ALISHAN SERIES: 5 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE GOING TO ALISHAN, TAIWAN! (PART 4/4)
My post on Everything You Need to Know About Alishan has done unexpectedly very well…. which means that besides myself, there are a lot of other travellers looking for the information on the Internet. As such, I have decided to extend the Alishan series in time for the next Cherry Blossom season so you can have more information about Alishan to better plan.
Without further ado, let’s get started on the 5 things I wish I knew before planning my trip to Alishan.
ONE. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES.
There are only a few must do’s in Alishan. Riding the Alishan Forest Train and watching the sunrise are the 2 BIG must do’s. That being said, increasing your chances of acquiring those 2 items are of utmost importance to you. The Alishan Forest Train runs both ways – up and down the mountain; however, I personally think it’s more exciting to ride the train up the mountain versus down (it’s also faster going up then down). Unfortunately, the Alishan Forest Train only goes up to Alishan ONCE a day (M-F @ 9am; Weekends & holidays @ 10am).
ALISHAN FOREST TRAIN:
Make sure you book your ticket in advance to secure a seat. If you’re really desperate, you can try checking the counter in the morning when you arrive to the Chiayi Train Station. It’s the ticket office directly outside the station to your left – they may have space for you for a standing seat, but it’s 3 hours standing on your feet… For those wondering, I have been told that the right side going up is more scenic and vice versa, the left side coming down. There is an English commentary that runs through the entire train ride and is quite good. If you’re looking for all the forms of transportation and how to get to Alishan, check out our post here.
WATCHING THE SUNRISE:
They announce the next morning’s sunrise time at early evening each day; therefore the time for the morning Sunrise Viewing Train, which is also the Chushan Line Train, might change slightly… Everybody on the Alishan mountain will want a ticket to go on the Sunrise Viewing Train to go see the sunrise; hence, you need to go get tickets in advance. So we were actually quite confused because we thought Alishan was the mountain where you watch the sunrise, but you actually have to take the Sunrise Viewing Train to Chushan (another mountain) within Alishan to view the sunrise… The tickets are sold the afternoon of the previous day – check to see if your hotel will sell you tickets because Alishan Hotel (the hotel we stayed at) sold the Sunrise Train tickets directly to their guests.
This is where it gets confusing… I see a lot of hotels advertise themselves as Alishan xxxxxxx Hotel; however, there is a difference between the Alishan Forest Recreational Area and towns elsewhere in Chiayi. I would recommend you to stay within the Alishan Forest Recreational area, which is the main area of Alishan and is within the area that is close enough that you can catch the Chushan Sunrise Viewing Train to see the sunrise in the morning. There aren’t a lot of accommodations to choose from within the specified area; therefore, please do book ahead of time. There is actually an alternative place/route that doesn’t require you to get to the main area of Alishan and that is to stay at Fenqihu. We have a post on “Where You Should Stay in Alishan” that illustrates the two options.
That being said, your priorities really are: 1) Getting the Alishan Forest Train tickets in advance 2) Booking your accommodations in advance and when you arrive into Alishan, 3) Get your Sunrise Viewing Train tickets.
TWO. HOPE FOR THE BEST, BUT SEEING THE SUNRISE IS NOT A GIVEN.
Everybody talks about the sunrise at Alishan, and that literally was the reason why we went to Alishan, but I don’t think the sunrise is as common as they say it is. (We also have a post as part of our Alishan Series on “The Top Things to do in Alishan“.) Morning call was something insane like 3:30am; in order to catch the hotel shuttle to get us to the Alishan Train Station so we could take the Sunrise Viewing Train to get to Chushan. At Chushan, we waited for about 1 hour for Mr. Golden Sun to come out in relatively cold weather considering it was a cold March day; but it was too foggy that day and we never got to see the sunrise sadly… Eventually, after 30 mins had passed from the actual “sunrise time” and the sky was already lit, we left Chushan disappointed…
Here’s the sunrise we saw:
THREE. THERE ISN’T A LOT OF ENGLISH THERE.
There is a tourist information centre where the parking lot is, but there isn’t a lot of English and there aren’t a lot of signs. The trouble we ran into was that we had tickets for the Alishan Forest Train, but we needed to catch it from Fenqihu, and the morning buses that passed by Fenqihu were few in between and it was chaotic trying to find out where to buy tickets and where to line up. And we could speak Mandarin… The 7/11 in the convenience store sells tickets and most of the buses we saw depart in front of that 7/11. It would make sense for you to sort out which bus you need to take the day before with the Tourist Centre to ensure you can buy the right ticket. Our bus for example, we were only allowed to purchase tickets on the morning of… Also, there is a difference between Chiayi Station and Chiayi Railway Station so don’t get that mixed up. If possible, try to get as much planning and research done before heading to Alishan, and print out any confirmations you may need as well. I would recommend having Internet data so you can Google anything you may need.
In addition, the English phonetics for the different places in Alishan are sometimes slightly different. For example Fenqihu can also be spelled as Fenchihu and similarily, you may see Zhushan or Chushan and they mean the same place.
FOUR. IF YOU’RE GOING FOR THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS OR AUTUMN FOLIAGE, PLAN SOME BUFFER TIME.
We went March 2016 in the first week that the official Alishan website stated that the cherry blossoms would be in bloom at Alishan… Unfortunately, it was a cold year, and when we arrived, there were a few trees with cherry blossoms, but it would have been a lot nicer if we had gone a week or two later when the majority of the trees would be in full bloom… Try to aim for the middle of the period that they give to avoid disappointment. This also means you should plan in advance, book accommodations & train tickets in advance as well because Alishan is a very popular place for the viewing of cherry blossoms and autumn foliage.
FIVE. AFTER ALISHAN, YOU MAY WANT TO GO TO SUN MOON LAKE (日月潭).
There are buses that will depart for Sun Moon Lake, which is the largest body of water in Taiwan and is about a 2.5 hour drive north from Alishan. It’s called Sun Moon Lake because the east side of the lake looks like the sun, and the west side of the lake resembles that of a moon. Sun Moon Lake is also located in 1 of the 13 designated National Scenic Areas in Taiwan, and is said to be a very beautiful lake so if you’re into great scenery, you may want to consider heading to Sun Moon Lake directly after Alishan instead of heading back to Taipei/Kaoshiung. Side note: lots of people get their wedding photos taken here, or even have destination weddings here, if that’s something you’re considering as well. Here’s a very pretty photo of Sun Moon Lake:
Have you been to Alishan and is there anything else that you would like to add to the list? Leave a comment below and let me know. Check out our super popular post on how to get to Alishan here. We even have a whole graph that lists out all the transportation options for you to get to Alishan with ease.