Many friends have been to Taiwan but never visited Alishan in Chiayi – about 1 hour high-speed train ride from Taipei, followed by a few hours bus ride up the mountain. For those who asked if it is worth a visit, I always say YES!
Expecting it to be packed, we paid to reserve seats. But it was empty and we understood from the Taiwanese we met en-route to Alishan that this was considered an expensive mode of transport in Taiwan and the locals have not really caught on (that was in 2008, so things might have changed). So for the rest of our journey via the high-speed train, we went for free & easy tickets which were cheaper. And no, we did not have to stand at all!
We had expected the high-speed train station to be linked with the main train/bus station in Chiayi. But it turned out otherwise! We had to take a bus from the high-speed train station to the main train/bus station with our luggage! Picture taken during a stop to rest on the overhead bridge (also photo opportunity for me :P). Phew! Lesson learnt – when travelling out of Taipei, it is ok to leave your luggage with the hotel and bring a day bag to sustain you for a few days. That was what I did on my solo trip to Taiwan in 2012.
Initially, we planned to take the public bus from Chiayi to Alishan. A tour guide approached us at the bus station and offered his service at the bus station. After some bargaining, we decided to take his private bus, along with a few Taiwanese girls and a Hong Kong lady. Ah, the flexibility (and risk) of free & easy travel 🙂
The tour guide recommended that we eat lunch on the bus journey and try the local chicken rice. Delicious huge portion which we could not finished. It was tough to eat on a bus jerking up the mountain! Will definitely have this again if I visit Chiayi (in a proper restaurant though :P).
I recall that I had a tough time booking the accommodation because there was no internet available on the mountain (wonder if this is still the case today) so I had to make a long distance call to the hotel. Most of the hotels on Alishan are located along this stretch so location do not really matter. And I think there are not many tourists who stay overnight because the Hong Kong lady did not make any booking (really brave!) and she managed to get a room on site.
For the rest of our day, the hotel recommended that we visit the Alishan Station to catch a performance by the local aboriginal tribe and then join a bus tour that will bring us to catch the sunset. After dinner, we can round up the day with star grazing!
Dinner was great! We enjoyed hot pot in a lovely restaurant. Not cheap but definitely worth it as the ingredients were very fresh. Hot pot on a mountain is great because it made us feel very warm on high altitude. A pity it was a bit rushed because we had to catch the stars!
Apparently there is a love story behind the restaurant. – it was a birthday present from a man with a big heart to a stubborn woman 🙂 No wonder the food tasted good. It was probably prepared with love by owners who were in love 🙂
Star grazing was lovely. Unfortunately, my camera could not capture the moment. When everyone got down the bus, a chorus of ‘wow’ erupted! The sky was full of stars! On top of a mountain, with no high-rise buildings or street lights, we could see them so clearly. Although it was very cold that night, I am sure all of us felt warm because we witnessed a beautiful sight on Alishan that we will never forget for a long time to come 🙂