Alishan, Taiwan: An Insanely Detailed 2020 Guide

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Alishan (阿里山 or Mt. Ali) is one of Taiwan’s top scenic attractions. The Alishan National Scenic Area in Chiayi County in Central Taiwan is renowned for its famed Alishan sunrise over a sea of clouds, small gauge Alishan Forest Railway, cherry blossom viewing, and Taiwan’s most sought after teas (here’s my full post on Alishan High Mountain tea).

Below I’ll introduce all the best things to do in Alishan, including interesting stops on the Alishan Forest Railway, tea farms, amazing hikes, the best sunset and sunrise spots, where to stay in Alishan, and what to eat in Alishan. I’ll also provide an Alishan itinerary to help you experience the best of this awesome destination in the most efficient way.

There is so much transportation information for Alishan that I wrote this whole separate post on how to get to Alishan, including information on how you could even manage to visit Alishan as a day trip from Taipei. Also read about how I visited Alishan with my two kids.

This article includes three experience that make my list of top 50 things to do in Taiwan, and I think Alishan is a must on your Taiwan travel itinerary!

 

Planning a trip around Taiwan? Use Klook to get discounted rates on transportation, activities, entrance fees and more. We highly recommend it! Sign up here and you’ll get NT$100 off your first booking.

 

The best place to see the sunrise in Alishan, Taiwan
Find out how to get to this lesser-known Alishan sunrise viewing spot below

 

 

Some local expats write Alishan off as too touristy and spoiled by noisy tour groups. I have always loved Alishan though, even the touristy bits, but also the little-known spots, and I recently went there for the fourth time in my 10 years in Taiwan.

 

What Makes Alishan So Special?

The main tourist trail through the forest of giant cypress trees in Alishan National Scenic Area, Taiwan
Alishan’s haunting, mist filled, ancient cedar and cypress forests

 

Alishan has been Taiwan’s most popular mountain resort by visitor numbers for nearly a century. Along with Sun Moon Lake and Taroko Gorge, it is one of the country’s most famous scenic attractions Located in Chiayi County and bordering Nantou County, almost exactly in the middle of Taiwan, Alishan is actually a collection of peaks averaging 2500m that overlook the massif of Yushan (Jade Mountain), Taiwan and Northeast Asia’s highest mountain.

The area was original settled by aboriginals. In 1912, the Japanese opened the Alishan Forest Railway to log cypress trees in the area, but eventually logging decreased and tourists flooded in. Riding the small gauge train up from Chiayi (it currently only goes half way to Alishan; see my Alishan transportation guide) and between the various sections of the park is one of the great joys of visiting Alishan.  

Due to its altitude, Alishan is always about 10 degrees cooler than the main cities in Taiwan, making it a great respite from the heat. Its alpine forests feature giant Taiwanese red cypresses, many of which are 2000+ years old.

The forests on Alishan are regularly shrouded in mist, producing mystical scenes reminiscent of classical Chinese paintings, one of the reasons the park is so popular among visiting Chinese and Asian tourists.

Besides the many interesting things to do in Alishan, another big draw is the fact that Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea, the most famous tea in a country that produces some of the world’s best oolong teas, is grown around Alishan. However, most tourists pass right through the tea growing regions, mostly located outside the national scenic area, without even realizing it.

 

An Alishan high mountain tea farm
Field of Alishan High Mountain tea, shot from this hotel (see details below)

 

Seeing Cherry Blossoms at Alishan

Seeing cherry blossoms at Alishan, with the Alishan Railway going by
The classic view of Alishan: cherry blossoms above an the Alishan train

 

One of the most incredible times to visit Alishan is when the cherry blossoms are blooming. Due to the altitude, this happens very late in the season, usually late March and early April, and marks the end of the cherry blossom season in Taiwan. If you are hoping to see the cherry blossoms in Alishan at this time, you’ll have to book your hotel far, far in advance, as all the hotels always sell out, or you may just need to visit Alishan as a day trip if you can’t get a room.

For more information on visiting Alishan in different seasons, see the “best time to visit Alishan” section at the end of this article. You can also see my Alishan hotel recommendations toward the end of the article.

 

 

Suggested Alishan Itinerary

If you want to squeeze it in, you can visit Alishan in a single day on this Alishan day tour from Kaohsiung, Tainan, or Chiayi, or this one from Taichung. Also check out this article for other Taichung day trip ideas.

On your own, I would say two days/one night is the absolute minimum. Two nights is more feasible, while three nights allows you to add a night in Fenqihu or stay on a tea farm, and have more hiking time in Alishan.

 

Alishan in 1 night (2 days)

Day 1: From Chiayi, take the bus (or train + bus) to Alishan. Check in to your hotel, then do the standard tourist stroll through Alishan (see below) in the afternoon.

Day 2: Wake up early for sunrise (see below). Eat breakfast then take the bus back to Chiayi.

 

Alishan in 2 nights (3 days)

As above, but you can spend your second day exploring more of the hiking trails in Alishan instead of rushing back to the city.

or

Spend your first night in Fenqihu or on a tea farm and second night in Alishan. See the Alishan sunrise on your final morning before returning to Chiayi.

 

Alishan in 3 nights (4 days)

Day 1: From Chiayi, take the bus or train to Fenqihu. Stay in Fenqihu or on a nearby tea farm for one night.

Day 2: Catch a bus from Fenqihu or the tea farm to Alishan. Check in to your hotel, then do the standard tourist stroll through Alishan in the afternoon.

Day 3: Sleep in a little, then enjoy doing one or more of the longer hikes in Alishan.

Day 4: Wake up early for sunrise (see below). Eat breakfast then take the bus back to Chiayi.

 

*note that all of these Alishan itineraries require you to start in Chiayi. It is a good idea to spend one night in Chiayi first so that you can get one of the earliest buses or try to buy a train ticket the day before if you didn’t already make a reservation on the forest railway. We had a great stay at Chiayi King Hotel (read reviews / see prices), a modern, 3-star (but near budget priced) hotel near the Chiayi train sation.  

Other options include Hotel Discover (read reviews / see prices), which has great reviews and is super close to the train station and Yongxing Inn (read reviews / see prices), a basic but very cheap hotel also near the train station, while good hostel options nearby include Petite Hostel (read reviews / see prices) and Light Hostel (read reviews / see prices).

You can also find lots of accommodations in Chiayi here on Airbnb. (As an Airbnb associate, I earn a small commission if you book through this link. Join Airbnb here and you’ll get up to $50 off your first stay!)

 

Staying in Taipei before you visit Alishan? Consider getting the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass, which can save you money. In this introduction to the Taipei Fun Passes, I explain how they work and whether they are worth it for your trip.

 

Fenqihu: A Worthwhile Stop En Route to Alishan

Fenqihu, a stop on the Alishan Forest Railway
Fenqihu town viewed from above

 

The tiny mountain village of Fenqihu (奮起湖) was for years the terminal station of the Alishan Forest Railway line from Chiayi, since the section from Fenqihu to Alishan was destroyed in a typhoon. Starting quite recently, the train now goes to two more stops after Fenqihu: Duolin and Shizilu, but Fenqihu is still the most interesting stop.

I like this relaxed little town so much that I’ve actually made a trip to the area just to stay here with friends after we hiked the amazing Ruitai Historic Trail (瑞太古道 ). It’s a tiny, cute town with not much to do, but it’s definitely worth stopping for an hour or two on the way to Alishan, or if you feel in no rush at all, spending the night.

 

Bamboo forest on the Ruitai Historic Trail near Fenqihu, Taiwan
A rather contemplative pic of me, shot by me, in the incredible bamboo forests of the Ruitai Historic Trail near Fenqihu

 

Hiking the Ruitai Historic Trail from Ruili to Taihe near Fenqihu, Alishan
Hiking the Ruitai Historic Trail

 

This 4 to 5-hour hike passes through incredible bamboo forests that you will have entirely to yourself. The trail begins in Ruili (瑞里) and ends in Taihe (太和), a village near Fenqihu. There is only one morning bus per day from Chiayi to Ruili, bus 7315, departing from Chiayi station at 9:20am, taking (if I remember correctly) about 1.5 hours. Here are the bus route and departure times in Mandarin.

Fenqihu itself is also surrounded by bamboo forests, and there are shorter hikes around town. In spring you can see fireflies here at night, and there is also a mini train museum with original Alishan trains on display.

 

Original steam train from the Alishan Forest Railway
An old-school Alishan train on display in Fenqihu

 

Fenqihu is also one of a handful of places in Taiwan famous for their lunchboxes, so you will see them being sold from train-shaped stalls as soon as you get off the train. We bought our Fenqihu lunchbox from the original famous spot, Fenqihu Hotel (read reviews / see prices), which also happened to be the hotel where we stayed that night. My favorite part of the hotel was probably the super cute little wooden bathtubs in the hotel bathrooms!

You can also find some properties in Fenqihu on Airbnb!

 

Fenqihu Hotel bath
Miniature bathtub in our room at Fenqihu Hotel

 

Famous Fenqihu lunchbox, Taiwan
Famous Fenqihu lunchbox

 

Perhaps the most famous lunchboxes in Taiwan are those sold at Fulong Train Station in New Taipei City. Read more and see pics in my article on the best beaches around Taipei.

 

Fenqihu Hotel, where the original Fenqihu lunchboxes are sold.
The original lunchbox spot, with the real life guy in the sign below:

 

Fenqihu lunchbox hero
The real life mascot for the Fenqihu lunchboxes

 

Taiwanese people eating Fenqihu lunchboxes on the train tracks at Fenqihu station
Locals pounding lunchboxes before the train arrives

 

If you’re like me and don’t eat meat, then you might want to go for this delicious stewed slab of tofu stuffed with delicious things:

 

Stuffed tofu snack on Fenqihu Old Street, Alishan, Taiwan
Delicious stuffed tofu in Fenqihu

 

Even if you don’t do the full Ruitai Historic Trail mentioned above, there are some gorgeous easy walking trails through bamboo forests accessible from Fenqihu town. This means you can check out the town and go for a short hike if you get an early bus from Chiayi and then spend a few hours in Fenqihu before continuing on to Alishan (just don’t miss the last bus!)

If you are only interested in visiting Fenqihu and not going all the way to Alishan, you can go there on this maple viewing and tea tasting tour, which is best in autumn.

 

Hike Through Tea Fields or Stay on a Tea Farm in Shizhuo

Long Yun Lisure Farm, near Shizhuo and Fenqihu, Taiwan
Long Yun Leisure Farm, a gorgeously situated hotel with rooms overlooking tea terraces.

 

Everybody knows that Taiwan’s most famous tea, Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea, comes from the Alishan area, but surprisingly few people know about Shizhuo (石棹, also spelled Shizhao), a picturesque tea village on highway up to Alishan, or a 10-minute drive south from Fenqihu Train Station.

The hills above the highway that runs through Shizhuo are covered with terraced tea fields, and there is a network of hiking trails through them, with names like Mist Trail, Sunset Trail, Tea Trail, Cloud Trail, and Sakura Trail. It’s hard to find any English information on Shizhuo, but here’s a map showing the hiking trails, which you can compare with GoogleMaps to get a pretty good idea of where the trails beging.

 

Map for hiking the tea trails in Shizhuo, Chiayi
Map if Shizhuo tea hiking trails

 

If you are interested in Taiwanese tea (I happen to be very much so; see here for my in depth introduction to tea in Taiwan), this place will be a heaven for you.

We spent the night at Cuiti B&B, the guesthouse in the photo below. The farm itself was so gorgeous that we didn’t have to journey far from our room to enjoy amazing panoramas over tea fields, or we could just enjoy them from our bedroom window. We also did part of the Cloud Trail and visited a few other tea farms nearby.

The owner was kind of enough to pick us up from Fenqihu, take my kids and I on a walk though some of his tea fields where workers were picking tealeaves, and drive us to the bus stop in Shizhuo the next day.

Staying on this tea farm, drinking tea with the farmer, seeing the sunset over the plantation, and hiking through the tea fields was one of my best Taiwan experiences to date.

Be aware that they don’t speak much (or any) English, and you should bring your own food to cook as there are no restaurants nearby. Breakfast is included. You can check prices for Cuiti B&B here or read reviews on Tripadvisor.

 

Chia Yuen guesthouse, Cuiti B&B, Shizhuo, Taiwan
Chia Yuen guesthouse and tea farm viewed from Cuiti B&B, where we stayed

 

There are several other similar options in Shizhuo. Longyun Leisure Farm (see prices / read reviews) overlooks an incredible terraced tea field (see photo at top of this section) and is connected to the Cloud Trail. It is the closest to Fenqihu (and also includes free pickup), but furthest from the Shizhuo bus stop on the highway.

Other similar options to where we stayed include Chia Yuen Homestay (see prices / read reviews) next door to our guesthouse, Alishan B&B Yunmingi (see prices / read reviews) near the Sunset Trail. Closest to the Mist Trail, highway, and Shizhuo bus stop (bus still a steep walk up) are Siangting B&B (see prices / read reviews) and Green Incense Homestay (see prices / read reviews).

Some of these guesthouses and more are also available here on Airbnb.

 

Alishan sunset from a tea farm
Same view as above but at sunset. The guesthouse is known for its sunset (not sunrise) views due to its position.

 

Shizhuo is situated so that it is best for viewing sunsets, not sunrises, and you can also experience Alishan’s famous sea of clouds phenomenon from higher vantage points in Shizhuo during sunset, but you need as much luck as at Alishan.

 

Eryanping: Off-the-Beaten-Track Sunrise Spot on the Way to Alishan

Eryanping, a beautiful sunset spot on the way up to Alishan

Yet another area worth noting on the way up to Alishan is Eryanping Trail (二延平山步道) and nearby Xiding Lookout platform (隙頂觀景臺). The small network of trails here is about one kilometer long and is one of the best spots sunrise spots in the greater Alishan area.

The trails pass through tea plantations where you can sometimes tea leaves being picked. It’s gorgeous at anytime of day, but especially at sunset, when you can even sometimes see the famous sea of clouds (see photo above).

To get to Eryanping, you’ll need to take bus 7322 from Chiayi to Anding (鞍頂) stop, about 20/25 minutes before reaching Shizhuo/Fenqihu, and an hour before reaching Alishan. Be careful to note the bus schedule so you don’t get stranded there. Also, it’s always best to confirm your plans and desired stop with the driver when boarding the bus, just to make sure you get the right bus and don’t miss your stop.

Even better, spend the night at nearby SunSweet Hotel, which is walking distance along the highway from Eryanping, so you can enjoy the sunset without rushing or worrying about the bus times.

 

Alishan National Scenic Area

What most people refer to as “Alishan” is the collection of tourist facilities, short railway lines, and hiking trails on the northern side of the national scenic park. You will first arrive at the brand new bus station and 7-Eleven just before the large Alishan entrance gate.

When you walk through the gate, you will need to pay the Alishan National Scenic Area entrance fee of NT150 per adult (arriving by public transportation) or NT200 per adult (arriving by car). They will also give you a registration slip that you are supposed to sign and drop off at the tourist information center in the main parking lot.

Walking five minutes up the road, you will see the Alishan Forest Railway Station on the right, and the Alishan tourist village on the left, built around a large parking lot. There you’ll find several souvenir shops, teashops, restaurants, the information center, and a not-so-obvious post office (with the only ATM besides 7-11).

There is a road lined with hotels behind the parking lot, with a staircase going down to it from just beside the info center.

 

Want to know how to get to Alishan? The Alishan Forest Railway!
Wondering how to get to Alishan? Take the Alishan Forest Railway!

 

There used to be a 7-Eleven in the parking lot, which is now moved to the bus station where visitors arrive. There is another 7-Eleven at the top of the tourist village near the train station (it used to be a Hi-Life), which is officially the highest convenience store in Taiwan.

From the tourist village, you can walk or take the small train to all of the main hikes and attractions described below.

Currently, the Alishan Forest Railway runs to three stations within the park: Zhaoping (Chaoping), Shenmu (Sacred Tree), and Zhushan (the main sunrise viewing point. See my transportation guide for all the train times.

 

The Main Alishan Walking Trail

Misty forests in Alishan National Scenic Area, Taiwan
Misty forests of Alishan

 

This is the main tourist walk trail in Alishan National Scenic Area. It is a series of paths leading roughly from Zhaoping Station on the small train line to Sacred Tree (Shenmu) Station, from where you can catch a ride back, but you’ll have a few route options. It’s a good idea to get a map from the tourist information center at Alishan Village before setting out, although the trails are quite easy to follow. In total, it will take about 2-4 hours to complete, assuming that you walk in a leisurely way, taking lots of stops for pictures.

Walk (20-30 minutes) or take the small train (10 minutes) from Alishan Station to Zhaoping Station. If you walk, you can veer off the road and walk through a park where cherry blossoms bloom in spring (March-April), or take the train then backtrack from Zhaoping Station to see the park.

From Zhaoping Station, follow the path beside the train tracks past Alishan Gou Hotel to the start of the Jiemei (Sister) Ponds Trail (20-30 minutes). As soon as you enter the forest, you’ll find yourself in a fairy tale land of misty forests and ancient, enormous, oddly shaped trees.

This part of Alishan is where you will most likely experience the noisy tour groups that some people complain about, but it thins out as you go along, and there are many options for getting off the main trails (see below).

 

The larger of the two Sister Ponds, Alishan, Taiwan
The larger of the two “Sister Ponds,” tourist central in Alishan

 

After passing the two pretty ponds, the trail goes through Magnolia Garden and then reaches Shouzhen Temple, where there is a collection of food and souvenir stalls. Some great snacks on offer include tea eggs (yummier than the ones at 7-Eleven!), sausages, stewed tofu, steamed yams, and drinks with jelly balls made from saturated seeds of mountain plants.

There is a shuttle bus available here, running every 10 minutes or so, back to the information center in the tourist village parking lot.

 

Tea eggs some of the best things to eat in Alishan, Taiwan
delicious tea eggs

 

Snack and souvenirs stalls in Alishan, Taiwan
Snacks and souvenirs near Shouzhen Temple

 

Shouzhen Temple, Alishan, Taiwan
Shouzhen Temple, with a view of Dashan, Alishan’s highest peak

 

From here, there are two options to connect to another circuit of trails around Shenmu train station. From the middle of all the food vendors, there’s a staircase leading to a trail that features several enormous trees, the oldest of which is marked #28 and is some 2300 years old.

The other option is to cross the “Boat Shaped Bridge” on the main road near Shouzhen Temple.

 

2300-year-old giant cypress tree at Alishan, Taiwan, near Shenmu Station
2300-year-old “Tree #28”, shot while raining

 

On the western side or the circuit, you can access Ciyun Temple, which is considered one of the best spots for seeing the sunset in Alishan National Scenic Area.

 

Ciyun Temple, Alishan
Ciyun Temple, a great spot for watching the sunset at Alishan

 

On the northern side of the circuit is Sacred Tree (Shenmu) station, where you can catch the small train back to Alishan Station, or you can walk back to Shouzhen Temple for the more frequent shuttle bus, or walk along the vehicle road back to Alishan Tourist Village if you’d prefer.

 

Best Places to See the Sunrise in Alishan

Duigaoyue sunrise viewing platform, Alishan
My friends and I at Duigaoyue Sunrise Viewing Platform

 

The classic viewpoint for the famous Alishan sunrise over a sea of clouds is the platform at Zhushan (2451m), where you can expect a mass of noisy people shivering in the dark while they wait for what is often not even a good or visible sunrise.

You need luck here; I’ve been to Alishan four times now and only seen two decent sunrises, one of which (barely) had the sea of clouds. Odds are better in winter, but it can also be bitterly cold waiting for the sun to come up. Winter clothing is needed, even in summer. You can by hats, jackets, and more at inflated prices in the tourist village if you didn’t bring them.

Here’s the good news: there are other options. From Zhushan, most visitors don’t know that you can walk up only 10 more minutes to reach Mt. Ogasawara (2488m), an octagonal viewing platform that has an even better view and fewer people.

 

Watching the sunrise near Zhushan, Alishan
Colors painting the sky before the sunrise at Alishan

 

Alishan sunrise spot at an abandoned sunrise viewing platform that very few visitors seem to know about called Duigaoyue Sunrise Platform (對高岳觀日坪). It’s a 5-10 minute walk down the road from Zhushan, at the only point where the train line crosses the vehicle road up to Zhushan. (2020 UPDATE: according to one reader, this spot is currently inaccessible due to construction work.

At this crossing point, turn right (if you were walking down, or turn left if walking up) and walk along the train tracks (or on the boardwalk beside the tracks) for a few minutes. This is actually the start of the Duigaoyue Trail (see below).

You can’t miss the huge platform on the right side. I’ve been here twice now, and both times we were the only people there. The view isn’t quite as good as from Zhushan or Mt. Ogasawara, but having it all to yourself more than makes up for it.

 

'Sea of clouds' sunrise, Alishan, Taiwan
“Sea of Clouds” (sort of) Alishan sunrise from Duigaoyue Sunrise Platform

 

The train times and number of trains for sunrise change every day. You can buy your ticket at the Alishan Train Station from 1:30-4:00-pm the day before.

And here’s another tip: you don’t have to crowd onto the train with hundreds of other people at 4 am (give or take) to get up there. Many hotels offer a seat in a private car (NT250-300 per person), or you can walk up!

I’ve walked up in the dark, and it’s doable, but I would suggest that you at least find and maybe even walk up the trail the day before so that you don’t get lost the next morning. First, walk to Zhaoping Station and locate the Zhushan footpath just south of the station.

This 20-minute uphill stretch through the forest connects to the Zhushan Forest Rd., which then leads all the way up to Duigaoyue sunrise platform, or Zhushan. In total it takes less than an hour. A flashlight or headlamp is recommended.

 

Don’t Forget about the Sunset at Alishan!

Alishan Taiwan sunrises
Sunset at Alishan

 

With all the Alishan sunrise hype, a lot of people don’t realize you can also see gorgeous sunsets from Alishan. One decent spot is from Ciyun Temple near Shenmu station, with views of Datashan, the highest peak in Alishan.

A more convenient option is from the 2nd or 3rd floors of the Alishan Train Station, or from the road around the entrance gate to Alishan, where I shot the above photo at sunset!

Also see the section earlier in this article on Eryanping, an awesome sunrise spot located half way between Chiayi and Alishan National Scenic Area.

 

Off-the-beaten-path trails for hiking in Alishan

It is very easy to escape the tourist crowds at Alishan. The following Alishan hiking trails are all within the Alishan National Scenic Area and easily accessed on foot from the tourist village.

 

Beautiful forests in Alishan
Looking up is mesmerizing

 

1. Duigaoyue Trail (對高岳步道)

It is very easy to escape the tourist crowds at Alishan. The following Alishan hiking trails are all within the Alishan National Scenic Area and easily accessed on foot from the tourist village.

Duigaoyue Platform sits at the start of a two-hour return hike to Duigao Pavilion (2444m). This relatively easy trail follows the train tracks for some time, offering views similar to what can be seen from Zhushan.

 

2. Train tracks from Duigaoyue to Sister Ponds

After sunrise, rather than taking the train or walking back the way you came, do the start of the Duigaoyue Trail, but just walk right on the tracks instead of the trail. This pleasant, easy stroll passes a point where you could join the Tashan Trail (see below), then leads back to the Sister Ponds. Don’t miss the little bridge over the wall that will connect to the Sister Ponds area. Budget about 30 min-1 hour for this stroll, and watch out for trains!

 

Hiking in Alishan
Hiking along the train tracks at Alishan

 

3. Tashan Trail (Mount Daito/塔山步道)

Some very motivated individuals hike up this difficult, 4-hour return trail for sunrise. The platform (2663m) at the end offers epic views of Tashan (Dashan/塔山, the highest peak in the Alishan massif) and Yushan/Jade Mountain (the highest peak in Taiwan). The trail begins at the Sister Ponds, follows the track train tracks going up, then veers north.

 

4. Shuishan Trail (水山步道)

This easier 1 to 1.5 hour-return walk follows a railway line that once lead to Dongpu and is no longer used. The trail crosses over a wooden train bridge, and ends at enormous 2700-year-old Shuishan Giant Tree. You can find the trail by looking for the spot where the old train line splits off from the Alishan to Zhaoping line a little south of Zhaoping.

 

Pro tip: If you really want to get off-the-beaten-track in the greater Alishan region, try the Alishan Northwest Corridor, a tourist-free region featuring more gorgeous tea farms, bamboo forests, hiking trails, and waterfalls. There are very few buses providing access to the area, so having your own transportation is ideal.

 

Where to Stay in Alishan

Some of the typical places to stay in Alishan. These Alishan hotels are all at the back of the Alishan tourist village.
The hotel strip at the back of Alishan tourist village

 

Most of Alishan’s hotels are found on a curved road behind the tourist village parking lot. Just about all of them are similar, overpriced, rundown establishments starting around NT2500 for the crappiest of the lot (they can go down to around 1500 out of season). Unfortunately, there is no hostel or budget hotel in Alishan, but budget travelers can try Alishan Youth Activity Center (see prices / read reviews / official website), which is about 30 minutes downhill from Alishan on the way to Chiayi.

Last time we went to Alishan, we chose Mei Li Ya (see prices) simply because it was the cheapest. It was as low quality as we expected, but on the plus side, they had electric heated blankets (would be nice in winter) and the guy at the desk was extremely helpful. He even lent us umbrellas and some sweaters for my kids because we had come totally unprepared.

Other options on the same road are Wankou Hotel (see prices / read reviews), Cing Shan Hotel (see prices / read reviews), and Shermuh Hotel (see prices / read reviews). Shermuh offers free pickup from the bus station, which would have been nice, since it was a bit of a trek from the bus station with all our luggage.

For more luxury at a price, try Alishan Hotel (Alishan House) (see prices / read reviews). It has beautiful natural surroundings and a great location, closer to the scenic attractions and Zhaoping station, but further from 7-11 and the amenities in the tourist village. They also offer pickup. For a great deal, check out this two-day Alishan tour from Chiayi which includes a stay at Alishan House and tickets for the morning sunrise viewing train.

 

Where to Eat in Alishan

Most restaurants are found around the parking lot in the tourist village. Here you can find hot pot and several places serving fairly similar meals. The pick of the bunch seems to be 999 Restaurant (九九九餐廳) on the second floor, and nearly identical Xin Xingguang (新星光餐廳) next door.

Their large soups, mountain greens, noodles, and other Chinese-style dishes are perfect after a long chilly day. I personally loved the cold tofu slices with delicious local wasabi and soy sauce. Fresh Alishan’s wasabi is more flavorful and less sinus-burning than wasabi  you might be used to from typical sushi shops.

 

Cold tofu with fresh local wasabi was one of my favorite things to eat in Alishan
Spicy bamboo shoots and cold tofu with local Alishan wasabi

 

Real Alishan wasabi
This is where wasabi comes from! You can buy real local wasabi from every shop and stall in Alishan

 

A new addition is the covered arcade of local food stalls across the parking lot (search for 娜若瑪菲美食街 on GoogleMaps). Come here for cheap, local food stall meals, best if you’re on a budget or traveling alone.

Many of the hotels give breakfast vouchers for local style buffet breakfasts served from restaurants in the tourist village. We were confused to find that our breakfast was served in a different restaurant on each day.

You can buy tea leaves in many shops in the tourist village, but one shop that stood out was Mt. Ali tea #35 (茶田35號), with creative package designs that break away from the usual Alishan trains and sunrises motifs. You can usually taste tea brewed on the spot before buying. 

Coffee is also grown on Alishan and sold in many of the shops, but I haven’t tried it. Let me know if you have, and what you thought!

 

When to Visit Alishan

Sister ponds, Alishan in winter
Sometimes it snows at Alishan, but don’t count on it!

 

As I mentioned above, Alishan is usually about 10 degrees colder than lower altitudes in Taiwan (see Alishan’s average monthly temperatures). Therefore, in summer in Taiwan Alishan can be pleasantly warm but chilly at night, so you still need to bring proper clothing, especially for sunrise viewing.

Summer is also one of the most popular times, so it can be busiest and hotel prices are usually higher. Don’t travel to Alishan during (or shortly after) a typhoon or heavy rain, when landslides are common. And cherry blossoms season is probably the busiest time of year at Alishan, so good luck getting a hotel at that time! (see the Alishan cherry blossoms section at the top of the article for more info).

Like everywhere else in Taiwan, fall and spring are probably the best time to visit, but can get quite chilly at Alishan.

If you visit Alishan in winter in Taiwan, especially December, January, and February, you have the highest chance of seeing the “sea of clouds” phenomenon at sunrise, but it can be freezing, especially when you are standing and waiting for sunrise. I quite enjoyed my winter visit but I personally love cold weather.

There was no snow when I visited, but I saw some frost on the Alishan forest railway tracks in the early morning.

See more information about the weather and what to wear in each season in my guide to the best time to visit Taiwan.

 

Alishan Forest Railway tracks
Frost on the Alishan railway tracks in winter

Thank you if you read this far, and I hope you found everything here that you needed to know for visiting Alishan! I love answering your questions, so please let me know below if I’ve missed anything or you found that any information was out of date. Enjoy your trip to Alishan!

43 thoughts on “Alishan, Taiwan: An Insanely Detailed 2020 Guide”

  1. After seeing the delicious food you ate in Alishan, it seriously made me miss Taiwan. Imho, Taiwanese food is effing amazing and I’m not ashamed to admit that I went 3 times… Just to eat everything. I would love to get away to Alishan so I can get away from the heat. The scenery honestly looks like something from a movie.

    Reply
  2. Hi Nick,
    I’m planning a trip to Taipei with my family and was thinking of going to Alishan when I found your blog. Do you think it would be possible for us to travel on the bus to Alishan with a folded wheel chair?

    Reply
    • Hi Corinna,
      If you see my Alishan transportation guide (there are multiple links to it in this article), you will see that there are some Chiayi to Alishan buses that are even wheelchair accessible. For the others, I can’t say 100% for sure, but since there should be storage space for people’s luggage under the bus, then I would imagine they must be able to put a folded wheelchair as well. If you want to find out for sure, you can always call Taiwan’s 24-hour free tourist information hotline at 0800-011-765 and they should be able to find out for you!

      Reply
  3. Hi Nick,

    Great info! With this, I’m planning to go to Alishan on January. We plan on staying in Tainan as it is much cheaper. Do you think it’s going to snow around January 24-26?

    Also, here’s how we’d think our itinerary will be. Let me know what you think! 🙂

    Day trip to Alishan

    Tainan – Chiayi via TRA
    Alishan Forrest Train at 9AM (will try to book in advance)
    Get off at Fenchihu (explore around)
    Take the straight bus from Fenchihu – Alishan
    Alishan – Chiayi direct bus

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  4. Hi Nick! Going to Alishan with my friends and we’re a group of 4 on March 11. We’ll be coming from Taipei and will be in Alishan by 2pm. We plan to walk since I think it’s cherry blossoms season two two sisters pond, shouzhen temple then to ciyun temple to catch the sunset there. However, i’ve seen in some blogs that the more probable choice for sunset is near Alishan Museum. Do you happen to know where that is? Also, is it better to go there?

    Another thing, since we are going to catch the sunset, and I’ve seen that no more Alishan trains run around 6pm, how to we get back to Chiayi for Chiayi to Taipei HSR?

    Thanks so much and your blog was the best I’ve seen – and mind you – i’ve been researching about this for days!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Riza, thanks for reading!

      I don’t thinking I’ve been to Alishan Museum, but I checked on Google maps and it seems to be almost right beside Ciyun Temple, so it seems like that general area is a good place to catch the sunset!

      There is no train from Chiayi to Alishan. Well, there is, but it only goes half way, from Chiayi to Fenqihu. After Fenqihu, you must take a bus for one hour to the top. Going back to the Chiayi HSR, the only option is to take the bus. The bus departure times from Alishan to Chiayi HSR are 10:10, 13:30, 14:40, 16:40. The last bus from Alishan to Chiayi TRA train station is only a little later (17:10), but then you need to travel from TRA to HSR station out of town, so it’s not really helpful. Basically, it’s not possible to see the sunset and also get back to Chiayi after, unless you book a private vehicle.

      I hope that helps, and let me know if you have more questions!

      Reply
      • Hi Nick, I will be staying at Chiayi for a night on 4 March. Is it possible for us to go for sunset or sunrise and where would be the best spot? Or could you suggest us an itenary, been searching but still confused. Read your blog, you’re someone with a kind heart for sharing…

        Reply
        • Hi Eddy,
          If you are staying in Chiayi City for only one night, then there is not really anywhere nearby that is famous for sunsets or sunrises. Alishan is famous for this, but you must travel about 2-3 hours to reach Alishan, and there is no transportation after sunset. If you have more time, you could consider going up to Alishan!

          Reply
  5. FYI, your “secret sunrise spot” is currently closed by maintenance. There’s a two meter high metal wall currently. I stumbled there when hiking to the sunset platform in the afternoon.

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  6. Nick, I am a volunteer at the Mountain Ali Tea No. 35. I want to thank you for mentioning us in your article. We have so many different countries visit and they are happy with our teas. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Sophia, it’s my pleasure! I was happy to see this interesting store. It’s a good addition to the usual ones at Alishan.

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  7. Hello Nick Kembel! Thank you for this excellent blog post. Not only is the tea excellent quality, but the people working here are very helpful and friendly. There is a volunteer working here who wants me to thank you for her. If anyone comes to get tea from here, they’ll be lucky if they can meet Yoshie Iijima working at the store.

    Reply
    • Hi Philip,
      Thanks for your comments! Are you talking about Mt. Ali tea #35? That’s great to hear they said thank you. I’ll need to stop in again and say hi to them next time I’m in Alishan! Enjoy your trip 🙂

      Reply
  8. Hi there, I love your post, so informative! Would you be able to share more details on how to hike up Alishan to see the sunrise? I have tried to look for more details on Alishan sunrise hike but the search results always bring me back to “take the train” haha. Would love to hike instead if possible!

    Reply
    • Hi Vik,
      Did you see this part of my article:
      “I’ve walked up in the dark, and it’s doable, but I would suggest that you at least find and maybe even walk up the trail the day before so that you don’t get lost the next morning. First, walk to Zhaoping Station and locate the Zhushan footpath just south of the station. This 20-minute uphill stretch through the forest connects to the Zhushan Forest Rd., which then leads all the way up to Duigaoyue sunrise platform, or Zhushan. In total it takes less than an hour. A flashlight or headlamp is recommended.”

      Reply
  9. Hi Nick! Amazing posts about Taiwan with children. We are coming in three weeks time and love the sound of Alishan. We want to stay two nights there on 30th June and 1st July… I can’t seem to find any accommodation in that area – can you please help me? Am I looking in the wrong area? Could I email you a few questions?

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment, and sure, please email me at nickkembel@gmail.com
      I may need a day or two to reply because I’m on the last night of a little trip to Korea right now!

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  10. Hi Nick,
    Planning a trip to Taiwan in December and have discovered your articles – amazing, so eye opening and informative!
    I’m just wondering how far in advance it is possible to book a night in a hotel in Alishan? I’m not traveling there until December as I say, and for the hotels listed here when I try to book them for my dates it says “sold out”, which I’m assuming means they aren’t available to book that far in advance yet as earlier dates are available.

    Many thanks!

    Martha

    Reply
    • Hi Martha,
      Thanks for reading! I can’t imagine they would sell out so far in advance, especially for December, which is low season there. I don’t know that they have a time period for booking specifically at Alishan, but I’ve noticed that many hotels in other places typically don’t do more than around 6 months in advance. Have you tried experimenting with earlier dates? You may be able to figure out how far in advance you can book by doing that. Best of luck!

      Reply
  11. Planning a trip for January 2020 with my best gal pal and chanced upon your most lovely site… thank you SO MUCH for having added to the beauty of this world by sharing your knowledge and passion! The world needs more people like you who care and share! Hugs, stay safe and bon voyage!!

    Reply
    • Ryan, thank you so much for your comment, and I’m really glad that you found some useful information and inspiration on my site. Happy travels!

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  12. Hi Nick, thanks for the detailed information about Alishan and Fenchihu. It was invaluable for planning our trip from the UK. My husband enjoys a good cup of coffee and decided to treat himself to a cup of Alishan Champion coffee today in Fenchihu. He said was very mellow and smooth. Not cheap at 200NTD but very enjoyable!

    Reply
  13. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for this guide. Very informative and helpful. I have been searching the Internet for a good information about Alishan since I will be traveling there on November. Your guide help me a lot and now I am more excited for my trip.

    Reply
  14. Hi Nick, Love your blog about Alishan. We are thinking about staying in Chingyi and want to hike the Ruitai Historic Trail. You have mentioned that we can take bus 7315, departing from Chiayi station at 9:20am to Ruili. We cannot read Chinese. If we ask the bus driver to drop us off at the Ruitai historic trail, would the driver understand where we want to go? Are the trail head and trail well marked and easy to find? Is there return bus from Taihe to Chingyi train or bus station?
    Thanks for your kind attention.

    Reply
    • Hi David, and thanks a lot!
      When you say “Chingyi” you mean Chiayi right?
      I think the bus driver may not understand what you want, because the Chinese language is very specific; if you pronounce Ruili a little wrong, they won’t even understand. I think it’s best to show him the Chinese words of Ruili Ruitai Historic Trail entrance, which is 瑞里瑞太古道的路口. Then the bus will drop you off right at the entrance to the hike (because the village of Ruili is actually spread out along the road, with several stops). The entrance is clearly a trail entrance, but I don’t remember if it had English. It will be on the right side of the road (same side you get off the bus). I’ve hiked the trail twice before. Many years ago, I actually got a little lost because it wasn’t so well marked. A few years ago I went again with friends, and we had no such problem. The trail will actually have a choice toward the end to go to Taihe or Fenqihu. I would suggest going to Fenqihu, which has the Alishan train to Chiayi, and more bus connections back to Chiayi as well. It’s a more interesting town to take a look as well. You can see all the bus and train times for Fenqihu to Chiayi in my guide “How to get to Alishan”. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  15. Hi Nick! Do you have any details on the Yuyupas Tsou Cultural Village? Would it be possible to go here from Alishan Lauya Homestay via Line A or B? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi there! After checking some blogs online, it seems like from your hotel, you can walk 25 minutes (or take any bus going downhill) to Shizhuo (石卓) station. From there, you can call Yuyupas Tsou Cultural Village (05-2562788) and they will come pick you up. According to GoogleMaps, you could even walk the whole way from your hotel to Yuyupas Tsou Cultural Village in 50 minutes. Since your hotel is not too far from Shizhuo, maybe they could even pick you up from your hotel if you ask them. I would suggest you ask your hotel to help you to call them after you check in. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  16. Hey there Nick, thanks for a good read!

    We’re thinking about getting to both Alishan national scenic area and the Ruitai old trail in the same excursion from Chiyai, spending one or two nights somewhere on the way. Do you know if there are any connections between the two, or how one would achieve this in the optimal way. We do have our luggage with us, so it would be necessary to find somewhere to drop it off before exploring Alishan and Ruitai respectively.

    Thanks for all help!

    Reply
    • Hey Alex,
      For the Ruitai trail, the Ruili end of it is quite remote with few transportation connections and hotels. Therefore, it would make much more sense to go from the Taihe side and stay in Fenqihu. Fenqihu is on the train line, has frequent bus connections in either direction (to Alishan or to Chiayi), and more accommodation choices. So I would suggest from Chiayi you take the train or bus to Fenqihu, do your hike, then continue on the Alishan the next day. The only downside is that the Ruitai is a fairly long trail; I’ve only ever done it one way, and it was quite a walk (4-5 hours if memory serves me), so if you had it do it as a return walk, I’m not sure you’d be able to cover the entire thing there and back in one day. Not the end of the world, but something to consider. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  17. This is some great stuff Nick. You have become our authority on all things Taiwan. We can’t find many travel bloggers who have good info on Taiwan.

    Reply
    • Thanks Ryan! My annoyance with the lack of available info while traveling around Taiwan is one of the reasons I started this site 🙂

      Reply
  18. Hi Nick! Thanks for all the great info, its been a huge help in my exploration of Taiwan so far. I just did Alishan today and loved it, and was able to grab a better map that they gave us at the gate. I took a quick photo of it to share with you (its a bit wrinkled from my pocket, but might help people get their bearings). Adding my email below, send me a note so I can reply with it if you like!

    Reply
  19. Dear Nick,

    I just read your blog on A visit to Alishan and it’s truly mesmerizing though. We are planning to visit Alishan this weekend and intend to follow your blog. Good luck on your future write-ups.

    Reply
  20. Hello! This guide is just amazing. It’s by far the best available in internet. Thanks for taking your time to write it. There is, however, a small change I think you need to make: if you are staying in SunSweet Hotel and taking bus 7322, you must get off at 隙頂 (Xiding) and walk 15min. This is the information I was able to gather from the bus route and from the hotel owner.

    Anyways, great article!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for the kind feedback, Tomas, and the useful information. I’ll update that bus info in my article as soon as I get a chance!

      Reply
  21. Thank you for this incredibly helpful guide. My boyfriend and I are heading to Alishan next week. The hotels in the recreation area were sold out so we’re spending all four nights in Fenqihu. Our plan is to spend a day or two hiking the Ruili trail and seeing the tea plantations nearby and then going up to Alishan for the other two days. It appears that there is a bus from Fenqihu to Alishan recreation area at 11:30 am (which you have listed). However, the last bus that returns to Fenqihu from Alishan is at 2:30 pm, which is too early if we arrive at the recreation area around 12:30. I was wondering if have an idea of how difficult it would be for us to get a taxi in Alishan. Were there taxis around the visitors center area? Or do you think we would need to pre-book a taxi or private car to take us back to Fenqihu?

    Reply
    • Hi Grace, your plan sounds great, even though you didn’t manage to get a room at Alishan. If you take a look at this page, you will find that there’s actually one more bus from Alishan to Fenqihu at 17:00 (it is marked “Fenqihu only):
      https://www.nickkembel.com/how-to-get-to-alishan/#Getting_from_Chiayi_to_Alishan
      But please confirm the bus time when you go, because these things can change. As for taxis, I’ve never noticed any taxis hanging out around Alishan, although I’ve never really looked for them, either. You might be able to find one, but I wouldn’t count on it. However, your hotel in Fenqihu may be able to arrange a driver for your if you need it. Once, I missed the last bus from Fenqihu to Chiayi, and the hotel in Fenqihu was able to find a driver for me.

      Reply

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