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Taiwan | Alishan Forest Railway


Despite being a small island, Taiwan has over 150 mountains above the height of 3,000m. In fact Taiwan is the 4th tallest island in the world. The 2,663m Alishan is one of the famous tourist attractions for people from the country as well as around the world. The Alishan forest railway was originally built back during the Japanese Colonial era for shipping lumber down the mountain. Because it is so steep, the train was built circulating the mountain range of the first half and then zigzagging up the final leg. Nowadays the railroad and Alishan Train Station itself is part of a National Park where a lot of people visit for tourism. Some of the main attractions are watching the sunrise at the peak, the 1,000+ year old sacred trees and the tallest temple in all of Taiwan. Although I am from the central region of Taiwan, I never had a lot of time travelling around as a kid. This year, I decided to visit my family for my mom's birthday, as well as visiting this mountain, where my parents humbly choose as their honeymoon destination
Getting the Alishan Forest Railway tickets are a pain in the ass. 

You can either buy these Railway tickets in person, or online about 14 days in advance. However they sell out super quickly, and if you don't buy a ticket you will have to stand for 2.5hrs one way or 5 hrs round trip. The trick is, you need a Taiwanese ID card to buy these tickets online, and you need to show your Taiwanese ID card to pick the tickets up. Good thing is I have family there, so I was able to get these tickets in advance. The online booking system starts at 6am, so I woke up at 5:55am to have 2 browsers opened with pre-entered information such as train number, date, Taiwanese ID number etc. I connected my laptop to my phone LTE network to ensure it's super lighting speed internet. At around 5:59:50 I hit enter, which took me to the verification page (to make sure you're not a bot), and then I had a few seconds to type out the 5 digit code. And success! I got my railway tickets :) 

My family is from the central city of Taichung, so my partner and I took a direct flight there and stayed near the train station as we needed to get up early to take the train up to Alishan. From Taichung main station, we took the railway to Jiayi Station. This is a city 1 hour south of Taichung. From Jiayi, we switched to the Alishan forest railway. But because of the recent typhoon and flooding, the train didn't go all the way up to Alishan. It stopped at Fenqihu station, and from there on we needed to take a shared van up. 



Jiayi Station


The Alishan Forest Railway uses a smaller gauge track so it does not share a track with normal trains. There is only a 2 seat and single seat row on the carriage with a very narrow walkway. 


The train went very slowly up the steep hills of Alishan. We went circling around this mountain for about 5 times, crossing 10 or so tunnels before continuing up. Because it circles the mountain, on the map it looks like a circle of mess drawn by a drunk person. There are several stations along the way popular to hikers. At every station, there's also a station master who will hold up a "Have a good journey" sign and wave at the passenger as the train departs. Ah, such is the warmth of Taiwanese people and its ultra perfect service industry. I always feel so welcomed. 



Fenqihu Station


Fenqihu Station

Fenqihu is a station halfway up to Alishan. It sits at 1,403m above sea level and is a small town famous for its lunch boxes. This station opened back in 1912 and used to be used as the resupply station as well as a lunch stop for the train drivers. Fenqihu has also become one of the more populated towns with people trading goods and loading shipments up and down the mountain. 

We stopped here for the famous lunch boxes, then soon found a shared van to take us up the final leg of the journey to Alishan. It was around $250 NT per person which is a pretty good deal! The driver also explained in great detail on how to get the most out of the trip once you get to Alishan park. The others sharing the ride with us were all Hong Kong tourists, some were doing a crazy packed day trip like us, others going to the peak to watch the sunrise (you need to wake up at 4am for that). 


The red line is the route we took

The entrance fee was $150NT for the park, lucky us the following day on May 1st they were raising it to $300NT per person. The trains within the park were also increasing from $50 one way to $100 one way. There were 2 main stations were were going to. First we take the train from Alishan to Zhao Ping Station. Then we walk from Zhao Ping Station to Sacred Tree (Shenmu) Station and then take the train from there back down to Alishan station. These train rides are a short 5 minute ride through the forest. And the whole walk takes around 2 hours. Along the way you see 2 beautiful "Sister Lakes", the Alishan Museum which tells you about the Japanese Colonization era, Shou Zhen Gong Temple (tallest temple in Taiwan), and then through the Sacred Tree forest with trees ranging from 800 - 3000 years old. 



You can see the tired on my face. It was also 12C and I had a fever. 



Still, the nature is absolutely stunning. This is Zhao Ping Park. In spring time these area is full of Cherry Blossom trees. 


The tracks near Zhao Ping Station



Walking through the first forest. 




Sister Lakes. I saw a ton of tadpoles in the water! You can find it in my linked vlog. 


Ok, I'm pretty sure there's elves in this forest. 


Shou Zhen Gong Temple, 2,000m+ above sea level!


A closer look at the details. Shou Zhen Gong is so high up it's often covered it clouds. Even when I was sitting across from it having my Meatball soup, the temple disappeared right in front of me. 


This we call it the Three Generation Tree because the first tree fell, the second tree grew on top of it, and then a third one. From a certain angle it looks like an elephant. 



Entering the Sacred Tree area, this is the first tree I see. I stood there in awe for a good 5 minutes. 


This one is 2,300 years old and 45 meters tall. So much respect for nature! Imagine what you would've seen if you were 2,300 years old! 


I swear, I saw elves in this forest. 


Most these trees are older than 800 years old. 


Ok, there's no need to make me feel even shorter. I already feel really short in this forest. 


After a 2 hour stroll inside magical forests, past blue green lakes, and the temple in the clouds, we arrived at Sacred Tree Station. Here lies the 3,000+ year-old tree that's become one with the grass below. It was struck by lightning back in 1998 so sadly had to be cut down for safety concerns. Still, it is the most famous Sacred Tree in this entire park because of its age. 


Sacred Tree Station - 2,138m above sea level. 



And the final stop, back at Alishan station. I still can't believe that after all these 20 some odd years of being Taiwanese, I haven't been to Alishan yet. The beauty of the nature here is so different from the other places I've been. Taiwan is a small island, but it has so much to offer. I'm glad I still have the chance to return to my country and appreciate it. Next I think I'd like to go to the East coast where there's more mountains with steep valleys. 

The next day we'll be going to Sun Moon Lake for a nice family day out. It's another famous scenic spot in central Taiwan which I haven't been to. Also it's time to celebrate my mother's birthday! 




---------- More Photos ----------



Fenqihu Station and the Forest Railway train



Alishan Station









Alishan Main Station

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