is always taxis, which are inexpensive but again might be a moderate challenge if you’re operating in English only.
If you plan to use taxis, try to get a written Chinese version of the places or addresses that you’re headed to. Finally, my favorite option is always to rent a scooter near the train station and find your own path.
Eating out in Chiayi / Restaurants
Chiayi is famous for food more than anything else. Within this, the dish that trumps all other in terms of fame is “turkey on rice” 火雞肉飯, which is exactly what it sounds like. While the northern versions might use chicken or low-grade meat, the original is the best and it is found in Chiayi. Seafood also features in the local cuisine, particularly the oysters that also to a degree help fuel the economy by providing jobs.
My personal favorite restaurant is called the 168 薑母鴨 (Jiāng mǔ yā) which literally means “ginger duck”. This place serves ginger duck soup as well as your typical Taiwanese menu at such kind of place, teppanyaki-style beef and tofu, gong bao chicken, stir-fried veggies, fried rice and noodles, and a huge supply of beer. Some people would call it a beer house, but it’s more like a “kuai chao” or “re chao” which means hot stir fry. It closes at 2am. Try the gong bao chicken if you visit.
Address: Chiayi City, West District, Chuiyang Road, #578
Most hotels, hostels, and guesthouses in a place like Chiayi are more or less the same – fairly clean, fairly cheap and mostly concentrated near the train station. Don’t expect to pay more than NT$1,500 or NT$2,000 for anything short of luxury. Since you’re most likely not going to be staying for too long, the places near the train station are probably the best bet.
When I stay in Chiayi, it’s usually to break the journey from Taichung to Kenting in half, so all I really need is a bed for the night and a place to eat and work on my laptop nearby. The Wan Tai Hotel fits the bill perfectly, it’s centrally located, it’s 1300NT$ for a double room with private bathroom, and breakfast is included. There’s also free parking. There’s a Taiwanese restaurant right downstairs next door, with tables on the sidewalk where you can enjoy a cold Taiwan Beer and decent food.
Travel to Chiayi by Train and Bus
Without question, Taiwan’s train network will be the simplest way to get to Chiayi. For the cheaper version, you’ll want to get on the TRA trains, which are slower and will take five hours or so from Taipei.
For the impatient, Taiwan’s blazing High-Speed Rail (HSR) trains also have a stop in Chiayi. Keep in mind that the HSR stop is several miles outside of the city itself, but buses or taxis can be used to get to the city center.
Finally, buses are widely available on popular Taiwanese bus lines such as U-Bus or King Bus (Guo Guang).
Heading to Alishan next? Check out this page about transportation from Chiayi to Alishan!
Enjoy your trip to Chiayi in Taiwan!