Taiwan - Getting to know Alishan
Situated in southern Taiwan, Alishan National Scenic Area is the most visited National Park on the island. It’s easy to see why - it’s a treasure trove of wonders, from the forested mountains and high altitude tea plantations that produce the best Oolong tea in the world, to the waterfalls and Aboriginal villages, not forgetting the spectacular cherry blossoms and autumnal colours.
Alishan (Ali Mountain) is in fact a range of mountains forming Taiwan’s spine, averaging 2,500m in height with the highest peak, Datashan, reaching 2,663m. Taiwan's highest mountain, Yushan (Jade Mountain), at 3,952m, is easily visible from Alishan.
Taiwanese Aboriginal tribes, including the Tsou tribe, have settled in the region since time immemorable, and ethnic Chinese began settling here in the early 19th century. Development was rapid following the completion of the Alishan Forest Railway, constructed by the Japanese for the purpose of logging giant cedar and cypress trees in 1912, with passenger carriages added to the trains in 1918. However, by the 1970s when logging had ended, the area became a popular destination for tourists seeking solitude in nature, and was declared a National Scenic Area in 2001.
Due to its high elevation, Alishan’s climate is much cooler than the coast and its flora and fauna are more alpine than tropical, transitioning from palms and banana groves to evergreens as you ascend. Giant Formosan red cypresses, which have been growing here for over 3,000 years, are the dominant species in Alishan’s forests and there are several wooden plank trails for visitors to wander through the forests to see these giants, as well as the 3,000-year-old Sacred Tree, the original tree that has fallen.
What to do at Alishan
- Alishan Forest Railway, a remarkable narrow-gauge train that has been partially restored to carry tourists from Chiayi up to Fenqihu and itself a tourist attraction, is a popular way to begin a journey of discovery of this scenic area: riding the train through the forests before further exploring on foot.
- Alishan is particular picturesque in the spring and autumn months. The landscape is transformed in the spring by beautiful cherry blossoms, blooming in pink against the green backdrop of the forest. In autumn, leaves turn radiant gold and red as the changing of season shows its intoxicating beauty.
- Alishan’s rich mountainous topography makes it a great place for trekking excursions to tea plantations, wasabi farms and waterfalls, notably the Jiao Lung Waterfalls at Datashan.
New Year on the mountain
The Sunrise Impression Concert is held before dawn on January 1st at the Duei Gao Yue sunrise viewing platform of the Alishan Forest Recreation Area, welcoming the first sunrise of the New Year with echoes of music in the forest. Many visitors brave the cold and wind to attend the concert on the mountain for a totally unique and memorable start to the year.
Alishan High Mountain Oolong tea is considered by many to be the best Oolong tea in the world!
Getting off the trail in Alishan
- The interestingly named Leye Mihu (Absent Minded) Trail will take you through bamboo groves with numerous pavilions for shade. For a real Alishan experience and insight into local culture, spend time in Leye Village to learn about the life of the very proud Aboriginal Tsou tribe, whose native language is still taught in local schools.
- Fenqihu Town on the Cedar Wooden Plank Trail is often overlooked by visitors as they head to the summit of Alishan, but it is well worth a visit. Famous for natural rock formations, mountain streams, fireflies at Land God Temple and the ruins of a Shinto temple, Fenqihu also rather uniquely produces high altitude food products such as bamboo shoots and Aiyu jelly.
- A visit to Alishan is incomplete without a visit to a tea plantation. The geographical features of Alishan make it ideal for growing aromatic Gao Shan (High Mountain) Oolong tea. During your visit, you can experience a traditional tea tasting ceremony, and although there is no obligation to buy, you may just be tempted.
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