Alishan National Scenic Area is one of the most famous mountain areas in Taiwan (aka Mount Ali, or Ali Mountain). Formerly a timber harvesting area during the Japanese Era, it still has a working rail system for park visitors to ride around the mountain. The mountain villages, ancient forests, waterfalls, hiking destinations, and tea plantations have made it a popular destination for tourists. It is also a popular destination to see the sunrise over a sea of clouds. Overall, it is one of the most iconic and well known mountain destinations in Taiwan.
Alishan is a high mountain area over 2,000 meters above sea level in central Taiwan. The first settlers in the Alishan region were the Tsuo aboriginal tribe. Chinese settlers did not move into the area until the 1900s. After the Japanese took over Taiwan in the late 1800s, they discovered large quantities of cypress trees in the area and sought to harvest them. They built railways in order to transport lumber down the mountains, part of which stands today as the Alishan Forest Railway.
By 1970 logging resources had been depleted and the area began to rely on tourism as the major economic driver in the area. High mountain tea and wasabi are also major industries in there. The Alishan highway was completed in 1980, which made the surrounding area more accessible for tourism. In 2001, the Alishan National Scenic Area was officially established.
The railway was damaged in 2009 by typhoon Morakat but was reopened again in 2014, and is currently running as of 2018.
How to get There:
The best way to get to Alishan is from Chiayi. There are a number of transportation options.
By Train: You have to book the tickets the day before and they have been known to sell out. For more information on how to book train tickets up the mountain check out this blog by Travel Taiwan.
By Bus: King Bus goes directly to Alishan from Taipei Main Station but this bus leaves early and is expensive. You can also take a bus from Chiayi Main Bus station.
By Car/Scooter: Take provincial Highway 18 east out of Chiayi City, then make your way up the mountain for about over an hour until you reach Alishan Scenic Area.
If your GPS tells you to go up the one lane roads to Alishan, do not. For safety, stay on the two lane Highway 18.
The road to Alishan is known to often have thick fog. You do not want to be stuck on a super steep one lane road with thick fog, so stay on the main two-lane highway.
You can rent a scooter for cheap in front of the Chiayi Train Station. I would suggest getting at least a large 125 cc scooter that can make it up the mountain. Some rental shops do not even require to see a license. Also be aware there is a gas stations in the first town up the mountain road, so make sure you fill up there if you are getting low. Getting to Alishan could take most of your gas tank.
Hours: Open 24-hours a day all year round (so you can go to see the sunrise at 3 AM).
Recreation Area Price: 300 NT for foreigners, 200 NT for Taiwan nationals. Parking is 100 NT for cars and 20 NT for scooters.
Map: please see below
The picture above is a vista along the road to Alishan.
I have been to Alishan twice; once in 2013 and once in 2016. The first time we went up in a rental car and we encountered thick fog. Our GPS took us up some super narrow and steep one lane mountain roads there and back, and it was one of the most scary moments of my life. We couldn't see 10 feet in front of us; our headlights were worthless in the fog. On the way down it was night time and there was lots of traffic coming up the mountain. I was driving and I just couldn't go on. I took a U turn and went back to highway 18 where there was still thick fog but at least there was two lanes so I didn't have to worry about a head on collision in low visibility conditions.
The second time we rented a 125cc scooter in front of Chiayi Station for 450 NT and drove up the mountain. The scooter did great. But it was really cold; we did the ride in December.
When we got to the Recreation Area Parking lot (pictured below), we were freezing from a long cold scooter ride. We went to the nearest cheap noodle stand for lunch and emptied the hot sauce because we were so cold. That was a mistake. The hot sauce label was "天下第一辣" literally "the number 1 hottest under heaven." Our noodles were so hot that we couldn't finish them.
There are plenty of tour buses that go up the mountain if driving by yourself is not your thing. I have never managed to go by train because the tickets sell out so fast, but I think train would be the ideal transportation.
Above the parking lot is the train station for the forest railway. You can also walk around the park but it will take a super long time. The small railway within the park moves slowly, and goes from Alishan Station (pictured above) to a few other stations. For more information about the railway line, see the Wiki articlehere.
One of the diesel engines that goes around the park.
A one way ticket to Shenmu (ancient tree) was 100 NT, which is a little high I think for like a 5 minute ride. But beat walking.
Authentic forest railway ride!
It's easy to get lost in the recreation area if you don't have a map and don't take the trains. This was us randomly wandering around the streets in the recreation area.
Hanging garden exhibit near the ancient tree.
The entire recreation area is full of trails an parks. Its perfect for a relaxing stroll.
The trail system is not exactly flat. Be prepared for lots of hills and steps along the way.
View of the foggy forest.
A footbridge in the forest.
Pictures above is the three generation tree. The first generation is the stump at the bottom, the second generation is the log that fell on top of it. The third generation is the tree growing out of the second generation.
Another view of the three generations tree. You can see that the third generation tree is actually pretty big, growing from 10 feet off the ground.
"Three Generation Trees"
"The aged trees roots lying on the ground were the first generation of the 1500 year tree.The roots were withered for about 250 years and sometime there was a seed dropping on the roots occasionally. By means of absorbing nutrients from the withered tree roots, the seed came into leaf and grew up as the second generation tree. After passing the period of 300 years, the second-generation tree roots were aged and the stem became hollow. In spite of the disadvantages, the roots still fot alive and grew up as the third-generation tree."
Sister Pond, a nice spot to relax.
This is the Pagoda of the Tree Spirit (樹靈塔）built in 1935 by the Japanese to honor the spirits of the trees that they had cut down.
The Alishan Sianglin Sacred Tree（香林神木), a Taiwan Red Cypress.
This tree is over 2300 years old! It stands 43 meters high and is 12.4 meters in circumference.
When the sun hits them just right, these hills sing!
A small park along the forest trail.
Fog setting in on the park.
A view into the forest canopy.
Sun shining through the forest scenery.
There is a raised walkway at the other end of the park, probably for viewing the sunrise. Or sunset. One of them.
Foggy view from the top of the platform. I imagine on a good day you can see all the way to Chiayi.
Another view of the raised walkway.
Sunset over Alishan.
On the way back to the parking lot, if you are lucky you can see a beautiful sunset to the west.
Orange sky over a sea of clouds.
Misty mountains looking into the sunset.
The moon looking over the parking lot as we left.
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