And looking spectacular! If you have any free time in the next few weeks, you just must make time to go to Alishan and see the cherry blossom, it’s stunning!
I went yesterday. It’s only a week before the official Cherry Blossom Festival is due to start, but most of the flowers are fully out – and so was the sun, perfect!
Alishan is one of Taiwan’s most famous scenic spots, and for visitors from overseas, it is one of the must-see places. Best to do things leisurely and stay there overnight, but if that’s not possible, go on the overnight bus, and make the most of it!
Alishan is high, over 2,000 m above sea level and much of it is now a national park. Wikipedia says:
The Alishan area was originally settled by the Tsou tribe of the Taiwanese aborigines; the name derives from the aboriginal word Jarissang. Ethnic Han Chinese settlers first settled on the plains near modern-day Chiayi as early as the late Ming Dynasty (around the mid-17th century), but did not move into the mountains until the late 18th century, establishing the towns of Ruili (瑞里), Ruifeng (瑞峰), Xiding (隙頂), and Fenqihu (奮起湖). The resulting armed clashes between the settlers and the aborigines pushed the aborigines even further into the mountains.
Following the cession of Taiwan to Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War, Japanese expeditions to the area found large quantities of cypress (檜木, or hinoki in Japanese). This led to the development of the logging industry in the area and the export of local cypress and Taiwania wood. A series of narrow-gauge railways were built in the area during this time to facilitate the transportation of lumber from the mountains to the plains below, part of which continues to operate as the Alishan Forest Railway.
The overnight bus (‘King Bus’ 國光客運) from Taipei Bus Station departs at 8:40 pm on Fridays and Saturdays – buy a return ticket @ NT$ 560 each way (or NT$ 620 one way). The bus stops twice on the way, and it arrives at Alishan National Park entrance (entrance fee NT$ 150 per person, plus free map) at about 3:00 am and a few minutes later at the terminus at the 7-Eleven. There’s not a lot to do at 3:00 am at 5°C except shiver in the dark, so we found the best place to wait (in the station) and were first in the queue for the tickets for the sunrise train at 5:00 am.
The ticket office information said that 637 tickets (@ NT$ 150 each way) on the sunrise train were available. Yes! The first of the 2 trains left at 5:30 am for the 20 minute-ride to Chushan Station, Taiwan highest train station at 2,451 m above seal level.
That’s the place to see the sunrise! The sea of clouds and mist means that the sunrise is a bit unpredictable and may not appear at all, but hey, we’ve gone all that way so we have to go and see what’s going on! Last year I also visited Alishan – but a bit later, at the end of April (see my blog post and photos here), and that time we went on a kind of bus tour to the sunrise place. This time I went on the train, and we sat and waited for the sun to come out. The sea of clouds at this time of year made it a long and cold wait but there was soup and coffee and lots of other yummy things to buy and eat and drink while we were waiting, along with hundreds of everyone! Finally the sun appeared above the clouds at 6:50 am ~ and within minutes it was too bright to stay any longer.
Back to Chushan Station, and by train on the return journey, except we got off at Zhaoping Station which is very convenient for the cherry blossom.
Walked all around and as far as the Alishan Sacred Tree – mostly on a boardwalk in the forest, so lots of steps up and down – but all good exercise, cos by then everyone was feeling a little sleepy having not had any sleep on the overnight bus!
The huge cypress trees are amazing, so so so big!
The Ciyun Temple 慈雲寺 is the place to view sunsets, but as it was only 8:47 am by then, it would be a long wait…. but anyway the gardens are beautiful! The notice there says that it used to be a Japanese temple, built in 1919 with a side-room containing a statue of the Buddha donated by a King of Siam.
And then back to the main area to see the cherry blossoms in the sun ~ there are many varieties of cherry blossom in Alishan, but most of them are the Sakura or Japanese cherry ~ beautiful!
And so back to the main visitor centre area where the most beautiful building is the post office, Taiwan’s highest, and built more like a temple, with cherry blossoms in flower there too. Love it!
This is the main shopping and car park area, and we were meeting the bus here at 11:30 am. Needed a nap by then!
And so 6 hours back to Taipei with only a brief stop at Chiayi Bus Station ~ back in Taipei by 5:00 pm and home by 7:00 pm. The bus driver was great, he was the same one as drove the bus last year. Knew everything and everywhere and lots of advice on what to do and where to go.
A really great trip! Highly recommended ~ and the cherry blossom is amazing!