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The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Alishan
In Taiwan, there is Taroko Park where all the gorges and rivers are and then there is Alishan where you will find all the high mountains and ancient trees unlike anywhere else in the country.
Alishan National Parks is a 415 square kilometers nature reserve full of mystical-looking forest and a ton of things waiting for you to explore. From taking the Old Alishan Forest Rails to hiking up mountains to witness the sea of clouds, here is a complete backpacking guide on things to do in Alishan National Park as well as cool things to do in Chiayi.
Without further ado, let's begin with an overview look of all the things you can do in Alishan and Chiayi on our itinerary map:Table of Contents
- Alishan and Chiayi Things to Do Itinerary Map
- Taiwan Travel Video
- When to Visit Alishan, Taiwan
- Where to Stay in Chiayi, Taiwan
- Where to Stay in Alishan Recreational Area, Taiwan
- How to Get to Alishan, Taiwan
- How to Get Around Alishan, Taiwan
- How Many Days to Spend in Alishan, Taiwan
- How Much Money Do I Need for Alishan, Taiwan
- Is it Safe in Alishan?
- Internet in Alishan and Chiayi
- Travel Insurance
One-Day Hiking Itinerary for Alishan
- Check Out the Three Generation Tree
- Admire the Ancient Xianglin Tree
- Check Out the Japanese-built Cihyun Temple
- Stroll Along the Giant Trees Broadwalk
- Try to Find the Top of No.28 Giant Tree
- Take a Break at Shouzhen Temple
- Take the Perfectly Symmetrical photo at the Sister Ponds
- Hike the Sunrise Trail or Witness Sunrise Over Jade Mountain
- Hike the Tashan Trail and Witness the Sea of Clouds
- Where to Eat and Drink in Chiayi
- Other Things to Do in Chiayi
- Further Reading for Taiwan
Alishan and Chiayi Things to Do Itinerary Map
Taiwan Travel Video
When to Visit Alishan, Taiwan
The best time to visit Alishan is from March to mid-April where the flowers are in full bloom. You can expect to see many cherry blossoms during this time around Alishan as well, making it one of the best months to visit Alishan. The temperature will be around 20 - 25°C which is manageable given what you will be seeing during Spring.
Late October to November is also a great time to visit Alishan with the temperature a little nicer than in Spring, hovering around 23 - 30°C and you are likely to encounter clear days around this time making it an excellent period to go hiking in Alishan.
One thing to keep in mind is that Alishan rises from 300m all the way to 3000m above sea level so the temperature can range tremendously from cold to hot so make sure you prepare a jacket no matter which season you are visiting Alishan in. The highest point will be at 2663m atop Tashan Peak which can be quite cold if the weather is not clear.
I arrived early in the morning before the sun even hits the trail without a jacket and it was freezing cold. It was fine when the sun comes out but since you are surrounded by mountains, it takes the sun awhile before it actually hits the trail so do not be like me and prepare a jacket!
Avoid May to September if you can as this is the typhoon season which Taiwan is prone to.
Where to Stay in Chiayi, Taiwan
Budget - An Lan Jie Hostel - 17.5 USD/Night (Dorm)
Mid-Range - Chiayi King Hotel - 38 USD/Night for 2 (Standard Twin Room)
Staying in Chiayi, the gateway city of Alishan instead of in Alishan itself is a more economical and less headache way to visiting Alishan as accommodations in Alishan are crazy expensive (at around 70 USD per night) and they get booked out really fast and so if you find yourself not being able to find accommodations in Alishan, do not sweat. You can stay in Chiayi and visit Alishan as a day trip as I did.
Where to Stay in Alishan Recreational Area, Taiwan (If You Can Book One)
Mid-Range - Cing Shan Hotel - 73 USD/Night for 2 (Double Room with a View)
Accommodations in Alishan Recreational Area can be extremely overpriced hence why I recommend staying in Chiayi but if you wish to do the sunrise hike as well as enjoying the national park in solitude in the evening, I would recommend you stay in Alishan, given that you can book one.
The accommodations in Alishan Recreational Area get booked out really fast so be sure you book them weeks in advance especially if you are planning to visit on the weekends.
Keep in mind that if you decided to book a different accommodation in Alishan, make sure it is actually in Alishan Recreational Area. Many hotels and guesthouse may name their places Alishan but it could actually be located in other villages which is not ideal.
How to Get to Alishan, Taiwan
In order to get to Alishan from abroad, you will first have to travel to Taipei and to do that you will have to fly into Taoyuan International Airport. Thankfully, there are several airlines you can fly to Taipei:
From the US, there are several direct flights from big cities like New York and LA via United Airlines, or you can also fly direct to Taipei via EVA Airlines, its national carrier.
From within Europe, you can also fly direct via EVA Airlines or popular carriers like KLM or AirFrance to Taipei. You can also fly via Asian Airlines like Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways but you will have to transit in their respective home country.
From Asia, traveling to Taiwan gets a lot easier and cheaper with several low-cost airlines operating this route from hub cities like Bangkok and Singapore. Lion Air, as well as AirAsia, have many flights flying from Bangkok/KL to Taipei every day so you should have no problem finding one if you are planning to fly from Asia.
How to Get from Taipei to Chiayi
To get from Taipei to Chiayi, you will have to take a train from Taipei Main Station to Chiayi Station either via a regular train which takes about 3.5 - 5 hours and cost 400 - 500 NTD or via the high-speed train which takes 1.5 hours and cost 865 NTD.
For the regular train schedule from Taipei to Chiayi or if you want to book online, be sure to check out: The Official TRA Ticket Information and Timetable.
To book the high-speed train schedule from Taipei to Chiayi, be sure to check out: Book Taiwan High-Speed Train from Taipei to Chiayi.
How to Get from Chiayi to Alishan
Traveling by bus is by far the easiest and less headache way of traveling from Chiayi to Alishan without having to battle the crowds but you will miss the sunrise over Yushan. If you are not so interested in seeing the sunrise then this is the best way to get to Alishan.
From Chiayi, you will have to take the Alishan Shuttle Bus from Chiayi Station Bus Stop in front of Chiayi Station. The Chiayi-Alishan bus runs from 6:10 - 14:10 leaving every 30 minutes - 1 hour and cost 240 TND per person. It will take you about 2 hours to get from Chiayi to Alishan.
The last bus from Alishan back to Chiayi is at 17:10 and so you can easily do a one-day trip from Chiayi to Alishan given you take the first bus out at 6:10 from Chiayi. You will have about 8 hours in the park, giving you ample time to see all Alishan's attractions as well as do some fun hikes.
If you are interested in seeing the sunrise, you will have to stay overnight in Alishan. For a complete guide, check out: Alishan Sunrise Guide
How to Get Around Alishan, Taiwan
All the attractions within Alishan Recreational Area as well as all the hikes I recommended here are all within walking distance from the entrance of Alishan where the bus will drop you off so you do not need to worry about transportation around Alishan.
The walking paths in Alishan are extremely well-maintained with signposts all over so exploring Alishan on foot is a cakewalk. You can also take a mini-bus or a train which operates routes around the park if you wish to shorten your travel time. The bus/train costs 80 NTD per trip.
How Many Days to Spend in Alishan, Taiwan
Spending one full-day in Alishan is a must and to do that, you will have to take the first bus at 6:10 and take the last bus back from Alishan at 17:10 if you wish to see all the attractions within this travel guide.
Here's a rough itinerary of what you can do with 8 hours in Alishan with a few optional things to do if you can stay overnight in Alishan.
Day 0: Spend the first evening exploring Chiayi, visiting the Song of the Forest, Hinoki Japanese Village, Forest Railway Garage Park, and end your evening at Wenhua Road Night Market.
Day 1: Walk the two Giant Trees Broadwalk trails to check out all the large ancient trees in the park, like the Three Generation Tree and No.28 Giant Tree. Visit the Japanese-built Cihyun and Shouzhen Temple before arriving at the Sister Ponds.
Go and hike the sunrise trail if you are not staying overnight in Alishan, and follow by summiting Tashan Peak before getting back to the entrance, just in time for the last bus back to Chiayi.
Day 2 (Optional): If you stay overnight in Alishan, you can hike up the Sunrise Trail in the morning for the sunrise and hike other mountain trails before taking a bus back to Chiayi in the afternoon.
How Much Money Do I Need for Alishan, Taiwan
From the rough itinerary above, we can calculate how much money you will be spending on this trip. Here's a rough estimate of what you can expect to pay when visiting Alishan for a day:
Accommodation: With a total of 2 nights, you will be paying around 35 USD (1058 NTD)
Food: There are food stalls at Jhoushen Temple which cost about 100 NTD for a small meal. You can save more money by packing your own meals before but you can expect to pay around 300 NTD for 3-meals a day.
Transportation: For the bus from Chiayi to Alishan and back, you can expect to pay about 480 NTD in transportation for this trip.
Activities: To enter Alishan, you will have to pay 150 NTD for the entry fee, 200 NTD if you have your own car.
Total Budget for one day in Alishan: 1,988 NTD (66 USD)
Is it Safe in Alishan?
There are no dangerous animals that you can encounter within the park so there nothing to worry about. That said, it can get quite cold due to the elevation gain so be sure to prepare enough layers especially if you are planning to hike up mountain peaks.
Also, be sure to avoid hiking at night as there is no lighting illuminating most of the trails so make sure you are back before night falls.
Internet in Alishan and Chiayi
Taiwan has one of the fastest public WIFI out there. Most of the hostels and restaurants I visited in Taiwan have fast reliable WIFI and you could go by without having a local sim card but if you wish to navigate the city by bus, I recommend getting a local sim card at the airport on your arrival.
I recommend Chungwa Telecom, one of the leading telecommunication carriers in Taiwan that offers several 4G unlimited unthrottled data package with a price range from 300 NTD - 1,000 NTD.
You can find their kiosk among other carriers at the arrival hall at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei. Simply approach them and they will show you the list of packages available that you can pick from. They will ask for your passport, pop the sim card in for you, and within 2 minutes, you will have unlimited 4G data for your Taiwan trip.
I had 15 days in Taiwan and so I bought their 15 days unlimited data sim card for 700 NTD (they also accept credit cards) and I was able to get 4G connection everywhere I went in the country and so if you are looking for a reliable way to stay connected throughout your stay in Taiwan, be sure to get a local sim card at the airport.
For more information about Taiwan's local sim card: Taiwan Prepaid Data Sim Card.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Taiwan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
One-Day Hiking Itinerary for Alishan
Check Out the Three Generation Tree
Since we will be spending an entire day in Alishan, we can take advantage of the early buses that will take you from Chiayi to Alishan before the tour buses arrive. Wake up early in the morning and catch the 6:10 bus from Chiayi Station and you should arrive in Alishan by 9:30.
The bus will drop you off in front of the 7-11 by the entrance of the park where you can prepare snacks and get ready for a full-day adventure in Alishan. After you are done, you can proceed to the gate, pay the 150 NTD entrance fee, and you should get an English map where you can follow to proceed to our first attraction, the Three Generation Tree.
The Three Generation Tree is a great example of how trees keep on giving after its death. It is, as the name suggested, 3 generations of trees grown on top of each other. It's a great place to understand what you can expect from Alishan, trees, all kinds of trees.
Admire the Ancient Xianglin Tree
From the Three Generation Tree, you can continue along the walking path to see Xianglin Giant Tree, a 2,300 years old Taiwan red cypress standing at 45m tall with a trunk circumference measuring at 12.3 meters. It sure is quite a sight to behold.
Xianglin Tree is so tall and massive that they need to build a large platform for people to actually enjoy its massive scale from top to bottom. Even then, it was actually kinda hard to see where the top ends.
Check Out the Japanese-built Cihyun Temple
Not too far from Xianglin Tree, you can continue on the walkway towards Cihyun Temple, a Japanese built Buddhist temple with a killer lookout point to witness the sea of clouds.
Apparently, when the Japanese arrived in Alishan, they thought it looks similar to the place Buddha was born somewhere in India and so they started building all these beautiful temples all over Alishan.
If you are lucky, you might be able to see a sea of clouds over at the platform by Cihyun Temple. Unfortunately, the clouds had already left when I arrived and so I continued on along one of the most beautiful walking trails in Alishan, the Giant Trees Broadwalk.
Stroll Along the Giant Trees Broadwalk
The Giant Trees Broadwalk is a walking path that will take you through zig-zag trails going around the Alishan forest, allowing you to enjoy the view while strolling safely on a wooden platform.
There are actually 2 easy trails named Giant Trees Broadwalk that can be combined into a 30 minutes loop where you get to enjoy to see Alishan forest from the inside. It is very easy and can be done by kids and adults of all fitness levels.
The trail will take you through some of the most stunning areas in Alishan while allowing you to admire the beauty of all the massive cypresses as old as Christendom that are scattered all over the forest.
Try to Find the Top of No.28 Giant Tree
Along the Giant Trees Broadwalk #2, you will find one of the largest Taiwanese cypresses in the area, almost as big as the Xianglin Tree you saw previously. The No.28 Giant Tree stands at 43.5m with the trunk at 13.1m circumference wide. It is estimated that the tree is over 2000 years old.
For this tree, you can't even see the top from the lookout point. The tree pierced through the thick canopy of large trees in the area, and with its large trunk, the tree will turn quite a few hiker's heads.
Take a Break at Shouzhen Temple
After walking around the Giant Trees Broadwalk, you will arrive at an opening where the beautiful Shouzhen Temple is located. Shouzhen temple is the largest temple in Alishan and the highest in terms of elevation in Taiwan.
The temple is decorated with intricate craftsmanship from the extremely detail sculptures of dragons and mystical animals to the use of colors, both the interior and the exterior of Shouzhen Temple are quite a sight to behold.
Shouzhen Temple is also surrounded by food stalls, seating areas, and toilets, so if you are looking for a place to take a break from all the walk you have just done, this is the place to be.
Take the Perfectly Symmetrical photo at the Sister Ponds
After resting at Shouzhen Temple, you can continue east towards our next attraction, Sister Ponds, one of the most photogenic places in Alishan. These 2 mountain ponds and the iconic pavilion are the perfect photo spot for those who are looking to capture the perfectly symmetrical photo of the ponds and its pavilion.
The story behind these ponds is a little sad, however. The story goes that the 2 sisters fell in love with the same man and not wanting to betray the sisterhood, both decided to jump into each pond and ended their lives, hence one pond is called the Elder Sister Pond and the other, the Younger Sister Pond.
According to this legend, the Taiwanese decided to build the cypress pavilion in the middle of the Elder Sister Pond and connect it with a wooden bridge forming the beautiful photogenic spot you see today.
Hike the Sunrise Trail or Witness Sunrise Over Jade Mountain (If You Can Make It)
One of the best easy hikes you can do is to hike the Zhushan Sunrise Hiking Trail to the Zhushan Sunrise platform, even if it is not during sunrise. From the sunrise platform, you will be able to see Yushan, the highest mountain in Taiwan as well as get a panoramic view of the surrounding from the elevated platform.
From the Sister Ponds, you will have to walk south to Zhaoping Station and from behind, you will find the Zhushan Sunrise Hiking Trail that will lead you through the forest until the trail merges with the road and then you just have to follow the road until you arrive in Zhushan Station.
The walk is easy and it takes about 1 hour to complete one-way. From Zhushan Station, you can go to Zhushan Viewing Platform first to see the scenery from there but for a better perspective, I would recommend you walk another 10 minutes south towards Mt. Ogasawara where the elevated viewing platform I mentioned earlier is located.
Coming down will take you about 30 - 45 minutes taking the same route back to Zhaoping Station where you can then rest up before hitting another, tougher but more rewarding hiking trail.
Hike the Tashan Trail and Witness the Sea of Clouds
The Tashan Mountain Trail is a hiking trail that will take you along the railroads before going up mountains to the top of Tashan Peak where you will be able to witness the Sea of Clouds as well as enjoy Alishan in solitude.
The trail begins on an easy flat terrain from either the Sister Ponds or you can simply walk along the railroads straight from Zhaoping Station as a shortcut as was recommended by a local I met.
Walking along the railroads isn't actually a real trail. The nature walking trail is to the side of it but the reason I recommend you to walk along the railroad is that because the trail is flat which should reserve your energy to the upcoming steep climb to the peak.
The nature trail goes up and down a lot and even so, the view isn't as spectacular as if you were to walk on the railroads. You will also be saving your time walking on the railroads as it will shorten your hike by 15 minutes.
The trail is 3.7 km long with the first 2 km on a flat trail that goes along the railroads which should take you about 30 minutes. The trail then shoots straight up to Tashan Peak for 1.7 km.
To know where the trail will shoot up, you can walk along the railroads until you hit the barrier shown above and on your right, there will be a wooden platform with a steep stair that goes up to Tashan Peak.
This is the most difficult part of the trail as you will be climbing countless stairs for almost 1 hour before you arrive at Tashan Observational Deck.
Once at the top, you should be able to see Tashan peak from the viewing platform and if you are lucky as I did, you might be able to see the sea of clouds in Alishan that everyone has been raving about.
Hiking Tashan Peak in total should take around 1.5 - 2 hours and a little over 30 minutes to get down. It is a fun hiking trail that will both challenge and impress at the same time allowing you to see Alishan from a perspective not many people see. It is also a great way to get away from the tourist crowds that often stays along other easier trails.
Keep in mind that if you are looking to catch the last bus at 17:05, make sure that you have enough time to come back and catch that bus before embarking on the Tashan Hike. I would say, if by 3:30 PM and you have not reached the summit, it is best to consider going back otherwise, you might miss the last bus and you may have to shell a whopping 1600 NTD for a taxi to take you back.
The bus going back to Chiayi is also first come first serve so I would recommend you start lining up for the bus at around 16:50 so that you are guaranteed to get a seat. Many people who didn't have seats had to sit on the walkway for 2 hours which is not ideal especially after a hike.
The bus leaves in front of the 7-11 where they dropped you off on your arrival. You can buy the bus ticket inside 7-11 or you can just use EasyCard as I did. You should be back in Chiayi by 7 PM just in time for the night market.
Where to Eat and Drink in Chiayi
Eat at Wenhua Road Night Market
There is no way to celebrate a productive day such as this than to devour all the street food at Wenhua Road Night Market in Chiayi. The night market is only 15 minutes walk from Chiayi Station, and the entire road turns into a night market with street food trucks along both sides of the road.
Please be careful though as cars and motorcycles are still let in and since both sides of the road are filled with street food, you might forget to look out for the incoming cars. Keep one eye on the road and one eye on the food and stay safe!
Other Things to Do in Chiayi
Visit the Song of the Forest
If you have a few hours to spare in Chiayi, you can go for a little stroll around the city and see what the city has to offer. One of the tourist attractions in Chiayi is the Song of the Forest art installation that looks like a bird's nest. It is a great place to relax and be around locals. It is also especially beautiful at night so be sure to swing by after sunset.
Stroll Around Hinoki Japanese Village
Right around the corner from the Song of the Forest, you will find a little Japanese corner in Taiwan, the Hinoki Japanese Village. The Hinoki Village is a small pocket of Japanese-style community where you will find plenty of Japanese restaurants, handicraft shops, a Japanese-style garden, and a whole lot of photo opportunities if you are into photography. It's not very big but it is a great place to kill some time while you are in Chiayi.
Check Out Old Trains at the Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park
You can also go and check out the old Japanese forest train at Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park where you can enter for free and stroll around checking out beautiful old locomotive before heading back to your accommodation.
And there you have it, a complete travel guide to Alishan with little additional things to do in Chiayi. If you are planning to visit Alishan and you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below.
Further Reading for Taiwan
Looking for more information for your trip to Taiwan? Here is a collection of articles about Taiwan that you might find useful:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to Taiwan? Check out: 2 Weeks Backpacking Itinerary for Taiwan.
- In order to engage all your senses in Taipei, the hypermodern capital of Taiwan, be sure to check out: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Taipei
- Looking to visit Taroko Gorge, one of the most pristine travel destinations in Taiwan? Check out: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide For Taroko Gorge
- Getting border of mountains and cities? How about you take a break at the beach-side town of Kenting? 9 Best Things to Do in Kenting
- Spend a day biking around the stunning Sun Moon Lake with The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Sun Moon Lake
- Taiwan is known for its unmatched deliciousness of its street food. Here are Top 12 Street Food To Try In Taiwan
- Looking for something more visual to convince you about visiting Taiwan? How about you watch a Taiwan travel video? Turbo Taiwan
- Wondering where to go after Taiwan? How about you drop continue on to Japan and after, visit China?
- For all articles about Taiwan, visit Taiwan Travel Guide page.
- Looking to travel to East Asia? Check out all my articles about East Asia here: East Asia Travel Guide page.
- You can see all my Asia related articles here: Asia Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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