Skimpy on information but loaded with natural beauty the Alishan area is one that should not be missed on a trip to Taiwan. I believe the lack of English information has been a large reason why so few western tourists take the time to see this area. The way I would describe Alishan National Scenic area is a magical mix of Alice in Wonderland scenery with a Robinson Crusoe tree house theme thrown in. Alishan is not a single mountain but a mountain range running along the spine of Taiwan and reaching heights of 2500m, this area is also host to some of the most majestic tea plantations Taiwan has to offer. Giving birth to some of the tastiest tea on the planet, high mountain Oolong tea.
Most of what you may read about when researching the Alishan National Scenic Area focuses on the narrow gauge trains than run through the mountains or the sunrise viewing of the sea of clouds. These are both amazing in their own right but nothing prepared me for the fascinating journey through the forest itself. Boardwalks high above the woodland floor weave in and out and around giant red cypress trees. Some of which are over 2,000 years old.
Weird and wonderful stumps from the mammoth trees that were felled during the Japanese occupation still dot the area making for some sensational picture taking. Suspension bridges and a cobblestone paths complete the feeling that you have just dropped into Alice’s rabbit hole. Come along with us on a journey to this most magical and enchanting area.
Most who visit are bused up or for the few fortunate enough to get tickets, they ride up in the narrow gauge trains which run only once a day. For us though renting a car seemed to make more sense. Some of the comments from visitors is that once up in Fenqihu (where the train will drop you) the public buses do not run often enough and don’t really go to some of the more interesting sights available up in the mountains. And you are really at their mercy with the scheduling. I would wholeheartedly encourage all who wish to go to Alishan to consider renting a car (or alternately to hire a driver to drive you while up in that area) I recommend at least a 2 day stay here. We started our trip from Chaiyi, which is an easy commute from Taipei or Kaohsiung via the High Speed Rail and we opted to overnight in Alishan mountains. This seemed sufficient but I could have stayed a bit longer if had we the time.
Our Airbnb was located in the tiny town of Leye just a quick 15 minute drive from the quaint town of Fenqihu. BTW I really like Fenqihu and would recommend a visit there. Leye it is about 15 minutes closer to the National park than Fenqihu, doesn’t seem like much but if you are planning on making the drive up for the sunrise this gets you into Alishan park a bit faster. Having your own car means staying outside the park is not a big deal and gives you options for cheaper accommodations. Driving up to the National park from Leye was a 30 minute easy commute.
Once in the park our visit started at the Erwanping train station a quick 7-8 minute train ride takes you to Zhaoping station. Not an earth shattering train ride but to get the feel of the narrow gauge trains this can do the trick. Zhaoping station has a nice selection of wares and I would suggest you buy them here. At the end of the day when we got back down to the Erwanping station we noticed the same beautiful aboriginal shawls we bought in Zhaoping for about $13.00 usd were double down in Erwanping, so we were glad we had made our purchases there.
We did most of the trails and visited the highlights in the park and we felt it was a magical experience. We liked Alishan Scenic area way more than I imagined and loved the entire feel of the park. It’s well maintained and easy to navigate but as a caution, there are loads of stairs to climb so if you have knee problems this place may not be for you. You will not be able to do some of the more interesting hikes. We also went during the week to miss any hoards of tourists.
A blog site The Smoo Diaries was by far the best English information we could find but most articles will not encourage you to drive up and for that reason I wanted to give you my take on Alishan. The drive up and the ability to explore was just as much fun as the park itself. There are so many things to see as you drive up. Stop and take in the views, shoot as many photos as you like, drop by the tea shops and taste teas not to mention exploring hidden gems along the way. Based on a tip from a friend we went looking for two such places, the Yuyupas Cultural Park and an amazing Tsou tribe coffee shop that is also a small bnb. This place one of the coolest place I have seen in Taiwan. Looking like a scene from the Hobbit, we expected fairies or trolls to pop out at anytime. Both of these places were only a 5 minute drive from Leye where we were staying. It was a high point in our trip and would have been impossible without a car.
Contact me directly for more information on planning a trip to the Tsou tribe bnb. Their website is all in Chinese and it’s a bit tricky to find. YuYuPas is beautiful and they have tea tasting and a aboriginal show. The fee to get in was reasonable and the grounds spectacular. Next time we will spend more time exploring the areas around Alishan I am sure there are many quaint off the beaten track places that we missed. Please sign up for our emails so we can keep you posted on the all the awesome places we find. Drop us a line through our discovertaiwanadventures page if you would like more information on any of the things we saw and did.