Alishan Forest Railway is one of the most iconic and best preserved historical mountain railways in the world. Starting at the center of Chiayi City, it passes through tropical forests, subtropical hills, and rising into the temperate forests in the mountains, originally ending up at Alishan. It is definitely something you should experience while you are in Taiwan.
The Alishan forest railway was opened in 1912 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Originally it was built to transport lumber from mountain areas in Chiayi County, especially cypress and Taiwania wood. The railway consists of narrow gauge track, and has 50 tunnels and70 wooden bridges.
After the Alishan highway was completed in 1982 and logging in Taiwan was banned, passengers along the railway dropped considerably. However, the railway has become popular again in recent years due to its unique and historic preservation. Before the railway from Fenqihu to Zhuqi station was opened, passengers had to disembark at Fenqihu to take a bus to Alishan.
In recent years, many parts of the railway have been damaged by floods and landslides, closing parts of the railway for days or even years. Currently the railway from Shizilu to Alishan is still impassible, but hopefully will open soon.
The railway is known as one of the most beautiful mountain railways in the world. It is also the highest narrow-gage railway in Asia at 2,451 meters (Chushan Station). Currently the railway attracts visitors from all over the world and is one of the most popular attractions in Taiwan.
Chiayi to Shizilu:
First train leaves Chiayi at 8:30 AM
Last train leaves Chiayi at 9:00 AM
Trains return to Chiayi at around 3:00 PM - 4PM
A one way trip takes about two and a half hours.
Zhushan: 30 minutes (sunrise train)
Shenmu: 7 minutes
Zhaoping Line: 6 minutes
384 NT one way from Chiayi to Fenqihu, 459 NT one way from Chiayi to Shizilu
Zhushan Line: 150 NT per ride
Shenmu Line: 100 NT per ride
Zhaoping Line: 100 NT per ride
How to Buy Tickets:
In person: Go to Chiayi Station in person for the Chiayi-Shizilu portion, or Alishan Station for the Zhushan, Shenmu, and Zhaoping lines. The counter to buy tickets is on the right of the main entrance. This is the best way to buy tickets.
Online: You can use the online system to buy tickets here.
However the online system does not show all tickets and routes available, so if possible it is better to buy in person instead.
You can purchase a tickets through a tour agency such as My Taiwan Tour or a similar website.
Where to sit:
The best views going up are on the right of the train, and coming down on the left of the train.
When to go:
Any season. Spring is special because of Cherry blossoms. In the summer (May-October), rock falls due to heavy rains or Typhoons can stop the train for a few days. Make sure to check the train is still running before you go in the summer.
We will cover the following stations in this blog:
Chiayi Station 嘉義車站
First Switch 第一分道
Second Switch 第二分道
Mian Yue/Tashan Line 眠月線/塔山線
Dongpu Line 東埔線
Shuishan Line 水山線
How to get there:
Most passengers board from Chiayi TRA Station or the nearby Beimen TRA Station.
Got to Alishan Station for the Zhushan, Shenmu, and Zhaoping lines.
Please see a map of all the stations below:
Below are some more maps from the Forestry Bureau for your reference:
Another map provided by the Forest Railway to get you a sense of how the railway twists and turns.
Another maps showing the elevation change from tropical forest (below 600 M), to sub tropical forest (below 1800 M), to temperate forest (below 2500 M).
I have been to Alishan twice and I have also been along the Alishan Railway twice, as well as the railway inside the Alishan Forest Recreation Area twice. My first attempt to ride the train from Chiayi to Shizilu failed, but the second attempt was successful.
For those of you that are visually oriented, below is a video of the entire train ride with video and pictures.
I have ridden the full line from Chiayi to Fenqihu and back once. It was a spur of the moment decision. I drove down from Taipei and stayed at one of the cheap hotels near the train station. We got up at 8 AM to catch the train.
Chiayi Station 嘉義車站
Chiayi Station was built in 1902 by the Japanese. In 1912, the Alishan Forest Railway was connected to it.
8:40 AM. The window to buy Alishan Forest Railway tickets is not the same as the normal TRA tickets. You have to go outside to the right of the main entrance.
I totally 100% recommend buying tickets in person because there is a lot more flexibility with seating arrangements and you can actually book all the way to Shizilu, whereas it would only let me book to Fenqihu online. Also I was with my 2 year old daughter so I for sure wanted her seat next to mine.
Child and adult ticket for the Alishan Railway.
The Alishan Train comes to the very right of the station on its own track.
You have to wait for the train underneath the police station at the very far end of the station.
You know you are in the right place because of this sign.
8:54 AM. The train looks like this and is always on time.
The inside of the train has air conditioning, tilt-back seats, and a small space above your head for small bags. Still I saw many people carry luggage, there is space for luggage in the back of the car. There are also toilets on each car, and one breastfeeding room on the train.
Unfortunately we were on the left side of the train going up, which has the worse view.
We start moving through Chiayi City.
Beimen Station 北門站
9:05 AM. Coming up to Beimen Station, which is like a five minute ride from Chiayi Station.
Beimen Station is a station only for the Alishan Railway, and it is also in Chiayi City. It was built in 1912 for convenience of those living in Hinoki Village, which provided dormitories and residences for railway workers. There is also a history museum/exhibit in the old portion of the station. You can also check out the nearby Hinoki Village.
Old trains on display at Beimen.
The old part of the station that has been restored.
An old lumber train sitting to the side.
Dirt river running though Chiayi.
9:15, we start our ascent. The train is elevated above the city for a few hundred meters to gain elevation to the outer highlands surrounding the city.
Pineapple and rice fields.
Sugar cane harvesters waving at us! Taiwanese people are really super friendly.
Binlang trees and empty fields.
Part of a bike path or trail along the historic railway.
Lumachan Station 鹿麻產站/ Luman Station 鹿滿站
9:32 AM, we arrive at Luman Station.
This station was built in 1910, but abandoned in 1982. In 2019, it was officially renovated and reopened as a stop along the Alishan Railway. They have restored a few of the buildings here and built a bike path along the train tracks.
School and night market seen while approaching Zhuqi Station.
Zhuqi Station 竹奇車站
9:42 AM, we arrived at Zhuqi Station.
Zhuqi Station was completed in 1912, and is known as the beginning of the mountain climb section of the track.
In the olden days, trains switched engines here form the No. 18 pulling in front, to the No. 28 pushing from behind to help with the mountain climb. Because of this, there is a lot of empty track near the station where trains used to wait to switch engines.
Zhuqi seemed to be the busiest and most popular station before the mountains.
A sign comparing Alishan Forest Railway to other historic railways all over the world.
Some old railway ties and an alley near the old street.
The first real view of the mountains from the train.
View of Hongjing Suspension Bridge (弘景橋 Hóng jǐng qiáo) from the train.
9:56 AM: the mountain climbing starts here.
First view of the Chiayi Plain from above.
Another view of the plains.
A helmet-less man waits for the train to cross a mountain road.
Clear view of the nearby mountains.
Zhangnaoliao Station 樟腦寮車站
10:15 AM: We arrive at Zhangnaoliao Station.
This station was also built in 1912, and is the first mountain stop. It is also the only station in Taiwan that uses Zig-zag railway.
Lots of tourists waiting to take a photo of the train, standing on a Japanese era rock wall.
People selling fruit near the train. The rock wall here looks modern and not as well built as the older part.
Another lady selling fruit near the train.
More mountain views.
Bamboo forests start coming into view.
At this point, we are circling around the mountain, Dulishan, which has a total of 11 tunnels circling around it to help the train gain elevation.
The best visualization of Dulishan is this model I saw at Fenqihu Station.
Dulishan Station 獨立山站
10:24 AM, we arrive at Dulishan.
This station was also built in 1912 and lies between tunnels 9 and 10.
There were tons of people at this station and it looked like a great place to hike.
Dulishan is also one of Taiwan's lesser 100 peaks.
If you want to see the full ride up Dulishan, check out our video above.
Liyuanliao Station 梨園寮車站
At around 10:40 AM we arrived at Liyuanliao. This station was also built in 1912. There doesn't seem to be much around here except bamboo and tea fields.
Some construction workers at near Liyuanliao.
Views to the north from near Liyuanliao.
To be honest, much of the ride is looking at trees.
View of the train going around a turn.
A break in the trees.
View of the beautiful mountain valley below.
The beginning of tea plantations on the hillsides.
There are also tons of bamboo forests along the way.
Coming near Jiaoliping Station.
Two dogs roaming free.
The small village near Jiaoliping Station.
A few people waiting in front of the train stop.
Zhaoliping Station 交力坪車站
10:58 AM: We arrive at Zhaoliping (Jiaoliping) Station. A crowd of people waits at the station. You can ride the train from any station; the conductor will issue you a ticket on the spot.
Some of the attractions nearby Jiaoliping Station.
People near the tracks as we leave.
A mountain farm house.
Looking back at the village.
They say that the views from Jioaliping are the best on the entire track.
View of what I think is Ruili Village (瑞里).
A wider view of the surroundings.
Going into the first tunnel after Jiaoliping.
Looking back at the tea fields at Jiaoliping.
Closer view of the mountain tea fields.
More mountain scenery.
And lots more bamboo forest.
Another mountain scene.
People posing in front of the train near Shuisheliao.
A hostel at Shuisheliao.
Another hostel or similar building.
Shuisheliao Station 水社寮站
11:17 AM. Shuisheliao looks like an interesting place to stop. There is a small village here, great views, and there were tons of people waiting at the station.
Also there is an abandoned tunnel near here that was buried during Typhoon Marokot.
Looking back at the station.
A man walks along the tracks.
The man gets a ticket to the train.
View of Shuisheliao village.
Another view of the village.
Amazing views from right in front of Shuisheliao.
Fenqihu Station 奮起湖車站
11:34 AM, we arrive at Fenqihu Station.
Fenqihu (aka Fenchihu) is a charming mountain village in Chiayi, and is the largest along the Alishan Forest Railway. It has two old streets that feature great food, such as the famous Fenqihu lunch box and jelly fig seed drink. You can also see many Japanese historical sights such as a shinto shrine, train station, and residences. Also nearby are many beautiful sights such as bamboo forests and hikes in nearby mountains. Fenqihu Old Street is also known as the Jiufen of Southern Taiwan. This place is is definitley worth a stop along the Alishan Forest Railway.
There is also a railway museum here in front of the station.
Most of the people got off the train here, but a few continued on to Duolin and Shizilu.
View of Fenqihu Old Street, full of all kings of snacks. For our full blog on Fenqihu, click here.
Duolin Station 多林車站
Duolin was also built in 1912, and next to it is a small mountain town to explore, although there are not many shops or restaurants etc.
Unfortunately we didn't make it to Duolin. I originally wanted to ride from Fenqihu to Shizilu, but because of a Typhoon the train was cancelled that day.
Shizilu Station 十字路車站
Shizilu was also built in 1912, and next to it is a larger mountain town to explore. Shizilu was an important stop along the Alishan Railway, had space tostore lumber and supplies, and many lumber workers lived here. It was also an important trading post with the indigenous people that lived in the area.
The town lost its importance with the end of the timber industry in Taiwan in the early 1980s. In 2008, the railroad was closed due to rockfall from Typhoon Marokot. However the railroad was restored in 2017, making it an important stop along the railway again. Currently it is the last stop from Chiayi, and there are shuttle buses that run daily from Shizilu to Alishan.
Unfortunately we didn't make it to Shizilu.
Pingzhena Station 屏遮那車站
Pingzhena was also built in 1912, and was a small station with not much next to it. In 2008, the railroad was closed due to rockfall from Typhoon Marokot. Since then, the station has been lying in ruins. You can go check it out if you like urban exploration.
The station is planned to open eventually as part of the reconnect between Shizilu and Alishan.
First Switch Station 第一分道車站
The first switch station was used to help gain elevation up to Alishan. The train switches tracks here as part of a switchback or Z shape up the mountain. There is also a building and residence here. In 2008, the railroad was closed due to rockfall from Typhoon Marokot. In 2017, the station was reopened and can be reached via train from Shenmu Station.
Second Switch Station 第二分道車站
The second switch station was also used to help gain elevation up to Alishan. The train switched tracks here as part of a switchback or Z shape up the mountain. However there was no station or buildings built here. The second switch station is no longer in use.
Erwanping is another switchback up the mountain, but the train does not have to switch tracks here. In 2008, the railroad was closed due to rockfall from Typhoon Marokot. In 2017, the station was reopened and can be reached via train from Shenmu Station.
There is a station here as well as a youth activity center.
Shenmu Station 神木車站
Shenmu Station is named after the sacred tree near the station, the largest and oldest tree in Alishan. The train ride is only six minutes from Alishan Station.
View inside one of the trains on the Alishan Shenmu line.
View of the Sacred Tree at Sacred Tree station back in the day. The tree fell in 1997, but there are many other sacred trees like it at Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
Alishan Station 阿里山車站
Alishan Station was built in 1981 as a tourist train stop. Before, the train stop here was known as Zhaoping Station, which has now been moved further down the line. In the 1999 921 earthquake, the line here was closed until it was fully repaired in 2007. Alishan Station is the main station for tourists riding the lines in Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
For our full blog on Alishan Forest Recreation area, click here.
Zhaoping Station 沼平車站
Zhaoping Station is the highest wooden train station in Taiwan. There is currently a parking lot and hotel here for those that want to see the early sunrise. There are also many trails and parks that connect back to Alishan Station.
Shizifendao Station 十字分道車站
Shizifendao station was completed in 1915, and was the starting station for the Tashan Line (later renamed Mianyue Line). The station features a small wooden building. There was a derailing incident here in 2001 in which 8 people were injured. It is still used for the Chushan Line.
Dueigaoyue Station 對高岳車站
Dueigaoyue was built in 1986 as part of the Chushan Railway reopeneing. It is the last station before Chushan. The station only has a simple uncovered platform. Currently trains do not usually stop at this station, however there are plans to renovate it in the future.
Chushan Station 祝山車站
Chushan station was rebuilt in 1984 to accommodate guests who wanted to see the sunrise at Alishan. This is because so many people took the Alishan Highway to see the sunrise, so they wanted to broaden the traffic. The Chushan line reaches 2,451 meters above sea level, the highest railroad track in Taiwan. It is also the most profitable part of the Alishan railway, due to the large amount of visitors.
The train to Chushan changes times every month to accommodate the changing times of the sunrise.
Mian Yue/Tashan Line 眠月線/塔山線
The Minyue Line was refurbished in 1983 and ran until Typhoon Marokot in 2008. It included Alishan Station, Zhaoping Station, Shizifendao Station, Tashan Station, Mianyue Station, and Shihou Station (Stone Monkey Station). It was one of the most profitable lines until then. Tashan, Mianyue, and Stone Monkey Stations are all abandoned now. Currently the line sits dormant and in ruins, but there are plans to reopen the line in the future.
Part of the Tashan line extended past Stone Monkey Station but lies totally in ruins.
Dongpu Line 東埔線
The Dongpu Line was the highest ever in Taiwan, reaching 2584 meters, which is also the highest railroad ever built in Asia. It was also used as a starting route for climbing Jade Mountain (the highest peak in East Asia) at Tataka (塔塔加 Tǎtǎjiā) , and was known for its amazing beauty. It featured a long, large, and tall wooden bridge over a valley like you would imagine in the movies (as seen above). Due to the fall of the logging industry in Taiwan, the line was closed in 1978 and the railway line was made into an asphalt road to Tataka.
Shuishan Line 水山線
The Shuishan Line was an existing part of the Dongpu Line that was not destroyed or converted into an asphalt road. It inculded two stations: Zhaoping Station and Shuishan Station. It was completed as a tourist line in 2003, but was given to a private company that failed to make money on it. It was finally put to rest after Typhoon Marokot in 2008. However there are plans to reopen it in the future.
The Journey Back
Since we only went as far as Fenqihu on this spring day in 2020, we went back the same way. Luckly we were on the left side of the train going down, which has the best views.
We also went during full on COVID 19 season, masks and temperature checks were mandatory.
2:23 PM: Everyone climbed on the train back to Chiayi.
View of the train as we began out journey back.
Some better views from the left side of the train coming back.
Going around a bend.
Some old railroad ties.
The fog really picked up in the afternoon.
2:48 PM: Old house at Shuisheliao station.
People waiting near Shuisheliao.
More people taking photos at Shuisheliao.
Coming to a tunnel.
Another bend showing the whole train.
View of the mountains from behind.
3:08 PM: Coming up to Jiaoliping. The right side of the train has the better view here.
Another view near Jiaoliping.
Another bend further down.
3:27 PM: A railroad side restaurant at Dulishan Station.
More railroad ties.
3:30: nice view of Chiayi from Dulishan.
3:35: Hikers on Dulishan.
Passing through a tunnel on Dulishan.
Suspension bridge near the train at Dulishan.
Nice mountain views.
3:46 PM: People waiting for the train near Zhangnaoliao Station.
Binlang trees and mountains.
More hikers on the mountain. Dulishan looks like a really popular hiking destination. I am tempted to just take the train there next time.
Another mountain view.
Another view of Chiayi City.
View to the south.
Another view looking further south.
Train passing through the forest.
Passing by a mountain road.
Passing more old railroad ties.
An old man next to the train tracks.
More views of Chiayi.
A farm in the mountains.
View of the train as it moves through the mountains.
Another view from higher up.
Lots of binlang trees.
More mountain views.
Passing over a small river.
Passing over a large river near Zhuqi Station.
View of the mountains in the distance.
4:15 PM: Construction work on some new track near Zhuqi Station.
An old train sitting at Zhuqi Station.
More old locomotives at Zhuqi Station.
Fields in Chiayi.
Are you still reading this?
Words describing the above.
4:26 PM: We arrive back at Luman Station.
People taking photos at Luman Station.
The renovated residence of the Lumanchan Station superintendent.
Fields. Of. Rice.
Dirty stream running through Chiayi.
A road closer to the city.
4:57 PM, we arrive back at Chiayi Station.
Now we know what special things we can see on the Alishan Forest Railway.
The train leaves the station.
We walked back to our car that was still parked at the hotel (for free), and made it back to Taipei at about 8 PM (luckily there was not much traffic on the way back).
Overall it was a fun trip, but I was kind of disappointed that for a vast majority of the ride all I could see was trees or bamboo that was growing right next to the track. As fun as the train ride is, it is much funner to get off the train, go hiking, and enjoy views while sitting still.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more of our blogs on Chiayi!
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.