Alishan was one of the places we booked but didn’t end up going to last time because (a) I had a respiratory infection; (b) typhoon came and it was rainy. Even though we knew it was touristy, we wanted to get away to somewhere nature-y and on a mountain (and also we wanted to see what it was like).
Alishan National Scenic Area (阿里山國家風景區) Background
Alishan is not a single mountain, it refers to that area of mountain range. A guy on Alishan said that it’s named after a tribal leader from Tsou tribe (鄒). During Japan’s occupation of Taiwan, the Japanese discovered large quantities of cypress in this area and this led to the start of the logging industry in this area (and the development of the Alishan Forest Railway). In the 1970s, tourism took over as the main industry of the area due to the exhaustion of forest resources.
Getting to Alishan Area
The train going up to Alishan was not operating (due to damages from Typhoon Morakot). The website stated it would start running at the end of 2011. We took the bus from Jia Yi/Chia Yi train station (嘉義火車站). It was $221 NTD per person (approx $7 CAD). Length: 2.5 hours. The ride was not bad, we went on a weekday to avoid traffic and crowds. Note: The last bus going up to Alishan is 2:10 PM. Here is the schedule: http://www.cybus.gov.tw/TIMETABLE/Chiayi_NewTimeTable.pdf
Beware: As soon as we arrived in Jia Yi/Chia Yi, we were bombarded with people operating mini-buses to go up to Alishan. My aunt took one of these once and it took a long time because they needed 6 people to fill up one bus before departing for Alishan. One lady kept harassing us – followed us from the train exits to the bus shelter (she kept lowering the prices, which made me even more sceptical). They also had people on Alishan for the trip down. (For the return trip, you can take the bus from 7-11 and you can also get your ticket there.)
One of the first things that we saw on Alishan was the First Traffic Control (第一管制哨; picture above). They were making a nicer entrance way to the recreation area. My guess was they were preparing for the mid-March cherry blossoms season.
We stayed at 禾楓別墅 (website).
$1800 NT (approx $60 CAD) per night. It was ok. We just needed a place to sleep, not anything extravagant. The breakfast (which was included), however, was horrible. They offered coupon for breakfast at another hotel/restaurant. The food had clearly been sitting out (was cold). The only thing that was bearable were the buns. When I was little I ate this kind of breakfast all the time, but I couldn’t eat much of this food. But, what do you expect for this price?
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter which hotel you choose. They are all next to each other, on a strip, a little ways down from the shopping area. Although, there are two hotels in the recreation area, not sure how they compare to the rest.
You have to walk a little ways to get to the trails. We normally wouldn’t mind walking but the construction made it somewhat unpleasant.
We took the 12:10 PM bus from Jia Yi/Chia Yi and arrived mid-afternoon. We decided to do a short walk on the green trail (遊覽步道). All the trails were well-signed and not hard. If you are looking for a real hike, you should try other mountains (like Yushan/Jade Mountain). We chose Alishan because it was easy to get to, close to Xihu and wasn’t too cold (there were other mountains we wanted to go to in the northern part of Taiwan but they’d been having cold and rainy days).
We spent some time in the Magnolia Garden (木蘭園). It was serene and just what we wanted – opposite from noisy and crowded Xihu.
In Alishan, fog comes and goes fairly quickly, creating neat effects.
Eating in Alishan
To be honest, there weren’t a lot of choices. There were only a few restaurants and their menus were all pretty much the same (hot pot was the main things served). The other option was 7-11. We went to the restaurant across Juh Shan Yuan Restaurant (玉山園餐廳) a couple of times. One of our favourite things to get was ginger tea (薑母茶). It warmed your body during the night sitting in cold mountain temperature.
The next day, we got up at 4 AM to get ready for our sunrise excursion. Most hotels give you a wake-up call the next morning after arrival so that you can take the train to Chushan to watch sunrise. You have to request to NOT have the wake-up call. Round-trip ticket for the train was $150 NT (approx $5 CAD) and one-way ticket is $100 NT (approx $3). We decided to walk back – didn’t take us too long (2 hours or so).
Even though we didn’t see the sunrise, we saw the risen sun! It was still pretty spectacular. We also saw a sea of clouds, might not be “the famous” sea of clouds like this, but it was something!
The bloom of Hill Cherry/Japanese Cherry (Prunus serrulata; 山櫻 – I think) was another highlight of this trip.
Alishan had a lot of Chinese tourist (Mainland China) – although not as much as compared to high season. To avoid some of the crowds, we did part of the Tashan trail 塔山步道 (we didn’t bring enough water for a 4-hr hike). We got the impression that most people don’t do this hike because certain parts of trail was slightly overgrown. Also, we weren’t sure if the trail continued to Tashan because part of the railroad going in the same direction was cut off.
A little ways up from this part (in the previous picture) was the Tashan viewing spot, clearly the trees had grown quite a bit because you couldn’t see Tashan in that specific viewing spot.
We went back on the green trail and went around Sisters Ponds (姊妹潭), we weren’t too impressed (water was murky).
However, the sacred trees were pretty interesting!
There was an interesting description for the Dragon and Phoenix:
Two mingled together tree stumps are said to resemble a copulating pair of dragon and phoenix. As much as they are both imaginary and mysterious creatures, it really calls for your vast imagination in order to find out which is which and how they are doing it.
Especially the last phrase.
We took an early bus back to Jia Yi/Chia Yi because we were having lunch with my uncle. Who did I see on the bus? A classmate from high school, LC, she was touring Taiwan with a friend. What a small world! We met up later in Taipei to catch up.
The trip to Alishan was what we needed: relaxing time to ourselves. I think it’s worth to visit if you’ve never been. I don’t think I would make another trip to Alishan – there are so many other places to visit.
* Entry fee to the area: $150 NT per person if you are taking public transit (approx $5 CAD); $200 NT if private car (approx $7 CAD). One-time fee.
* Bring warm clothes because it gets cold during the night and in early morning (especially when you are going to see sunrise).
* Prices for hotels are doubled during high season – ex. mid-March when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.