As the enginerd and I are currently hanging out in Taiwan again, it was finally time to go visit Alishan (阿里山). Not only is it one of the most famous tourist attractions in Taiwan, but it also carries the same name in Chinese as the enginerd, and he has been like constantly talking about going there because it’s “his mountain”.
Alishan is a not actually just one mountain, but a mountain range, with Datashan as its highest peak at 2663 meters. The name Alishan translates roughly to… well, it is not really that translatable. “阿” is just a prefix used in names, to express seniority in a family or in kinship terms to indicate familiarity, and “里” simply means neighbourhood or native place, or a length equivalent to approximately 500m (source: Pleco dictionary app). “山” means mountain, so basically, it’s just Mountain Ali.
An interesting thing came to my mind while exploring the name Alishan. If you ever desire to learn Chinese or understand the range of cultures considered Chinese, one thing really needs your attention, and also makes an interesting conversation starter: the units of length, mass and volume used in mainland China and Taiwan are a bit different from the typical metric system. For example, prices of products such as fruit in stores are often expressed per “jin”, in China meaning 500 grams, and in Taiwan meaning 600 grams. One kilogram in Chinese is “gongjin”, or a “metric jin”, equivalent of two jins. Length may be expressed in “li”s, equivalent to 500 meters and one kilometre is a “gongli”, a metric li, equivalent to two li’s, or 1000 meters. The list goes on.
Now, back to Alishan. Going there, you can either stay in a hotel in a nearby city or at the mountain. We opted for staying in Chiayi (嘉義) for two nights and visiting the mountain for one day, but if you wish to enjoy the sunrise or sunset, you’ll want to stay in one of the hotels at Alishan.
There are buses going to the mountain daily, departing nearly every hour from the railway station, about right here. The cost is NTD 240 per person, and you can pay with EasyCard or cash. Other cards okay, too, at least iCash (which also gives you nice discounts at 7-Eleven). The bus numbers are 7322 and 7329, and they start running at 06:10. You can buy a ticket from the driver, and not before departure. Just don’t forget to have exact change.
A friendly reminder: there will probably be these super annoying old ladies trying to sell you trips to Alishan at the railway station, and they can be very persistent, too. I had to raise my voice in Chinese to this one woman who just wouldn’t leave us alone. She would follow us around outside the station, standing and walking not farther away than one meter from us. We tried telling her to go away, but she wouldn’t until I turned around and basically yelled at her face. Based on a quick Google search, this is something that just happens at Chiayi station 😦
Once we figured out where the buses leave, it was super easy to get there in the morning and just get on the bus. You’re not allowed to eat or drink on the bus (very common in Taiwan), so I was trying to chug down my morning coffee (NTD 85 for a large americano in 7-Eleven and a discount if you bring your own cup) at the bus stop. Naturally, this led to a horrible need to pee, with no toilet on the bus. Knowing the ride would take two to three hours, it was nice to learn there’s a bathroom break on the way.
Once we got to the mountain, the bus left us outside the Alishan National Scenic Area entrance. There’s a 7-Eleven there, and that’s also where the buses back to the city leave from. Just remember, you’ll want to catch the last bus (or train) back at 17:10, since after that there’s really no way to get back to Chiayi other than taxi. We walked to the gate and bought our tickets with cash (NTD 150 per person). From there it was just a short walk to the visitor’s centre, from where you could easily follow the signs leading to the park.
There are trains and shuttle buses going around the park, but we opted for walking. Why? Because the engineer was hugely disappointed to have learnt there IS NO LONGER A STEAM TRAIN GOING AROUND, just some stupid diesel ones…
Since we like hiking and having only one day to explore the area, we decided to go check out the highest peak of Alishan, Datashan. At 2663 meters, on a clear day, it can give you the most wonderful view over Alishan. The walk up took a bit over two hours, on a beautiful and easy to walk path. I am not saying we weren’t tired once we got up, though, as the uphill got more challenging the closer we got. On top of Datashan, there’s a small platform for resting. Once we got there, we could still see a glimpse of the famous view, but soon the clouds started rolling over us, covering everything in this white cold cotton ball stuff. The idea of standing in a centre of a cloud is crazy, but it is also actually very, very beautiful and special. You could see the small strands of white fluff floating right next to you, quickly covering whatever you could see just a moment ago. And surprisingly enough, it was still super bright, with the sun being so close and everything.
Walking down was much faster and easier, and only took about an hour. After that, we checked out the Shouzhen temple (受鎮宮) and realised where all the tourist buses we had seen earlier had left their passengers. The Taiwanese tourists were walking around in huge groups, taking photos and looking sharp in their hiking clothes. However, we didn’t see too many of them actually hiking anywhere…
Now, if you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, Alishan should really be on your list of places to visit. The island is full of parks, mountains and beaches to explore, but Alishan just really takes your breath away (literally), and also gives a nice breeze of fresh air on days when pollution levels are unusually high in the large cities on the West coast (you can check the AQI or Air Quality Index here).
PS: I totally thought I had once again invented a new English word with “mountainholic”, but turns out it is in use, already, has its own hashtag on Instagram and even a translation in Chinese. So there 😦 But I’m claiming “enginerd” as my invention.
PPS: Check out these posts for more information and photos on mountains in Taiwan: