ALISHAN SERIES: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRANSPORTATION TO ALISHAN! (Part 1/4)
Maybe a brief intro about Alishan first. Located in the middle between Taichung and Tainan and is pretty much in the smack center of Taiwan, Alishan is a mountain inside the Alishan National Scenic Area. Now, within this area is another area called Alishan Forest Recreational Area and you can think of this area loosely as a large park/village with lots of hiking trails for you to explore the outdoors. Alishan is most famously known for 5 things, which they deem as the 5 wonders of Alishan: 1) The gorgeous sunrise 2) The authentic Alishan Forest train that you ride to and from Alishan 3) The equally gorgeous sunset 4) Cloud sea 5) The Forest Trails. The 2 other things I would like to add are: 1) The Alishan Railway bento box and 2) Cherry blossoms.
The below information is easily found on the Internet; however, getting information in English about the transportation to and from Alishan was difficult, so I’ve decided to make it easier for travellers looking to visit Alishan! In fact, there is a whole Alishan series to ensure you’ve got everything covered, from the Top Things To Do in Alishan, Where To Stay in Alishan, and 5 Things You Should Know Before Going To Alishan.
KHH. Most people will visit Alishan as part of a big Taiwan trip, but if you’re like me and you’re only going to Alishan, then the closest airport will be the Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH).
GET TO CHIAYI (嘉義)
Regardless if you’re coming from the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) or Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH), you need to get to Chiayi, which is a town that is about 60km east of Alishan. The easiest way is to take the train, and I would recommend that you book and buy your train tickets online in advance because you’ll also be assigned a seat upon purchase. Note that there is a HSR Chiayi Station (they have a shuttle bus there that takes you to Chiayi Train Station) and a Chiayi Train Station. When I say, “Get to Chiayi”, I’m referring to the Chiayi Train Station. Here is the site to book tickets. There aren’t a lot of seats so if you buy on the day, you may get a ticket, but it most likely will be a standing ticket. I mean, who the hell wants to stand for 2 hours when they can sit?
Once you get to the Chiayi Train Station, this is where your options to get to Alishan will branch off. Also note that these options remain the same when you make your return trip from Alishan back to Chiayi. Here’s a chart to illustrate:
THE ALISHAN FOREST TRAIN
This is the preferred and most popular option. The railway constructed in 1912, was originally for logging, but was added passenger carriages in 1918 and is now a super popular tourist attraction due to not only its long history and authenticity, but also it is the scenic route up to Alishan. This train makes only 1 trip up a day at 9am on weekdays and an extra trip up at 10am on weekends (for more info, please see here) and holds only about 180 passengers; therefore, you definitely need to book in advance online. I tried to book 2 weeks in advance and it was already sold out, so do book as soon as possible! The website for booking is here. Please note that the website is entirely and only in Chinese; therefore, just have Google translate it to English for you. Click on the tab/heading that says “Discover Remaining Tickets”.
You should get to this page:
ID number – Passport # or anything they can cross check against when you pick up your tickets.
Phone Number – Self explanatory.
Travel Day – Once you click on the field, a calendar will pop up so just select your date.
Foot up – Which really means the “From” station, which is 360-Chiayi.
As of station – The “To” station, which is 369-Lake Rise. (FYI, Lake Rise is the literal translation of Fenchihu.)
The number of sheets – This asks for the train number. Input the train number that corresponds to this website. If you’re booking for the Alishan Forest Train uphill from Chiayi to Fenchihu, then it would be 1 or 3. If you’re booking for the Alishan Forest Train downhill from Fenchihu to Chiayi, then it would be 2 or 6.
Please note that due to a typhoon in 2014, parts of the railway line was severely damaged; hence the Alishan Forest train only goes from Chiayi to Fenchihu (奮起湖).
Once you arrive to Fenchihu, then you can either take a bus directly to Alishan (only a few times a day) or by taking a bus to Shizhao (石棹) (much higher frequency) and then transferring to another bus that goes to Alishan. For more info on the times and prices for these options, please see here. The bus stop at Fenchihu is just at the top of the hill/main street, and is very close to the train station. The ride from Fenchihu to Shizhao is only about 15 minutes.
Do note that the English competency outside of Taipei isn’t great; however, everybody that arrives in Shizhao/Fenchihu is en route to Alishan so workers at convenience stores will be able to guess where you’re going and should be able to help you. Before you leave, there are sooo many things to do at Fenqihu so make sure you stop to look around. In fact some of our Top Things To Do in Alishan are located in Fenqihu.
The most ridiculous and funny thing about Shizhao is where we purchased our bus tickets. Once you get dropped off at the bus station in Shizhao, look across the street, and you will see a pink convenience store called Hi Life. That’s not where you buy your bus ticket. You buy your bus ticket at the nondescript noodle shop right next to the convenience store. I’m unsure if you can buy on the bus or not, but lots of the other people used their Taiwanese “metro card” to pay. From Shizhao, it’s about a 45 minute ride to Alishan.
OTHER OPTIONS: THE SKETCHY GRANNIES & DIRECT BUSES
There are buses that go directly from Chiayi to Alishan and back. You can get the ticket at the Chiayi station and the bus stop is just in front of the station. You can’t miss the neon green buses and they leave every 20 minutes or at an equally frequent interval. If you’re not into taking the Alishan Forest Train, then you can take this option. Do note that Fenchihu is a place I would highly recommend so if you take a direct bus both ways, you will unfortunately miss out on Fenchihu.
THE SKETCHY GRANNIES:
At all or several parts of your trip, you will be approached by old grannies and grandpas that will offer you a “really good price” for taking a private car up that will “leave right away” so you don’t have to wait for the bus. We never took their offer, and at one time, one granny with a cane followed me around and called me stupid because I didn’t take her “amazing” offer. They were needless to say, very sketchy based on my brief encounter with them and we didn’t see anybody take up their offer. Engage them at your own risk. Note: Someone in the comments asked about “vans” and I’m going to assume that the vans they’re asking about are equivalent to these private cars. Once again, engage them at your own risk.
SO WHAT’S THE RECOMMENDED ROUTE?
What’s the ideal route in an utopian world?
CHIAYI TO ALISHAN:
Take the Alishan Forest Train (9am) uphill from Chiayi to Fenchihu, explore the quaint town, then get the direct bus from Fenchihu to Alishan.
ALISHAN TO CHIAYI:
Then on the return trip, take the direct bus from Alishan to Chiayi.
I say this for several reasons. I would prefer to take the Alishan Forest Train uphill because the uphill trip is faster than the downhill trip. Another consideration is that the day you leave Alishan is most likely the day where you got up at an insane hour like 3:45am to catch the sunrise so you’ll want to sleep for the 2.5 hour ride back to Chiayi.
What route did I take?
The route we took was pretty much based on the availability of the public transportation for the particular day that I went. For reference, I went during mid-March, which is the start of the Cherry Blossom season, and there were sooo many tourists!
CHIAYI TO ALISHAN:
I tried to book the Alishan Forest train 2 weeks in advance of my trip and the uphill journey was already all sold out! We booked for the downhill journey instead and we took the direct bus from Chiayi to Alishan.
ALISHAN TO CHIAYI:
We took a nap at the hotel after catching the sunrise, so by the time we went to the bus station, tickets for the 10:30am direct bus to Fenchihu were already all sold out (and there aren’t a lot of seats to begin with). In the end, we took a bus that dropped us off at Shizhao; however, this bus was so full that we ended having to sit on the steps of the bus (probably not the safest…) for the 45 mins journey through the winding roads… From Shizhao, we got on the public bus that took us to Fenchihu and then the Alishan Forest Train (2pm) back to Chiayi.
PLEASE NOTE: All the above information is correct at the date of publish. If there are any broken links or outdated information that you come across, please do me and the readers of this post a favour, and let me know so I can keep this updated. There isn’t a lot of information on the bus routes and times to Alishan online; therefore, I really do hope you find this post helpful for your planning to Alishan.
UPDATE (Sept 21, 2018): Thank you for your support and everybody reading this post. I’ve gotten soo many lovely comments. THANK YOU! I’ve also got some many people asking me to review their itinerary and if things are doable… Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time & resources to do that individually, but I did try to put together a relatively comprehensive guide for you to work out the itinerary yourself. Another thing is people are asking the same questions over and over again that I’ve already have either 1) answered in this post of the other posts part this this series or 2) answered in the comments. Please read through both to see if someone’s already asked the question. Finally, the information was last updated maybe mid 2017, so if you find differing information and that website is newer than mid 2017, then their info is probably going to be more accurate than mine. Hope that helps and sorry if I’m not able to answer to everybody’s responses. There are a lot. But I did write a FAQ about Alishan so much sure to check out all parts of this series =)