Our Day 3 was spent at Alishan (阿里山), which surprisingly I found enjoyable. I am not a “scenery” type of traveler: a sunrise is a sunrise, a sunset is just another sunset. But it is a different story altogether if you invite me to go hiking, or cycling .. That’s why there’s nothing about Alishan that really catches my fancy. 2700-year old giant tree is still a tree. Catching the “MUST-DO” Alishan sunrise with throngs of tourists? Err .. thanks, but no thanks.
Well, Alishan National Scenic Area (also known as Alishan Park) emerges top-of-mind when one mentions Alishan = LOADS OF TOURISTS. But, Alishan also offers surrounding (quieter off-the-beaten track) townships such as Xiding (隙頂) and Anding (隙頂). These smaller towns offer peace and serenity, cheaper accommodations and superb view too. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the madness at Alishan Park was the best-est decision made by us. And you should too.
Sun Moon Lake → Alishan Park (by Yuanlin bus #6739) → Xiding (by Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus #7322).
Getting to Alishan National Scenic Area (from Sun Moon Lake)
Sun Moon Lake
There are only 2 direct buses (Yuanlin員林 Bus #6739) per day, leaving at 8AM and 9AM from Sun Moon Lake. A ticket costs NT$ 328 per ticket, and this does not include the Alishan Park entrance fee.
At Shuishe (水社), bf tried getting tickets at Yuanlin’s booth at Delight Mall (formerly Shuishe Visitor Center) for following day’s 8AM bus .. but he was informed that both the 8AM and 9AM bus were already full!
Lucky, lucky us. Lady luck must have been on our side, as I did manage to reserve 2 seats on the 9AM bus via e-mail earlier. Well, an e-mail reservation to Yuanlin goes unanswered for 6 days, until one day before we leave Bangkok. So, we quickly provide the reservation code and secured 2 tickets for the 9AM bus. Phew!
So, do reserve your seats as the staff told us the bus is usually full, even on weekdays. There is a form to be filled here, and to be emailed across to email@example.com. Reservation is FOC.
On our departure day, we reached the bus station early to get our caffeine fix. I noticed that some passengers managed to board the 8AM bus without pre-purchase tickets. They waited till the bus was about to depart, and the driver told them that they can board – but their luggage has to be stowed inside the bus (boot storage was full).
Someone mentioned somewhere that “the vehicle is a 19 seats mini bus with no separate storage, so luggage has to be stowed on the aisle passage.” That’s incorrect. I can confirm that there is indeed a boot space for luggage.
To satisfy my curiosity, I checked with the 9AM bus driver. He told me that if the bus is not full, driver is allowed to pick up passengers at the last-minute. He explained that possibly people with reserved tickets did not turn up; the availability of seats at the last-minute.
1) For more leg space, opt for the front row on the right side of the bus
2) Get your spring onion pancake at this stall at Delight Mall
3) 85 °C Cafe at Delight Mall was still closed in the early morning – we headed down to Starbucks at 101, Zhongshan Road for our cuppa of coffee (they open from 8AM onwards)
Sun Moon Lake -> Alishan
2 stops of 30 minutes each, 2.15 hours traveling time + 1 hour stop = 3.15 hours journey altogether. The reverse trip should be shorter since there is no entrance fee to pay and the bus is going downhill.
9AM: Bus departs from SML Delight Mall
9.30AM: Bus arrives at Sin Yi Farmer’s Association 信義鄉農會
10.00AM: Bus departs from Sin Yi Farmer’s Association
11.15AM: Bus arrives at Tataka Visitor Center, Yu Shan Forest Recreation Stop 塔塔加遊客中心, 塔塔加遊憩區
11.45AM: Bus departs from Tataka, Yu Shan Forest Recreation Stop
12.10PM: Bus arrives at Alishan Forest Recreation Arch. All passengers got down to pay 150 TWD entrance fee (for visitors who arrive on public transport) and then re-board
12.15PM: Arrives at Alishan bus terminal outside 7 Eleven.
Alishan National Park
Arriving at Alishan National Park, we were like headless chicken sans research beforehand.
Lunch – But, we did read that food at restaurant here is just so-so and expensive; decided eating at restaurants proper and bought “good and cheap” lunch from 7-Eleven. As it was Songkran holiday, there were Thai people at our left, right and center .. all chatting away in Thai (or at least bf did).
Luggage Storage – We kept our luggage at Alishan Visitor Center. Free service, but at your own risk. There is a cctv there though. We kept two iPads there, locked inside our bag .. glad to report that they survived. There are also (paid) lockers at Alishan Train Forest station.
Route – Most visitors make use of train from Alishan to Zhaoping, but we ended up walking to Zhaoping, then train back to main entrance. Go figure. The walk was pleasant – cold weather, and manageable crowd once we were on the trail. We didn’t spend much time at Alishan Park as I was tired, and we headed down to Xiding on the 4.10pm bus.
Getting to Xiding (from Alishan)
The bus stop at Alishan is outside the same 7-Eleven when we arrived.
You buy ticket inside 7-Eleven, or just use EasyPass. The buses back down the mountain heading towards Chiayi depart at 10 & 40 minutes past the hour, the final bus leaving at 17:10pm.
The bus comes with storage space for luggage, tho’ no one made use of it.
Someone say tell the driver your stop – Bull***t. Leave the poor man alone. So many tourists, including us were telling that poor chap our destinations – I can fully understand why he sort of brushed us off. Just watch the LED screen and listen to the multi-lingual announcement in English, Mandarin, Hokkien. You can find your way to Alishan independently, I am confident that you won’t miss your stop. There are other smaller stops, not indicated in the bus route – so, just keep your eyes and ear open. Bus 7322’s final destination is Chiayi Railway station and bus 7329 at HSR Chiayi station.
Alishan to Xiding’s journey took around 1 hour and 05 minutes, and the bus fare is NT$ 103.
Accommodation at Alishan is expensive because it is where most visitors stay, for the ease of catching the sunrise at Zhushan. That’s the #1 reason why people go to Alishan .. BUT. NOT. US.
Alighting at Xiding, it was oh-so wonderfully peaceful and quiet .. and ain’t we glad that we left the crowds behind at Alishan Park.
My #1 favorite stay this whole trip: staying at David’s House hosted by his parents at Gongtian Village, Xiding(隙頂), next to Xiding (隙頂) bus stop and nearby Xiding Elementary School (隙頂國小)
Read about my stay here.
Hotpot dinner was arranged by Aunty Liu, aka David’s mom at Yun-Pu-Gu Cafeteria (云瀑谷). For a Malaysian and Thai, the hotpot standard was just alright – but it was a comfy-soupy meal. We ordered Polygoni Multiflori Herbal Pot (NT$ 300) and Spicy Hot Pot (NT $ 300) and a pot of Fruit Tea (NT$ 180) for sharing. That Polygoni Multiflori herbal soup is just like our ba ku teh, but a light version.
The restaurant stayed open for us – the owner told us that they usually close around 6pm or so.
The restaurant is 1.6km away from David’s House – 3 minutes by car, or 20-25 minutes by walk. Aunty Liu sent us to the restaurant, and the restaurant’s owner was to send us back .. but we decided to walk back.
Yun-Pu-Gu Cafeteria (云瀑谷)
No.1, Chaozhouhu, Fanlu Township, Chiayi County 602, Taiwan
Business hours: 09:30 AM – 06:00/06:30 PM
Night time activities
After dinner, bf went off to explore Xiding with his camera, while I lazed around at David’s House by myself. After nudging by David, I went over for a tête-à-tête with David’s parents while waiting for aiyu jelly making session to start.
With their French guests, we participated in tea appreciation and aiyu jelly making session.
Uncle Chen, aka David’s dad drove us (including the French family) up to Eryanping Trail’s二延平山步道 viewing platform for night view. Such an amazing man – he even pointed to us the viewing point for sunrise and sunset. It was a pity that we only booked for one night, but well …
Stay tuned for Day 4, for more amazing stories of this wonderful Chen family …