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The high mountain resort of Alishan (Ālǐshān; adult/child NT150/100, during holidays NT200/100) has long been one of Taiwan’s top tourist attractions. While many other spots around the island are as scenically splendid, Alishan has a peerless draw in the wonderful old narrow-gauge railway (one of only three in the world) that still runs the route up from Chiayi. Alishan is also one of the best places to see the sunrise, the sunset, and the glorious ‘sea of clouds’ phenomenon.

You can visit Alishan at any time of year, but weekdays are best as the crowds are thinner. The climate is cool even in summer (at least compared to lower altitudes). In spring and summer late-afternoon thunderstorms are common. During winter the mountaintops may get a light dusting of snow. Summer temperatures average from 13°C to 24°C, while those in winter are 5°C to 16°C. You should bring a coat or sweater and an umbrella or raincoat, no matter what time of year you visit.

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The Alishan National Scenic Area covers a region of over 37, 000 hectares. From a starting altitude of 300m in the west at Chukou, the land quickly rises to heights of more than 2600m. As a result, the variety of plant and animal life is nothing short of amazing. One of the best ways to appreciate this variety is on the narrow-gauge Alishan forest train, which, in the space of 3½ hours (71km), takes you through three vegetative zones.

Don’t confuse the Alishan National Scenic Area with the popular Alishan Forest Recreation Area, which is where the small train takes you. The forest recreation area is but one part of the national scenic area. Other areas include tea-growing communities such as Rueili and Fengshan, and aboriginal villages such as Shanmei, where the Zhou are trying to keep their culture and environment as healthy as possible.

Alishan can be as safe or as challenging as you want it to be. You can sip tea or swim in rivers. Your meals can come from a hotel kitchen or a rough barbecue pit. The forest recreation area offers a cool, relaxing, well-developed mountain retreat, while smaller towns offer homestays and a more traditional way of life.

The whole region is also perfect for just cruising around on a scooter. The roads are in good shape, signs in English are ubiquitous, and you’re never really that far from a place to eat or sleep.

You can visit Alishan any time of year, though be careful in summer as rains can and do wash roads out. Do not go up during or after a typhoon or earthquake. Be aware that the higher up you go the colder it gets, and even in summer it can be pretty chilly at night in Alishan Village.

Check out the official website ( before you go. There’s information on accommodation, eating, transport and activities, as well as the history and culture of almost every village and town.

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