Everyone likes to moan about what a hassle travel can be, but the truth is, going on holiday has never been easier and more convenient. While travel writers throw terms like “journey” and “voyage” around at an alarming rate, the truth is we do very little actual “journeying” today, what with plenty of direct flights and centrally-located airports.
Fortunately, for the more adventurous there are still destinations that truly require the romantic notion of a journey to reach, giving you plenty of time to soak in the authentic sights and experience of voyaging through a new country. Alishan in Taiwan, is one such region. The Alishan National Scenic Area is in the middle of Taiwan, stunningly set in the mountains – and a little out of the way.
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From Singapore to Alishan
To get there, make your way to Chiayi, the closest town, from either Kaohsiung or Taipei. China Airlines flies to both those places from Singapore: twice a day to Taipei, and twice a week to Kaohsiung (book here). If you want to sit back and relax, you can take the High Speed Rail (HSR) from Taipei to Chiayi, which takes about 1.5 hrs. Or, you can take a road trip opportunity and drive from Kaohsiung, which takes about the same time.
Once in Chiayi, find your way to the Chiayi Train Station (not to be confused with the THSR Chiayi station, which only services the High Speed Railway), and hop aboard the Alishan Forest Railway. This narrow-gauge train has serviced the Alishan area since the Japanese occupied Taiwan in WW2. While on the train, watch as the nature around you changes from tropical, to temperate, and finally to Alpine.
Plus, if you are lucky enough to go to Alishan in the two weeks the cherry blossoms bloom (usually around March to April), the forest railway will lead you through tunnels of drooping branches laden with the delicate pink blossoms.
What to do in Alishan
If you’ve got a heart of stone and that train journey wasn’t amazing enough to warrant the trip, the Alishan National Scenic Area still has some lovely surprises in store. Take the Sunrise Viewing train from Alishan train station up to Xiaoliyuan Mountain viewing platform. In case you didn’t get the hint from the name, you’ll need to be up super early to catch the sunrise, but you won’t be alone, as watching the dawn break among the mountain peaks is one of the most popular attractions of Alishan – and for good reason because, well, we’ll let the picture do the talking:
After you’ve watched the sunrise (and probably gone back to bed for a couple more hours of sleep) follow any of the forest trails to the different sites within the forest, and walk among the soaring cypress trees. During the Japanese occupation, many of the trees were cut down to supply wood, but Alishan is gradually recovering from this loss, and the cypresses, though not as old or plentiful as they could be, are still pretty darn impressive. Take a walk along the Giant Tree Trail, and visit the Xianglin Giant tree, a red cypress that is approximately 2000 years old, and about 43.5metres, or 13 storeys, tall.
You will understand why Alishan is called the National Scenic Area once you’ve walked through the forest and reached the Two Sister’s pond.
A clever photographer once made up a story about how two sisters of an indigenous tribe threw themselves into the ponds to take their lives after a lost love, and though the story was quickly disproved, the name stuck. But regardless of the origins of its name, the pond truly is stunning, like serene emerald mirrors veiled by the slight mist that embraces their shores. The Elder sister pond has two gazebos made of the red cypress that surrounds both ponds, and provides the perfect photo opportunity to make friends back home suitably jealous.
If you’ve had enough of nature, try something a bit more cultural by visiting the Shouzhen Temple in the Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
The Shouzhen Temple, built in 1948, is the highest elevated temple in Taiwan – over 2000 metres above sea level – and the largest in Alishan. The legend goes that the lumberjacks who used to work in Alishan during the Japanese occupation were often attacked by indigenous tribes. To protect them against the attacks, these lumberjacks wanted to build a temple and seek favour of their gods. However, they could only do so after the Japanese occupation ended, and so plans for its construction started in 1945 when the Japanese fell.
So there you have it, a fantastic journey to Alishan, and plenty of activities to occupy you once you’re there. Again, China Airlines flies twice a day direct to Taipei from Singapore and twice a week to Kaohsiung from Singapore, also a direct flight. You can search your flight and book directly at www.china-airlines.com. If you prefer a package deal, you can also take a look at China Airlines’ Dynasty Packages for free & easy tours to Taiwan.