The Ultimate Travel Plan: Alishan National Park
Alishan National Park is considered one of the greatest national wonders in Taiwan and one of Asia’s most beautiful national parks. The rolling vistas of mountain ranges and luscious tea plantations have been the source of inspiration for photographers and artists alike. It’s the ultimate escape from the fast-paced life of the cities and an opportunity to get lost in the heart of nature.
So in that case, let me show you the perfect plan for exploring Alishan National Park.
Where Is Alishan?
The term “Alishan” can be a little misleading. Alishan Township is a large mountainous region located in Chiayi County near the centre of Taiwan. The township is made up of endless peaks which average 2500m, the tallest being Yushan (Jade Mountain), which happens to be Taiwan’s and Northeast Asia’s tallest mountain.
The area is blanketed in thick forests and lush tea plantations which are spread throughout the township. These plantations are also internationally renowned for producing some of the world’s best tea!
However, when most people refer to “Alishan”, they’re referring to the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. This dense forest has a myriad of hiking trails, railway lines and tourist facilities all within the confines of the park. It’s also where most people generally spend the majority of their time and is clearly the star of the Alishan show.
How Long Should You Stay in Alishan?
Visiting Alishan takes a lot of planning, as there are a few things to consider! You need to think of where you want to stay, transport (this is super important!), and what exactly you want to do during your time there.
Do you want to catch the sunrise over the mountains? Then you’ll need to add another night to your stay, most likely, in the national park itself. If you want to visit other nearby towns such as Shizhuo or Fenqihu, then you’ll need another day for that too.
That being said, if you just want to visit the national park, then that could be achieved as part of a day trip.
Plan Out Your Transportation
Unfortunately, Taiwan has a bad habit of having very little transportation available around some of its biggest attractions. This is also the case with Sun Moon Lake, where options are very limited.
There’s a train that can take you to Fenqihu (more on that later), though you’ll still need to take a bus to reach the national park. Otherwise, buses are your only option to take you between the different hotspots around Alishan Township.
However, these buses don’t run that often and might not even turn up at the right time. Check the available routes on Google, make a note of the schedule, and give yourself enough time to catch the bus!!
When Should You Visit Alishan?
Due to its high altitude and protective mountain borders, the climate is usually 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the country year-round. Even during the baking heat of summer, the mountains are often shrouded with a cooling mist.
That being said, the mountains are still vulnerable to Taiwan’s harsh seasonal changes. The region gets humid during the summer, bone-rattlingly cold in the winter and regularly battered by rainstorms during the rainy season from April to September.
As such, Spring (late March to early April) is the perfect time to visit. The temperature will be at its finest and you’ll have the added benefit of seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Just be sure to reserve your hotel way in advance, as all accommodation books out fast!
On the other end of the scale, late October to November is also a great time to visit as the temperature is cooler and the views are much clearer.
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Getting to Alishan
Getting to the national park isn’t as easy as it should be, but luckily there are still a few options. Regardless of where you’re headed, all roads to Alishan lead through one city, Chiayi.
Getting to Chiayi
You can access Chiayi from every major city across the west coast, be it by bus, regular trains or the High Speed (HSR) variety.
Once you arrive at Chiayi, then your next step is deciding which area will you head to first; Fenqihu or straight to Alishan National Park.
|Leaving From||Regular Train||HSR Train||Bus|
|Taipei||2 hr 34 min – 5 hrs 21 min||NT$385-598||1 hr 30 min||NT$1080||3 hr 30 min||NT$375-525|
|Tainan||15 – 27 min||NT$33-52||18 min||NT$280||30 min||NT$60|
|Taichung||54 min – 2 hrs 6 min||NT$144-224||30 min||NT$380||1 hr 40 min||NT$165-200|
|Kaohsiung||1 hr 56 min – 2 hrs 11 min||NT$148||31 min||NT$410||1 hr 40 min||NT$175-240|
Going via Fenqihu
Going via Fenqihu is not only the easiest option but also the most fitting way of getting there, as the mountain railway played a vital role in the area’s history! It also allows you to visit the quaint little town of Fenqihu, which is one of the must-see sites outside of the national park itself.
For more details on visiting Fenqihu, check out The Ultimate Travel Guide: Alishan.
Sadly though, the train only runs to Fenqihu and does not go all the way to the Alishan National Park. From there you’ll still need to catch a 40-minute bus the rest of the way. The train takes 2 ½ hours, costs NT$384 and only runs 3 times a day.
Going Straight to Alishan
Your other option is to go directly to Alishan National Park. Some buses will require you to transfer at the small town of Shizhuo, so make sure you check which bus you’re taking!
Taiwan’s EasyCard can be used for all these buses, and information on their routes can be found on Google. Just be aware that some don’t run for hours at a time!
There is a shared shuttle bus available, though they’re a little more expensive and you need to book in advance.
Getting Around Alishan
For travelling within the National Park itself, you have two options: shuttle bus or train.
The forest railway network guides visitors through the park’s scenic forests and has become an iconic part of the Alishan experience! The repurposed logging trains chug along between 4 stations spread around the park: Alishan, Zhaoping, Sacred Tree (or Shenmu) and Zhushan (only in the morning).
Sadly, all the stations aren’t connected together, so you’ll have to pick and choose. You can find a more detailed timetable, here.
The shuttle bus is another option which takes you between the major hotspots within the park. Both costs NT$80 per trip.
Not that taking transport is even necessary! All the attractions are within walking distance of each other or a short hike away, so why not make the most of it?
Entrance Fee to Alishan National Park
There’s an entrance fee for the Alishan Forest Recreation Area which you’ll have to pay each time you pass through the gates. In that case, it’s better to book some accommodation in the park itself to save yourself a couple of hundred dollars!
Tickets cost NT$150 for locals and NT$300 for us unlucky foreigners.
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What is There to See in Alishan National Park?
Alishan National Forest Recreation Area is renowned for its spectacular trails, vast peaks and giant red cypress forests with trees over 2000 years old! As such, there are plenty of worthwhile spots to visit and some amazing photo opportunities throughout!
Though you can easily spend days, even weeks hiking all the various trails, for those on a time limit, all the park’s major attractions can be seen along one easy route.
Alishan Tourist Village
Right on the doorstep of the park, the tourist village is a collection of hotels, restaurants and tourist-centred services which make up a perfect base camp for people visiting the park. There’s not too much to see here, but it’s the ideal place to fuel up and set up your headquarters for the rest of the journey. Plus you can grab yourself a few local souvenirs, including freshly grown wasabi!
Three Generation Tree
There are some fascinating histories throughout this national park, many of which can be seen through the trees themselves. The Three Generation Tree is one that demonstrates the immense natural history of the forest itself!
What was once a victim of the Japanese logging industry has now become the foundation for not one, but TWO new generations of trees growing atop one another! It’s a wonderful example of how the forest continues to evolve and live on. Who knows how many more will grow in decades to come!
Xianglin Giant Tree
From one impressive specimen to another, we come to a tree that luckily survived the peak of the Japanese logging industry. In fact, this tree has been around longer than the nation of Japan itself! The Xianglin Giant Tree is a 2,300-year-old red cypress that has stood in these forests since before the Roman Empire!
Standing at 45m tall with a circumference of 12.3 meters, it’s a pretty incredible piece of natural history. It’s yet another example of how ancient and primaeval this forest really is!
The Ciyun Temple
Fortunately, a few monstrous stumps aren’t the only thing the Japanese left behind. Next to the Xianglin Tree stands a humble Buddhist temple. It’s one of a few temples built by the former colonisers, as they believed that Alishan resembled the birthplace of Buddha, and thus somewhere of supreme spiritual significance!
Though the temple might be quite simple in its design, it’s the platform at the back that’s the real showstopper! It provides the perfect viewpoint to watch the sea of clouds flow amongst the valleys of Alishan.
Want to learn more about temples in Taiwan, check out The Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Temples.
Yet another ancient tree with a story to tell, though sadly this one hasn’t survived to tell its tale! The Sacred Tree is Alishan’s oldest and most famous, coming in at over 3,000 years old, outliving the earliest forms of civilization!
Though it was lucky enough to survive the Japanese, it was Mother Nature herself that brought down this mighty beast. After being struck by lightning in the 1950s, officials soon decided to cut it down and left it on its side so it could return to the earth from which it came.
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Xianglin Service Area
After spending some time exploring the forests, the Xianglin Service Area provides the perfect spot to fuel up and recharge for the trails ahead. This little gathering of market stalls acts as a one-stop-shop for all your souvenir and snack needs.
The other edge of the service area is taken up by the mighty structure of Shouzhen temple. It’s by far the biggest and best in Alishan, as well as being the highest temple in all of Taiwan!
Much like other Toaist temples throughout the country, the temple is immaculately designed with intricate craftsmanship with detailed sculptures of dragons and mythical creatures. It certainly brings some colour to the otherwise earthy tones of the park!
Now we arrive at one of the most iconic images associated with Alishan, and quite an eerie one at that! The Sister Ponds are a pair of natural jade-coloured ponds with a lone pavilion standing in the centre of the largest one. Though it’s not just the images of these lakes which are creepy, there’s an equally morbid story attached to them.
Legend has it that two sisters fell in love with the same man and rather than betraying each other, they both decided to drown themselves in the lake’s murky waters. It’s for that reason that one pond is called the Elder Sister Pond and the other, the Younger Sister Pond. Cheerful, right?
Are you a fan of the supernatural? Then check out 20 Things NOT To Do During Ghost Month in Taiwan.
Alishan has more than enough trails to choose from, and you could easily spend weeks exploring them all! However, for day trippers, there’s one you just can’t miss!
Leading from the back of Zhushan station (which is completely abandoned other than in the early mornings), a foot-beaten path leads to the Tashan Mountain Trail.
Further along the tracks, you reach the beginning of the Duigaoyue Trail. This 2-hour-long hike heads towards the Duigao Pavilion and is by far one of the best places to enjoy the sea of clouds! Just be aware that it can be a pretty demanding hike!
Take The Alishan Forest Railway
Now you’re ready to call it a day and head back to your hotel, why not travel back in style? The Alishan Forest Railway is one of the few remaining relics of the Japanese logging industry and has now become one of Alishan’s most iconic features!
The authentic little cabins leisurely chug their way under the pull of the old-timey train as it travels through misty forests and overhanging cherry blossoms.
Your best option at this point is to take a train from the Sacred Tree Station (not too far from the service area) or head further down to Zhaoping Station.
Watch the Alishan Sunset
Another major tick off the Alishan list is to watch the sunrise over Yushan! Of course, that would mean that you’d have to spend a night there, but it’s certainly worth it!
Due to the vast size of the whole township, there are plenty of places to do just that, though there are a few favoured spots.
The most popular option is to take the early train to the sunrise viewing platform at Zhushan. Tickets must be purchased at the station the day before between 1 – 4 pm and cost NT$150 per person. You could actually walk there, but it would have to be done in near pitch-black darkness if not for a few streetlights placed along the trail.
Another option is taking a private shuttle service provided by the hotels, where a guide will take you out of Alishan National Park to a spot closer to the action. Prices usually start around NT$250-400 (per person) depending on the distance. Whichever option you end up choosing, expect to be lost in a sea of bodies!
Where To Stay in Alishan?
Sadly, there are no budget hostels in the township whatsoever. Not only that, but the limited number of hotels take full advantage of their exclusivity and have high prices to match! You’ll spend at least NT$1200 a night on a hotel room.
Your best option is getting a hotel in Alishan Tourist Village, which ensures you’re as close to the action as you can get while also having nearby amenities. Don’t expect luxury though, these hotels are pretty rundown and outdated.
There is actually a hotel IN the national park itself, but it’s ridiculously overpriced and just not worth it. The rooms are £239 at their cheapest!
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