The Alishan area can be explored by car, bus, motorcycle, bicycle or train. The last of these options is an attraction in its own right, and often described as East Asia’s most exciting train journey.
Nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the Alishan Forest Railway is a thrilling way to enter the island’s southern highlands. One of the world’s few steep-gradient alpine railways, it has a full century of history. From around 1912, locomotives pulled workers and their supplies from Chiayi (30 m / 98 ft above sea level) to Alishan (elevation: 2,216 m / 7,270 ft), then brought the region’s valuable timber and farm produce down to the plains.
After World War II the railroad emerged as an excellent way to appreciate the changing landscapes and foliage as one climbed from the tropical plains through a series of climate zones. The 75-km-long railroad includes 77 bridges and 50 tunnels, plus a remarkable section where the track corkscrews its way three times around one mountain, then uses switchbacks and changes of direction to climb the next. From Chiayi to Alishan travel time is three and a half hours.
Regular buses head to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area from downtown Chiayi (served by very frequent expresses from Taipei and Kaohsiung) and Chiayi High-Speed Railway Station. It’s a slow but scenic journey (two and a half hours). Less frequent services link Chiayi with Fenqihu, Dabang and other places in the region. Visitors depending on public transport should plan ahead carefully, and make sure they reach the stop ten minutes ahead of schedule, as buses occasionally travel faster than expected.
Those with their own wheels can explore several gorgeous backroads. Some lead to remote farmsteads or homestays with unbeatable views, others to vantage points from which the scenery is breathtaking. But it’s easy to get lost, so self-driving tourists should equip themselves with a good map, a full tank of petrol and some snacks and drinking water. A well-maintained road links Alishan with Yushan National Park.
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