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:
Chukou Village in Fanlu Township (番路鄉) of Chiayi is a pleasant stop along the Alishan Highway, It features multiple suspension bridges, mountain temples, rivers and waterfalls, and lots of hikes. If you have time you should definitely stop here and enjoy the scenery.
Fanlu gets its name from the Cou Tribe that named the area Fan Village, and was an important trading spot between Han Chinese settlers and indigenous tribes-people. Fanlu Township was briefly a part of Tainan county after WWII, but was moved back to Chiayi county in 1951. Currently it has 11,000 residents.
When the Alishan Forest Railway is damaged, this placed becomes an important stop for many travelers along the Alishan Highway.
How to get there:
By Car/Scooter: From Chiayi, take provincial highway 18 east until you reach the first switchbacks up the mountain. Chukou Village is at the base of the mountain; it's hard to miss.
By Bus: From Chiayi Bus Station, take bus 7216A to Chukou Station (about 1.5 hours).
Please see below:
Hinoki Village (aka Cypress Forest Life Village 檜意森活村 Guìyì sēnhuó cūn) is the largest group of Japaneses era buildings in Taiwan, with over 30 restored era wooden structures. Located in Chiayi City, it is a remnant of the logging industry that existed in Chiayi during the Japanese era. As one of the best preserved historical sites in Taiwan, it is definitely worth a stop on your trip to Chiayi.
Hinoki Village dates back to 1914 when the Japanese built the Alishan Forest Railway for exploitation of lumber in the mountains of Chiayi. The village acted as a residential area for loggers, lumber industry management, and dependents.
The village included a building for top management, two buildings for management dependents, another four dormitories for dependents, a dormitory for single workers, a public bath house, and a hostel.
After WWII, it became a residential area for the ROC's forestry bureau and their dependents. In 2005, many buildings were listed as historical buildings under protection. In 2009, the area was planned as one of Taiwan's six major city renovation projects. It took NT 400 million dollars and 4 years to complete. The renovation of the village was completed in 2013 and is now operated by the public.
The village now contains 21 bookstores, restaurants, coffee and tea shops, and a farmers market.
10 AM to 6 PM
How to get there:
By Train/Bus: The village is a short walk across the street from Chiayi Beimen (North Gate) Station.
By Car/Scooter: From Chiayi Station, turn north on County road 159 until you reach Beimen Station. The village is across the street from Beimen Station. There is free and paid parking on the street nearby.
Please see below:
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.
Fenqihu is a small settlement in Zhonghe Village of Zhuqi Township, Chiayi County, Taiwan (台灣嘉義縣竹奇鄉中和村奮起湖聚落). The village sits at 1,405 meters above sea level. The old street is about 500 meters long.
The name Fenqihu comes from the name for "dustpan" (fenqi 畚箕) and "lake" (hu 湖). The name lake (hu 湖) means basin in Hakka.
The village was originally created along the road to Alishan before the railway was built by Hakka Chinese settlers. As the Japanese harvested more and more lumber, the town began to grow.
Fenqihu Station was finished in 1912 by the Japanese and was the largest intermediate station along the Alishan Forest Railway. It was also a stop for trains to add coal and water on the way up the mountain. It was also usually a noontime lunch stop for loggers riding the train, hence the Fenqihu lunchbox tradition started. Because of this, Fenqihu became a central gathering place along the Alishan Forest Railway.
After the Alishan highway was completed in 1982, 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 Zhiqi station was opened, passengers had to disembark at Fenqihu to take a bus to Alishan.
However, Fenqihu is still very popular even on weekends when the train is not running, thanks to the Alishan highway that brings busses and cars.
Fenqihu Old Street is also known as the Jiufen of Southern Taiwan.
About 9 AM to 6 PM
How to get there:
By Car/Scooter: From Chiayi, taken provincial highway 18 east up the mountain to Shizhuo （石桌), after which you need to turn left up the mountain to Fenqihu. The town is hard to miss.
By Bus: Take the direct bus from Chiayi Station (leaves in the morning).
By Train: Take the Alishan Forest Train from Chiayi Station (leaves at 8:30 AM and 9 AM).
Please see below:
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
On Sunday we made our way up to Alishan (Mount Ali 阿里山). It was a very long ride, with windy roads and lots of fog. At the Alishan park were some shops, with decently priced food, and a train that went around the mountain. We took the train over to see that sacred tree when we were once again confronted with hundreds of Chinese tourists taking pictures of everything. The forest was definitely pretty, and there were some huge trees; it was kind of similar to the redwood forest, but there were only a handful of big trees. There was also a peaceful pond (姊妹潭) there that we relaxed at. The shops there were ridiculously overpriced, but among them we found some delicious wasabi peanuts.
We took the train back around the mountain, which we still had to pay for (100-200NT), and had some decent fried rice at one of the restaurants. Then we made our way back down the mountain toward Nantou. On the way down, we tried to take a shortcut down a narrow road, but the fog would only let me see like ten feet in front of us, so I decided to turn back and take the main road where I knew there were at least two lanes. The rest of the way to Nantou went smoothly, and we were able to stay at a friend’s house.
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.