See, that’s funny because Alice in Wonderland. (That’s a “Suits” reference. We just got done with Season 5, I highly recommend that series even though there are various legal inaccuracies. Shout out to Northwestern ’03 classmate Megan Markle!). Alishan rounds up our little trilogy of famous scenic sites around Taiwan. As I mentioned in the last post, we took the 8 am bus from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan. Originally, we were going to stay two nights in Alishan and one night in Sun Moon Lake but due to the bus issue I previously mentioned, we had to flip the two. Not a bad little bus ride, stopped at a couple of interesting places along the way so we probably could have made it in the 2 hours 42 minutes that Google estimates below. A little strip mall that sold Mei (prune juice) drinks, a famous fallen tree, and a look out trail that had stuffed bears and food in the visitor center.
Alishan is a national scenic area and natural preserve located in the mountains of Chiayi County in Taiwan. When you arrive at Alishan you have to pay a park fee of $150 NTD if you arrive by bus ($300 NTD per person if by car). We arrived around 11:15AM and walked from the bus stop (aka 7-11) to our hotel for the night. We couldn’t check in until 3pm so we went to the visitor center and 7-11 to buy our bus ticket to Chiayi the next day. However, bus tickets to Chiayi are only served the day of travel and the tickets go on sale at 8 AM. This was a little concerning to us since we wanted to leave at 9 AM and we didn’t want to get stuck an extra day like we did in Sun Moon Lake. So we decided that tomorrow we would get there before 8 AM so that we could get tickets. We also had to buy train tickets for tomorrow to the sunrise outlook that Alishan is famous for. The tickets for the sunrise train costs $300 NTD and opens at 1PM so we had a little over an hour to kill. We weren’t very hungry so we decided to walk around the Alishan forest.
The entire Alishan area (see Map left) includes, among other things, mountain wilderness, four villages, waterfalls, high altitude tea plantations, the Alishan Forest Railway, and several hiking trails. The major hikes, temples, and landmarks around the Alishan Forest aren’t that far away from the city center. You can do all the forest trails in around 3 hours. There are maps and signs around the forest, but the Visitor Center has English copies of the maps so it’s a good idea to pick up one of those before you get started.
The forest is really green and beautiful, many of the trees and plants were imported from Japan during the Japanese occupation. There were many Japanese cedar trees and 18 species of Japanese cherry trees. Since it was early May, there were only a couple of wilted Cherry Blossoms left on the trees. I imagine the forest would be even more beautiful in late March and April during the cherry blossom season. We walked along the west side of the forest, walking by the Alishan Sacred Tree, the 3 generation tree (the 2nd generation tree is growing out of the 3 generation tree and the 1st generation tree grows out of the 2nd), Love Forever Tree, Cihyun Temple, and Elephant Trunk Tree.
That whole loop took about an hour and we went back to buy our sunrise train tickets at the train station located up the hill above the town. The teller let us know that the actual departure time for the train changes day to day and they post the departure time at 4:30 PM the day before.
We had another 1.5 hours to kill before we could check-in so we went back to the forest. We decided to do the East loop which included Zhaoping Park, the Sister Pond, and Shouzhan Temple. Zhaoping Park had a number of different Cherry trees and a walkway 4-5 stories up overlooking the park. This I imagine is a very popular spot during the cherry blossom season. You literally walk above the trees looking down which is a little weird and gives you a sense of vertigo.
We went back to our hotel to check-in and room was a big disappointment. It was more expensive than our usual stays (~$50 USD/night), was really tiny, and had one window which opened out to a hallway. We didn’t want to stay in the room so we went out to get food around 3:30PM. Restaurants in Alishan are closed between lunch and dinner from 3PM to 5PM so we had over an hour to kill. We went back into the Alishan forest to go to different sites in the forest that we missed earlier in the day. We basically hit all the major landmarks on the tour map of the Alishan forest in one day. Alishan also has some pretty cool wooden postcards that we used as Thank You cards for our wedding. We had dinner at a hot pot place which really wasn’t that good. We spent the night filling out and stamping the postcards.
The next day we got a wake up call at 3:20AM. We got moving and headed to the train station, we got there around 4:10 and there was already a pretty big line. The first train left at 4:20AM and quickly filled up. We got on the second train. The train ride was about 30 minutes through the forest. It was pretty cold in the mountains in the morning so we wore our warmest clothes, which wasn’t much. We got to the vista around 5:10AM and sunrise was scheduled for 5:35 AM. The vista overlooks some mountains and the sun rises just above the mountains. It reminds me a lot of the sunrise at Machu Picchu. On some days the clouds are low and below the top of the mountains which gives you a sunrise above a bed of clouds. We weren’t so lucky but it was a relatively clear day. As sunrise approached there were some beautiful pink, purple, red, and orange colors in the clouds above the mountains. Unfortunately, the clouds also blocked the actual sunrise. Even without the sun coming through, the sunrise at Alishan was beautiful and a worthwhile experience. It would have been nice to try again but it wouldn’t have been worth it since we already saw everything we wanted to in the forest. We went back to the hotel room, packed and headed to the bus station to be first in line when the tickets opened at 8AM and to catch the 9:10 AM bus to Chiayi on our way to our next stop, Kaohsiung.
See the full gallery of Alishan here: Alishan, Taiwan