First and foremost, let me say this with a shout, ALISHAN WAS GREAT!!!
I was awake at freaking 5:30AM and 3:00AM for two consecutive days that it almost didn’t feel like a vacation, but it was f*cking great!
So totally worth the money we spent booking a semi-DIY tour with LionTravel — the whole trip only cost NT$3,690 (since it was on a weekday, it’s NT$1,300 more for the weekend) and includes accomodation, and transportation costs.
The whole trip started when CL and I met the group at the Taipei Main Station West Exit 3 at an early 6:15AM. A huge luxury bus took us to JiaoXi, a not-so-difficult 4 hour drive because I slept most of the way.
Of course, doing the trip the “Taiwanese” way, we then partook of the famous JiaoXi dish — Chicken Strips Rice (NT$30) — and some oily xiao cai (on the side snacks).
It wasn’t anything special, just some chicken strips, some garlic and sauce on top of hot rice. But hey, the tourism industry in Taiwan is great! They just take a particular dish in that area, and promote it like hell, telling gullible tourists like us that the trip ain’t complete if you didn’t try their “chicken strip rice.“
It wasn’t bad, though I found nothing spectacular about it.
Meanwhile, I was very much impressed with the movie houses in JiaoXi. They were the same as those in Taipei, but check these movie posters out:
Afterwards at 1:30PM, we then boarded the Alishan train (NT$399), which took the scenic 3.5-hour route up the mountain. It was definitely an experience, as we not only missed the train on its first stop (jumped on a taxi to catch it on the second), but the whole experience felt like riding a roller coaster. You can hear the wheels clanging on the rail, and it felt like a trip back in time:
Finally arriving at Alishan station, we were surprised to see a bunch of people waving hotel placards at us. Turns out, they’re all from various Alishan hotels picking people up from the station. We quickly found our hotel guy and went on our way to check-in. By this time, it was already around 5:30PM!
The room itself wasn’t so bad though it was pretty small. The girl at our desk said our bedroom cost NT$2,400 a night! Whoa, it’s kinda expensive for Alishan!
Check out the tiger print comforter on top of the bed!!!
After settling in, CL and I checked out the busiest “Hsimen-Ding”-like area in Alishan. Turns out, it’s like a huge parking lot, consisiting of up to 10 restaurants cum mom-and-pop shops that sells varied Alishan goodies like jackets, tea, snacks, cookies and more:
We also came across a woman who offered her services as a tour guide for NT$300 each. “I’ll take you to Jade Mountain,” she promises, “Which is way higher than Alishan and there’s a higher possibility of seeing a sunrise!“
Turns out, seeing the sunrise was more of a pleasant surprise than an absolute guarantee. Our LionTravel guide told us earlier on the bus, “Some people would come 7 to 11 times before ever seeing a sunrise. You guys would have to be absolutely lucky to see one tomorrow morning.”
Cross our fingers that we actually see the sunrise — that’s our main purpose of going to Alishan!!!
Well, NT$300 was next to nothing so we quickly booked our trip, gave her a deposit on NT$100 and went to check out the stores nearby.
Anyway, the cookies and sweets on the shop were quite nice. A lot of free tasting involved. There were wasabi crackers and soft cakes with red bean, chocolate or cherry blossom flower-fillings:
We were also pleasantly surprised to have checked out a beautiful sunset, right at the parking lot. The colors are just one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and it’s amazing how colder it seemed after the sun went down:
The food’s delicious though a bit bland. But what can you expect from mountain food? If you look closely, there’s a bamboo dish (Alishan sells tons of bamboo), some green veggies, delicious chicken with soy sauce and pork with soy and wasabi.
Usually, I wouldn’t sleep early on a trip, but Alishan was an exception so CL and I acted like good boys/girls by being in bed at an early 9PM…
Only to be woken up by a super-early morning call at 3AM!!!
Haha, that’s about the time I go to sleep on normal days! 😉
Waking up at 3AM was a tad difficult, but good thing, CL came up with a great way to wake me up! We rushed to get our bearings back, and was greeted by an entrepreneural Alishan local at the door of our hotel, selling ham toasts, hot milk, egg rolls and other expensive breakfast goodies. Whereas these stuff would cost NT$20-25 max, she was selling everything at NT$30 each!!!
WAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAAANAAAA! That’s like a 100% profit margin!
Anyway, right on the dot, the woman whom we met at the Hsimen Ding area came to pick us up in her van. Despite the early hour, we oohed and awed after stopping on the highway to check out the Milky Way galaxy. It was still way too dark for me to take clear pictures, but the moonlight was bright enough to iluminate the sky and impress us all. We even saw a couple of moving satellites, which seemed like stars up in the sky.
Moving along, it was still dusk as we drove up further the Jade Mountain. Check out the blurry moon and the wondrous colors of the sky:
In addition, you can see how high up we are by the sea of clouds hovering almost atop the mountains. They were so thick and fluffy, you can almost feel as if you can walk on them. Only one word to describe it — beautiful:
At around 5AM, we stopped by a viewing spot. Within minutes, it was already full of people, each hoping like us that it’ll be their lucky day to take a glimpse of a sunrise:
Fortunately, our guide told all of us, “You’re very lucky. There’s going to be a 99.9% chance of seeing a sunrise today.”
You can almost see everyone breathe a sigh of relief.
The sky was almost light and even the clouds itself started changing colors. At first, the formation was pretty light…
But after a while, the colors started getting deeper and brighter, and everybody held their breath in anticipation on what’s to come:
“The first 15 minutes of a sunrise is the most beautiful,” warns our guide. “Watch out for it!”
He also told us to squint, and not stare at the sunrise to avoid damaging our eyes. We were only happy to oblige as we watched the cloud formations starting to get thicker and thicker…
After admiring the post-sunrise experience for several more minutes, we then headed down the mountain, but not until we’ve stopped to take yet a whole row of pictures of the sea of clouds:
We also checked out the “fuqi” (couple) tree, which is said to have been two trees whose branches used to touch each other thus earning their name, before being stricken by lightning over 40 years ago.
On the right side is the male, while the left is the female. They say that when a woman touches the male once, she would be blessed by getting married to that male whether he likes it or not. Same goes for the female. However, our guide warns us not to touch too many times, otherwise face the punishment of getting married to too many males and females. 😉
“Don’t be greedy,” she teases. “One or two is enough.“
Of course, the trip wouldn’t be complete without a touch of wildlife. On a restroom stop, we came across a monkey with her child up on the tree:
We also admired the different Alishan flora, the most popular of which were the red flowers, which were strewn all around the mountain:
It’s been said that the two ponds came from two sisters who have fallen in love with the same man. Unwilling to ruin each other’s relationships for the sake of a guy, they both gave him up and in their grief, died and turned into ponds. Kinda weird, don’t you think? The Chinese seem to love very tragic stories.
Here’s an interesting forever love tree, which is composed of two cedars entwined together and shaped like a heart. Cute huh?
There’s a couple of small streams in the forest as well, which absolutely delighted me. For some insane reason, hearing the water tinkle and move make me happy! It’s even better than a tall order of hot Starbucks vanilla latte: 😉
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah…. yeah baby, I had to travel over half a day to get to the fresh air, but fresh air I got.
To top it off, we also found some giant cedar trees, all labelled and numbered of course, and the famous Alishan fairy tree right beside the rail tracks, which was struck by lightning only recently. Damn those lightning!
Afterwards, we bought some sweets to take back home to share and hurried back to our hotel by around 10:30AM for our pickup. Being the sleepyhead I am, I slept most of the way, only waking up when we stopped at a small mining town of Fencihu, which is the halfway point between Alishan and JiaYi.
Fencihu reminded me so much of JiuFen, where CL has aslo never been to.
“Are you sure you’re Taiwanese, CL?!” I teased. “You’ve never been to JiuFen?!”
“I’m sorry but I’ve been so busy lately to take all these trips,” he said. “Usually, my idea for a trip is to HongKong or Singapore when I have to make a visa run.“
I inwardly groaned. My idea of a vacation goes further than HongKong or Singapore. They may be nice but I see no appeal in spending the weekend just shopping and eating. I’d rather go sightseeing and check out 2,000 year old temples instead.
Anyway, as I’ve said, Fencihu reminded me so much of JiuFen.
The steps, the old buildings and the large stoned roads lined up with quaint little shops selling Alishan’s famous cakes, drinks (they said their coffee was great but I think it was merely so-so) and their popular Fencihu bien dang (lunch box).
Since we were dining in, it was served in a medium-sized tin lunch box, and contained a piece of chicken drumstick and a thin piece of pork fillet, on top of rice with side servings of sweet red strips, bamboo, green veggies and others.
Not bad la, but nothing really special. But it was surely my first time to taste authentic bien dang that’s straight from the source.
Anyway, after the bus ride down which was around 3 hours, our LionTravel bus picked us up at JiaYi and took another 4 hours back to Taipei. I was so tired when we got back at around 8:30PM despite sleeping most of the way.
However, that didn’t stop me from accepting the invitation of a friend to go wallclimbing at Y17 that night. ;0)
Haha, I wonder where I get the energy!
Anyway, for some of you out there who wants to go to Alishan, here’s what I can recommend to you guys if you want to do it yourself:
1) Book a hotel to Alishan beforehand. Most have websites online. Use them. Cost would be around NT$1,920 to NT$2,400 for a 2-person bedroom, or NT$2,700 to NT$3,120 for a 4-person bedroom on low periods/weekdays, while peak seasons can cost NT$3,200 to NT$4,000 (2-person bedroom) or NT$4,500 to NT$5,200 (4-person bedroom). Be sure to negotiate.
2) Better to take a train to JiaYi (NT$1,080 return), and definitely don’t miss the small train from JiaYi to Alishan (NT$399) which leaves 2X a day (9:00AM and 1:30PM). See if you can get seats as riding up the small train is clearly an experience. You will also need to save NT100 for entrance ticket to enter Alishan park.
3) You can take the small train to Alishan to check out the sunrise but better to book a tour guide instead since it’s only NT$300. Here’s the numbers of our guide whom I’d highly recommend:
Miss Xu – 0919-860-951 or 0938-312-988
And pray dearly to God you see the sunrise that day. Even if you wake up at 3AM for it, don’t miss it!!! And don’t forget to bring a medium-thick jacket cause it can get cold up in the mountains!
4) To get a bus down from Alishan to JiaYi, we used this service (0928-199-537, 0928-199-592, 0937-356-867, 0933-357-737). If you opt to take the train back, beware of departure times at 1:18PM and 1:40PM.
That’s just about it! Hope you enjoyed Alishan as much as we did!