Believed to resemble the birthplace of Buddha himself, the misty forests of Alishan are the pinnacle fairytale setting in more ways than one. In this whimsical land of tea-scented mazes and rolling emerald mountains, Taiwan’s mountainous spine provides a symphony of tranquillity and the perfect escape from the chaotic streets.
Alishan’s scenic area is considered one of the greatest national wonders in Taiwan and one of the most beautiful national parks in all of Asia!
So in that case, here are the 15 best highlights to see during your time in Alishan!
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Table of Contents
Alishan National Scenic Area
The forests of Alishan National Scenic Area are a highlight all to themselves! This is the point to which all visitors gravitate to before they forge their own path through its misty underbelly. Inside you’ll find fairytale trails, eerie points of horror and viewpoints of sheer awe.
Many of the must-see sites of Alishan are found right here, making it the perfect place to spend a day exploring everything this fascinating region has to offer.
Sacred Tree Trail
Speaking of trails, the pinnacle path to follow begins right at the entrance to the Scenic Area itself. The Sacred Tree Trail guide visitors along well-constructed boardwalks that lead straight through the ancient, towering trees towards the highlights of this majestic forest.
The trail runs past landmarks including the Sacred Tree, which at 3,000 years old makes it older than the earliest forms of civilization! Though sadly, the tree was sadly struck by lightning and had to be cut down in the 1950s.
Amongst the natural monsters, you’ll also come across Ciyun Temple. The humble Buddhist site was built by the Japanese colonials as they believed that Alishan resembled the birthplace of Buddha.
Interested in Japanese temples? Check out The 25 Best Temples to Visit in Kyoto.
Alishan Forest Railway
There’s only one sound that manages to break the tranquillity of the forest, and it is one that has been here for over 100 years!
Yet another relic of the Japanese logging industry, the Alishan Forest Railway has since been repurposed for transporting travellers throughout the park. The authentic little carriages leisurely chug their way under the pull of the old-timey train as it travels through misty forests and overhanging cherry blossoms.
In total, there are 4 stations set up throughout the park, though they barely scratch the surface of what the rest of the park has to offer!
Xianglin Giant Tree
While walking along the Sacred Tree Trail, you’ll come across a specimen that’s 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
A few cut-up stumps aren’t the only thing the Japanese left behind. Next to the Xianglin Tree stands a humble Buddhist temple, one of a few temples that were built by the former colonisers. 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 highlight! It provides the perfect viewpoint to see the sea of clouds flow amongst the valleys of Alishan.
Watch the Sunrise
Another must-do for any trip to Alishan is to see the sun rise over the distant Yushan mountain range. As the sun slowly makes its way above the horizon the glistening rays cast their way across the magnificent landscape illuminating its beauty for all the see.
There are several spots throughout Alishan where you can see the spectacle for yourself. A popular option is taking the early train to the Zhushan railway station where there’s a viewing platform. Tickets must be purchased at the station the day before between 1 – 4 pm and cost NT$150 per person. You could even walk there! Just be ready to wander 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. Prices usually start around NT$250-400 (per person) depending on the distance.
Exploring Tea Fields
Throughout the county of Chiayi and the surrounding Alishan range, an immense amount of tea fields blanket the mountainside. The region finds itself in the perfect altitude and climate to produce some of the world’s most revered oolong tea.
Numerous trails lead through the magnificent mazes of tea fields, with picture-perfect postcard images around every corner. Highlights include the Eryanping Trail of the Trail of Tea just outside of the Scenic Area.
The ultimate guide for visiting one of Taiwan’s most iconic attractions, Alishan National Forest Park and its surroundings
Oolong Tea Tasting
On the topic of tea, as you’re in the heart of oolong country, why not try some for yourself?
Sip, swirl, and savour the unique flavours that come from the magical climate of the region. There will be plenty of opportunities on your path to try some of the local golden nectar.
The result of the booming logging industry under Japanese colonialism was the development of local towns. Fenqihu became one of those very important stops along the trail toward the forest of Alishan. As the industry declined, it was replaced by an influx of tourists who wished to experience the mountains’ joy.
Ever since, the town has been preserved with its authentic wooden buildings and hotels which are a look back in time. Along with an Old Street lined with traditional restaurants and craftwork on sale, it’s the perfect stop along your journey.
The outskirts of Alishan National Park have yet more fascinating trails worth your time. One of the very best is the Eryanping Trail which starts on the far outskirts of the mountain ranges and leads through some of the region’s most pristine tea fields.
For the perfect plan, check out The Ultimate Travel Itinerary: Fenqihu In 1 Day.
As mystical as the forests in Alishan may be, they can also feel quite eerie as the mist rolls in. And in that fog, you’ll stumble across a set of terrifying lakes with an even darker tale!
The Sister Ponds are a pair of natural jade-coloured ponds with a lone pavilion standing in the centre of the largest one.
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. And thus, one pond is known as the Elder Sister Pond and the other, the Younger Sister Pond.
Are you a fan of the supernatural? Then check out 20 Things NOT To Do During Ghost Month in Taiwan.
Alishan Cherry Blossoms
Springtime in Taiwan brings a symphony of delicate pink flowers fluttering in the wind. Alishan also becomes the perfect spot to enjoy the beauty of these iconic flowers.
Make sure to visit at the end of Spring (late March to early April), so you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom!
Taiwan certainly isn’t short of temples, and Alishan is no exception. Shouzhen Temple is not only the biggest and best in Alishan, but it’s also the highest temple in all of Taiwan!
The Taoist 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!
Three Generation Tree
There are plenty of trees here with fascinating histories throughout the park. 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!
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