Getting To & Getting Around Alishan
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 remaining 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 73-km-long (45 miles) 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. When the train is running all the way from to Alishan (as of February 2024, services were terminating at Shizilu, 1,534 m / 5,033 ft above sea level and 16 km / 10 miles from the station inside Alishan National Forest Recreation Area), uphill travel time is three and a quarter 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 at least 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 ensure they have a downloaded map (internet access can be spotty), a full tank of petrol, and some snacks and drinking water. A well-maintained road links Alishan with Yushan National Park; continuing northwards will eventually bring you to the town of Shuili and then Sun Moon Lake.
If driving through unfamiliar mountain territory sounds daunting — and you don’t want to be limited to what’s accessible by public transport — consider hiring an experienced driver-guide through Life of Taiwan. Our expert itinerary planners can devise a schedule that prefectly meets your requirements. Whether you seek a luxury tour or a family tour of Taiwan, we invite you to reach out today and start your exploration of this fascinating island.