The Best Things to do in Alishan, Taiwan
Are you planning a trip to Taiwan’s sublime forest area – Alishan (阿里山)? If so, you’re in luck! This guide sets out everything you need to know about planning an Alishan itinerary. From how to get there and when to visit to the best things to do in Alishan and pro tips to help you plan. Get all the handy travel tips you need to help you explore this beautiful part of Taiwan, plus all the ins and outs to better understand the area and how to make the most of your visit. Read on to get my Alishan travel tips and need-to-knows.
Alishan is a beautiful mountainous area in Taiwan. It’s also one of the most popular spots in Taiwan and a must-do on any Taiwan itinerary – especially if you are looking to enjoy serene landscapes, breathtaking sunrises and lush forests lined with centuries-old towering cypress trees. And if that isn’t enough reason to visit Alishan, you’ll love all the amazing things to do there, too! From great hikes through misty forests, taking the historical forest railway to rolling hills packed with tea plantations brewing up oolong high mountain tea and loads of fresh air.
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Planning your Alishan Itinerary
Unlike most other destinations in Taiwan, you will need to do a bit more planning when visiting Alishan. Mostly, you’ll need to consider things such as length of stay, where to stay, transport (this is super important), and what exactly you want to do on your Alishan visit.
When we started planning our trip, most of the information we found was either outdated and to be honest…quite confusing. Surprisingly there wasn’t that much information in English available online either. Which is where this guide comes in – we’ll highlight everything you need to know for your visit to Alishan, plus pro tips and need-to-knows to help you plan a great Alishan trip!
Know before you go
Alishan is a huge mountainous area in central Taiwan, roughly 2 hours drive from Chiayi. There are 18 mountains surrounding Alishan making up the ridge of Jade Mountain – one of Taiwan’s most extensive mountain ranges. With high mountains, forest slopes and steep terrain, Alishan is formed by a natural valley and basin. Here, the elevation ranges from 300 to 2600m!
Seeing that Alishan is so big, the very first thing you need to know is that when people refer to Alishan, they are actually talking about the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area (阿里山國家森林遊樂區). This is mainly where most of the confusion comes in. So the next time you hear people raving about “Alishan”, “Alishan Mountain”, “Alishan National Park” keep in mind that they are actually referring to this small area within the greater Alishan area.
When to visit
Since Alishan is surrounded by high mountains the climate is cool, with average temperatures ranging between 8°C – 16 °C. It can get quite humid here, especially during summer. That said, Alishan also gets a lot of rainfall (2500mm annually). The rainy season runs from April to September, and the dry season from October to March. With its high elevation and mountainous area, Alishan is practically covered in fog for roughly 111 days a year. So when visiting here, you’ll need to make sure to pack some warm clothes. The best tip I can give you is – always bring a jacket! No matter the season.
Spring (Mar – May)
Spring is an excellent time to visit Alishan. Not only are the temperatures cooler, you might also get a chance to spot cherry blossoms. Cherry blossom season usually kicks of mid March and ends in early April. Do take note that this is dependant on the climate and you’ll need to double-check official websites for the exact cherry blossom forecasts each year.
We visited during cherry blossom season and although full blooms were forecasted for our dates, most of the blooms were unfortunately not open yet. But luckily, we did still get to see cherry blossoms at Sakura Lane in Shizhuo – a small tea farming community 40 minutes (by bus) from Alishan National Forest Recreational Area.
Nonetheless, spring is a great season to visit Alishan. Be ready for cool temperatures and some light rain. And don’t forget a jacket/coat!
Summer (June – Aug)
Taiwan is extremely hot and humid during summer, so escaping to the high mountains with cooler temperatures averaging around 18°C is an excellent choice. Do however keep in mind that Alishan sees the most rainfall during this season, too. So it’s best to pack an umbrella or a raincoat. If you forget, or your space is limited, don’t worry too much! There is a 7-11 within the park, as well as one by the Alishan Bus Station where you could easily grab either.
Autumn (Sep – Nov)
During autumn Alishan is likely to be less humid with cooler temperatures – which makes it great for longer hikes. But, you need to know that summer and early autumn also mark Taiwan’s typhoon season. So be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast before travelling to mountainous areas.
Winter (Dec – Feb)
If you’re looking to experience misty forest trails and the best chance to see the sea of clouds, visiting Alishan during winter is a must. It does however get super chilly here during winter, so come prepared. Pack warm clothes, a down jacket, gloves, a hat and a scarf, as temperatures easily drop to 10°C. January is the coldest month of the year to visit Alishan, but it is also sees the least rainfall.
How long to stay
Ultimately the length of your stay would depend on how much time you have in Taiwan. If you would like to see the famous Alishan sunrise, you will have to spend at least one night here. Staying overnight will not only allow you to catch the sunrise, but you’ll also be able to explore the main spots within the park and do a few hiking trails.
If you’d like to explore the area with a bit more ease, and perhaps even visit Shizhuo or Fenqihu, I highly recommend staying at least two or three nights. Anything more than that, would honestly be a bit much as the area really isn’t that big. Unless you are really into hiking of course…
Getting in and out
There are a few ways to get to Alishan. The easiest of course being driving – which will allow you to travel at your own pace. But thanks to Taiwan’s excellent transportation network it is also possible to get to Alishan easily via public transport. This will take a bit more planning though and you’ll need to make sure to keep track of your timings. The biggest problem people have planning a visit to Alishan is due to the lack of English info available online. But don’t worry, we’re going to show you the easiest ways to reach Alishan!
The very first thing you need to do is to get yourself to the Chiayi HSR station. The High Speed Rail only runs along the west coast of Taiwan, with stops at Taipei, Banqiao, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung. As with all other transport modes within Taiwan, the high-speed trains are prompt and affordable. You may want to grab your Chiayi High Speed Rail ticket to or from TPE here to save time and a few bucks!
Once you have gotten yourself to Chiayi, you can start your journey to Alishan. Here are our top picks on how to travel onwards.
The first option, and one I highly recommend is a shared shuttle bus transfer to Alishan. It is a bit more expensive than taking the train or the bus, but it is worth every penny!
Not only won’t you need to worry about all the logistics, it’s much better driving up the winding roads in a smaller vehicle than a bus. Also, you can actually sit back and enjoy the ride (and not cling to your seat like on the bus!).
The journey takes about 2.5 hours from the Chiayi THSR station. Both single journey and return tickets are available, making it easier if you want to try another mode of transport on your trip. We booked the return tickets, as it stops at a few must-see tourist spots along the mountain on the way back to Chiayi.
The driver drops you right in front of the Visitor’s Centre inside Alishan Forest Recreation Area. Take note that the park’s entrance fee is not included in the shuttle’s price, so you will need to pay the fee to the driver once he drops you off. The entrance fee to the park is NT$150 for locals and NT$300 for foreigners (even if you live in Taiwan like us).
If you do want to take a shared shuttle transfer, be sure to book at least 2 or 3 days in advance as the booking confirmation can take up to 24 hours. Our driver couldn’t speak much English, but he jotted down the meet-up times for us before each stop and was very friendly.
Oh and just another useful tip, if you suffer from motion sickness, I strongly suggest bringing some medication with you on your trip as the road has lots of twists and turns.
You can grab a Taiwan Trip Bus from the Chiayi THSR Station at Exit 2. For handy reference, here’s the official bus timetable. Both cash and Easy Card payments are accepted. But, remember to bring the exact change as the driver won’t give you any. For more tips on transport and grabbing an Easy Card, you might also want to check out our guide which covers everything you need to know for your first visit to Taipei (and basically the rest of Taiwan).
Alternatively, you can also grab a Chiayi County Bus from the Chiayi Railway Station. The website is however only in Chinese, but the train station staff will be able to point you in the right direction. You can pay either with cash or Easy Card.
Both these buses will drop you at the Alishan Bus Station, which is right in front of the entrance to the park. There are lockers at the bus station, should you wish to store excess baggage here. The Visitor’s Centre (inside the park) also has cubbyholes where you could drop off your luggage. But just a heads-up, there are no locks/doors on the cubbyholes, so remember to keep your valuables on you.
Taking the train is the last option I recommend you use. But if you want to experience Taiwan’s most iconic train ride through the mountains, this is for you. It is however extremely important to note that the train only runs to Fenqihu and does not go all the way to the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. The reason for this being is that the tracks were destroyed by a typhoon years ago. Therefore, from Fenqihu you would still need to take a 40 minute bus ride to the Recreation Area.
If you are coming from the Chiayi THSR Station you’ll need to grab a taxi or hop on a shuttle bus to the Chiayi Railway Station. I highly recommend booking your train tickets online to save some time. But, as the website is only in Chinese it might make things a bit trickier. Reservations are available 1 to 14 days in advance. Afterwards, simply collect them via the ticketing machine at any convenience store or at any train station before your trip.
There are clear rules on how far in advance you can book train tickets online, as well as when to collect them. So be sure to read the fine print on booking and collecting online train tickets in Taiwan, first.
Alishan Entrance Fee
There is an entrance fee for the Alishan Forest Recreation Area, so if your accommodation is not within the park, you’ll need to pay the fee again should you wish to enter the park the following day.
Foreigners: NT$300 (this price is applicable to both foreigners travelling or living within Taiwan).
*** Just a side-note, these prices were correct at the time of writing this post. But as prices often change, it’s best to check out the Forest Recreation Area’s official site or better yet, on the spot when visiting Alishan.
The Best things to do in Alishan
Take the Alishan Forest Railway
There is a small forest railway network within the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area offering a scenic train ride through lush and often misty forests. There are four popular stations namely, Alishan, Zhaoping, Sacred Tree (aka Shenmu) and Zhushan (to see the sunrise).
The first station and the main station of the area is the Alishan Station. It is a short 5 minute walk from the Visitor’s Centre (more on the train schedules below). From here you can catch the train to Zhaoping Station (6 minutes), Sacred Tree Station (about 7 minutes) or Zhushan (about 25 minutes). Trains leave every 30 minutes to the Zhaoping and Sacred Tree stations, and only in the morning to Zhushan.
Oh and just a side note…the Zhaoping and the Sacred Tree stations are not connected by rail, but you could hop on one of the free shuttle buses at designated areas if you are too tired to walk or don’t feel like the crowds on the train. But, honestly the area is not that big, and you could easily see all the main attractions on foot. Doing the entire main circuit only takes about 4-5 hours.
Watch the sunrise
If you are planning to watch the famous Alishan sunrise, I strongly suggest checking the weather forecast upon arrival at your hotel. Then you can decide to see the sunrise the following day or not. It’s also important that you buy your ticket for the sunrise the day before. Tickets go for NT$150 per person and can only be bought between 1:00pm – 4pm the day before. Remember to check the notice board by the ticketing booths for the train’s departure time as this is different every day.
When staying within the park, you simply need to get yourself to the Alishan Forest Railway Station, from where the train ride takes about 25 minutes to Zhushan – the sunrise viewing platform.
Should you be staying elsewhere, your accommodation should still be able to offer you a transfer service to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. Prices usually start around NT$400 (per way) depending on the distance. Once you get to the Alishan Railway Station, you can take the Zhushan train to see the sunrise. Note though that on top of the transfer fee, you would also need to pay the park’s entrance fee. And don’t forget to buy the ticket a day in advance (as mentioned above).
Wander around Zhaoping Station
Near the Zhaoping Station you’ll find Zhaoping Park and its raised sky bridge – the Zhaoping Sky Bridge. Here you can wander through the lovely gardens or better yet, stroll along the sky bridge for a bird’s-eye view of the surroundings. It’s also a great spot if you want to see some cherry blossoms during cherry blossom season. Close by is the Cherry Blossom Trail, as well as the Alishan Police Station which is said to be the most beautiful police station in Taiwan during spring – thanks to the blooming cherry blossoms of course.
If you need to get back to the Alishan Station, hop on the train at Zhaoping Station. Tickets cost Nt$100 and the train leaves every 30 minutes.
Zhaoping Train Schedule
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Relax at the Sister Ponds
The Sister Ponds consist of two natural ponds, not surprisingly named Younger Sister Pond and Elder Sister Pond. Both ponds are surrounded by lush forests and the jade-coloured water creates a picture-perfect scene. There are also two pavilions in the Elder Sister Pond where you can have a rest and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Browse around Xianglin Service Area
Continuing on from the Sister Ponds, follow the trail through the Magnolia Gardens until you reach the Xianglin Service Area. Here you can grab some tea or coffee, a bite or even browse for souvenirs. Oh and don’t forget to drop by Shouzhen Temple – the biggest temple in Alishan.
After you’ve filled your belly, either grab the free shuttle bus back to the Visitor’s Centre or continue strolling along the trail. Keep an eye out for the signs, but just a tip, you’ll want to walk through the narrow opening where the Xianglin Service Area creates a corner.
Stroll along the Giant Tree Plank Trail
The Giant Tree Plank Trial starts right behind the Xianglin Service Area. Along the way you can cross a scenic little bridge, see the Shenyi Waterfall and No. 28 Giant Tree which is 2,000 years old. Further along the trail, don’t miss the opportunity to make a wish at the small temple which lies at an elevation of 2182m.
Wander around the Sacred Tree (Shenmu) Station
Besides hopping on the train back to Alishan Station, there are a few sights worthy of checking out near the station. For starters there’s the Sacred Tree – Alishan’s oldest and most famous tree. The tree is more than 3,000 years old and is a symbol of new life. After being struck by lightning in the 1950’s, the Forest Bureau eventually decided to cut it down and lay it on its side. Today, the tree marks one of the top-five wonders of Alishan.
Also, be sure to drop by the Alishan Museum, as well as the Thousand Year Cypress and Xianglin Sacred Tree nearby.
To get back to the Visitor’s Centre, hop on the train here. Tickets go for NT$100 and the ride takes about 7 minutes. Trains leave every 30 minutes or so.
Sacred Tree Train Timetable
|Sacred tree |
Snack on the local treats
There are a quite a few things to try in Alishan. Most notably wasabi nuts, mochi and aiyu jelly. Near the Visitor’s Centre there are a few restaurants dishing up local favourites such as hot pot and the usual Chinese dishes. The newly built Xianglin Service Area near Shouzhen Temple also serves up a variety of snacks ranging from wild boar sausages, vegetarian dishes, mini oden hot pot and steamed sweet potatoes to name a few.
By the way…the Alishan National Scenic Area also has a great interactive map with the exact locations of the main spots and dining options to not miss in the area. You can check it out, here.
Where to stay
It’s best to stay within the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area as you won’t need to bother coming up/down the mountain again if you want to spend another day here. There are only a few options inside the park, all of which are a tad overpriced with some being seriously run-down. If you are coming on a weekend, during Cherry Blossoms Festival or public holidays it is important to book well in advance. Prices are usually steeper and accommodation fills up quickly. Here are some of the nicer hotels in the park.
Beyond the Alishan Forest Recreation Area
If you enjoy travelling off-the-beaten-path or have a few extra days to spare, you might want to consider extending your visit to explore Southern Alishan to learn more about the Tsou Tribe and their unique culture.
One more important travel tip to consider when travelling to Alishan or generally anywhere in Taiwan…
Don’t forget to get travel insurance! Grab your World Nomads travel insurance first to make sure that you are covered on all the essentials. Or simply fill out the form below to get your quote.
Have you visited Alishan yet? What tips do you have for fellow travellers visiting Alishan? And what suggestions do you have for the best things to do in Alishan? Drop your comments below.
I hope this Alishan guide will come in handy for your visit to this amazing part of Taiwan!
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