When we decided we would be visiting Alishan National Park, we were hoping to experience some of the best of Taiwan’s natural beauty, especially after all the amazing pictures and stories we’d seen from this place in the centre of the island. While we are certainly both very much city boys (me perhaps more so than Zab), we do enjoy being out in nature for a short time. As long as we can have hot water. And a real bed. And wifi.
While it is possible to visit the national park without staying inside it, we decided to stay at one of the slightly more expensive hotels in the park for convenience, and because information online in English about how to get there from one of the nearby towns was not easy to come by.
Unfortunately, it was very cold and rained more or less the whole time we were there.
We arrived by bus from Chiayi train station to the entrance of the national park, where everyone disembarked to pay the NT$150 (€4) entry fee, and were then ferried the few hundred more metres to the main town of Alishan. That is if indeed a bus stop, a 7Eleven, an information centre, an assortment of hotels, shops, restaurants and a train station can be called a town.
The first order of business was lunch, so we ventured into the small market where at 2.30pm, most vendors’ shutters were already down, but we quickly found a simple place advertising that they had 素食 (vegetarian food).
In my minimal Chinese I was actually able to order a vegetable soup with no egg, in large part thanks to this video. As we ate, a Taiwanese family sitting beside us clearly started talking about us, and soon, a boy, perhaps ten years old, leaned over and boldly asked us in English “are you from America?”
“No, we are from Britain.” I replied. “英國” I translated for clarity. He stared at us with a blank expression and blinked a few times. I wondered if he had ever heard of that country before.
We then ventured to find our hotel, which was just a few hundred meters away. Upon checking in, we were informed that there is indeed heating in the rooms but that it is controlled automatically. It would come on if the temperature inside the room were to drop below 7C. Wait, what?
Luckily, once we got in the room, we discovered that there was an electric blanket in the bed!
After a nap, we spent the rest of the afternoon planning the walks we could do the next day and spending the ten minutes it took to look at the shops. Luckily, we found a somewhat hidden tea room above one of the shops where we spent a couple of hours enjoying some delicious local oolong tea and snacking on peanuts while it continued to rain outside.
Once we’d had dinner, there was really nothing else to do, so to get warm, we went back to our room and sat in the bed working on our laptops with the electric blanket on underneath us.
The next day we arose early to enact out plan to go out for a hike. We were encouraged at first because it was not raining and there were even a few patches of blue sky while we were eating breakfast. Of course, by the time we were finished, it was raining again.
Determined to go outside and be in nature even for just a few hours, we went to the train station and followed the crowd to where we assumed we could buy tickets. It seemed that everyone already had tickets, though and since there were no signs in English it was difficult to guess where we might buy them ourselves. I awkwardly asked someone waiting for the train in my pigeon Chinese “在哪裡可以買票嗎?” (“in where can buy ticket?”) Pleasingly, I was understood and we were soon boarding the train to Zhaoping station, just a five minute ride away.
It was still raining, but we were relieved to see that we wouldn’t have to be trudging along muddy paths through the forest with our city shoes: instead there were beautifully maintained stone paths guiding the way. While generally I find that these kinds of paths create a somewhat artificial and experience, in this case, it was probably best for the preservation of the forest to have them given the sheer number of people visiting Alishan National Park and passing through every day.
The well sign-posted route we followed took us to a beautiful turquoise lake after only 10 minutes or so of walking from the station. I could only imagine how vivid the colour of the water must be on a sunny day.
A bit further along, we reached Shouzhen Temple, where it was also possible to buy snacks, drinks and tacky souvenirs.
We didn’t linger long, however, as the crowds were densest here, mostly to shelter from the rain it seemed. Instead, we pressed on for another few minutes and came to a bridge. By now we’d become used to the steady drizzling rain and found the fog enveloping the trees rather magical. I dare say, we even tarted to enjoy ourselves.
But all too soon, the walk was over, as we then quickly reached Sacred Tree station where the train returned to Alishan.
Had the weather been nicer, we no doubt would have taken a longer walk, but as it was, this short trip of about 40 minutes from Zhaoping to Sacred Tree stations was enough of a taste of Alishan National Park for us in the rain.
Was the trip worth it? While it felt like a lot of effort to go to for a 40 minute walk in a forest, it was nice to spend at least part of our time in Taiwan not in a big city and away from motorised traffic.
Would we go again? Not in winter. If we visited at a warmer time of year with less chance of rain, it would be nice to give it a go, but it probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list of places we’d revisit in Taiwan.
Good to know
- Smoking is strictly prohibited everywhere inside the national park
- Bring layers and clothes for cold weather as it can get very cold, especially at night
- Consider your footwear. You will not likely need hiking boots for the main trails, but something that will at least keep your feet warm and dry
- The entrance fee is NT$200 on holidays and weekends
There are buses roughly every 30 minutes from Chiayi Railway Station to Alishan between 6am and 2pm, the journey takes 2.5 hours and tickets cost NT$230 (€6.50). There are also less frequent buses from Chiayi High Speed Rail Station. See this website for the complete timetable.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Da Feng Hotel, one of the five or so hotels that are actually in the park. It was adequate, though quite expensive for the standard, but that is because you are paying a premium for the location. We could heard through to the next room very clearly, which made it hard to relax, but for one night, it was acceptable. Unless you’re willing to pay a lot, I think this is par for the course when visiting Alishan National Park.
Have you ever thought of visiting Alishan National Park? What other places of natural beauty would you recommend visiting in Taiwan?