Stop number one of our ’round island journey was Alishan, a first and last for both of us. My first year in Taiwan I was certain that Alishan was a place to visit that was an absolute must, but as I started to see more and more remote parts of the island the fervor to see such a tourist spot died a bit. With my mom here I finally have an excuse to hit all the tourist spots I’ve missed over the past three years trying to pass as a well traveled mountaineer.
We left early from Taichung, took the train to Chiayi and from there a bus to the park itself where we stayed at a hotel in the park. It was a bit confusing doing the research for that final leg of transportation and finding lodging in the park since we wouldn’t have our own transportation, but we found the last room open on a Thursday night for a decent price and the shuttle bus station is literally a step outside the front gate of the Chiayi train station.
Alishan, is most famous having the best view of the sunrise in Taiwan, its high mountain tea, the ancient cypress trees, and it’s adorable little railroad (hao ke-ai!).
We arrived in the afternoon and had plenty of time to explore the park before hotel check-in. The park itself is pretty small, (just a teaser of nearby Yushan) but well laid out with wooden boardwalk and stone pathways so that everyone can enjoy (unfortunately this means even mobs of Chinese tour groups with questionable mountain footwear have an easy time desecrating the park).
My mom was fascinated with the giant hibiscus, and pristine calla lilies along the path, while I was happy to breathe in the clean mountain air provided by the ancient cypress trees.
Taiwan red cypress, Taiwan yellow cypress, and various species of cherry trees. The Giant Cypress trail in Alishan reminded me a bit of Yakusugi land in Yakushima Japan, the ancient Ceader trees that were the inspiration for Monoke Hime, though with considerably less rain. The trees had the same crisp defensive aura of having been hunted to the point of extinction laden with the heavy burden of wisdom that accompanies old age.
In order to see the famous sunrise we bought train tickets for a train from Alishan station to Zhushan station departing at 4 am (not the only viewing spot, but certainly the most popular, and most accessible without your own transportation). We queued with over one hundred others, and there were easily more already at the top when we arrived after a short dark train ride.
After getting hit several times with selfie sticks in the commotion to get the mornings best sunrise shot, we moved to a less crowded spot with a bit less of a view. After the sun was actually up over the mountains, most of the crowd dispersed and we were left with a partial amount of peace to actually enjoy the view. I was able to say goodbye to the mountains I have fallen in love with, (hopefully not a “last-time”).