Chiayi Taiwan – More commonly regarded as the area that visitors pass through or use as a base for the famous Alishan mountain ranges, Chiayi City is not without its own quirks and charms. Although it’s the capital of the Chiayi County, it’s a relatively quaint city compared to the heavyweights that it’s sandwiched between – Tainan, the food capital, and Taichung, the all-rounder destination – but if you happen to have a few days to spare whilst traveling the Almalfi-coast’s lesser known cousin, Taiwan’s west coast, then pop into Chiayi for some ridiculously well hidden-gems in terms of food, cultural landmarks, and off-the-beaten-path sightseeing.
On that note, Chiayi itself would probably struggle slightly to place itself on the map if it weren’t for Alishan being so close in proximity to it (and of course, being within its county). For those who are unaware, Alishan (officially known as Alishan National Scenic Area) is considered one of the biggest attractions in all of Taiwan. It’s an enormous mountain range located in the Alishan township of the Chiayi County, and offers visitors plenty of fresh mountain air to breathe in, hikes along, to, and through the mountain peaks and cliff edges, and scenic views that will garner a collective sigh of amazement from all those whose gaze fall on it for the first time.
Alishan itself has a small number of accommodation options to cater for the individuals who organise early on or who are lucky enough to book one in for a sunrise adventure at one of its famous sunrise viewing platforms, however, for the rest of the stragglers, Chiayi City would be the option of choice, although it is a bit of a struggle to try and catch the sunrise from a few hours away.
We’ve listed below the best activities and places to eat whilst in Chiayi (including what you should look into if you want to check out Alishan) – keep an open mind because even if this doesn’t seem like an overtly exciting pit-stop to make, it’s well worth the few days traversing off the beaten path.
How to Get There
You can easily catch one train from the Taipei HSR (High Speed Rail) Station to Chiayi in approximately 1.5 hours. For one person on a standard seat, it will cost $1,080 TWD ($35USD). Find out more information or book your tickets here.
If you are after an unlimited pass for three full days of travel, you might want to consider to get the 3 Day THSR Tourit Pass here.
Where To Stay
For the sunrise viewing activity, if you can get a room in Alishan, that would make your life easier as the trails and scenic viewing platforms are only a few minutes away by car or on foot. However, if you cannot, areas like Fenqihu and Chiayi City are your next best options.
Chiayi Taiwan Guesthouse – SuWaNa
Whilst it is true that most accommodation options within Alishan can no longer be considered brand-spankin’ new, SuWaNa does a very good job of keeping their place maintained to the highest level of standard possible, creating a memorable and pleasant stay for their guests. Here, you can witness gorgeous views of the mountain via the outside patio exclusive for guests. Although its location means that you’ll most likely need a rental car, it’s close to many attractions such as the Fenqihu Lake, Shizhao, and of course, the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, meaning you’ll get the freedom and convenience to explore as much of the area as you want. There’s also a wide variety of breakfast options daily, including western and vegetarian options.
Why Guests Love It: “It is not a luxury homestay, but it is definitely a very clean home. It is located next to the Alishan Highway. It takes only 12-15 minutes to reach the Lake of Fenqi and more than half an hour to the Forest Recreation Area, very convenient. There is a parking lot here, so don’t worry about parking problems while driving.”, “The beds are spacious and comfortable, the overall environment is clean, the breakfast is very tasty, and vegetarian meals are also available. The host is very kind.”
Book It Now: SuWaNa
Chiayi Taiwan Hotel – Cing Shan Hotel
Considered one of the most highly rated accommodation options in Alishan, Cing Shan will likely disappoint no one. The staff here are notoriously friendly, the place is kept clean and maintained at the highest level, and the entire place is surrounded by greenery and flora that will allow you to breath fresh mountain air every morning. The rooms are spacious, quite fitting for accommodation high on the mountains, with tasteful wooden décor and Asian furnishings. You’ll definitely get a comfortable night’s sleep here.
Why Guests Love It: “Family room was large and comfortable.”, “Though a tad small, it fits two female adults nicely. Word of advice, bring little luggage there due to the space constraints and you won’t have to lug it up the stairs. Breakfast was situated at another restaurant and the spread was pretty good.”, “Cozy small room. Good for a night’s stay. Reception was friendly and helpful.”
Book It Now: Cing Shan Hotel
What To Eat (Local Dishes)
Chiayi Taiwan – Brick-kiln Roasted Chicken
As you stroll through the streets of Chiayi, you’ll notice there are a few stores selling whole roasted chickens, and whilst you might be inclined follow your nose and hop into one, you’d best save your first taste for Weng Yao Ji (甕窯雞), one of the most famous and most popular brick-kiln roasted chicken spots in Chiayi. Their prices are slightly steeper than normal, but the moment you bite into the piping hot, smoky-flavoured chicken, wash it down with the free tasty bamboo soup, and pair it with some of their house-specialty vegetable dishes, you’ll be in another level of heaven you didn’t know existed.
Chiayi Taiwan – Fenqihu Bento Boxes
The famous Fenqihu Bento Boxes are part and parcel to the full Alishan experience – you simply cannot do Alishan without stopping by the famous quaint little town of Fenqihu nearby for a bento lunch of a chicken leg or pork chop. The wonderful experience is completely once you’ve got a bento in one hand, an aiyu jelly drink in the other, and you’ve found a quiet spot next to the railway to happily munch away.
Chiayi Taiwan – Crispy Pork Belly Rolls
One of the most underrated yet delicious foods to come out of the Wenhua Night Markets in Chiayi is the Vietnamese-inspired crispy pork belly rolls. Made with fresh vegetables, in a warmed up crispy roll with a tangy sauce, it’s like a party in your mouth from the first bite.
Chiayi Taiwan – Alishan Sunrise
The absolute number one activity in all of Chiayi, and for some, all of Taiwan, has got to be the Alishan Mountain Ranges. Just as Canada has the Rocky Mountains and Italy has Dolomites, Alishan is Taiwan’s gift to the world in the form of gorgeous mountain peaks, stunning yet challenging hiking trails, and multiple viewpoints that will make you question whether you should move to Taiwan purely for the 10/10 views and fresh mountain air that clears your mind and uplifts your body in ways only the purest form of nature can do.
Catch the Sunrise Train to Sunrise Viewing Platform tay at one of the accommodations located in Alishan Forest Recreation Area (not to be confused with the Alishan National Scenic Area, of which the Alishan Forest Recreation Area is a part of), and you will also need to book your tickets for the Sunrise Viewing Train (Chushan Line Train). The best and easiest way to do this is to ask your hotel in Alishan for tickets – most will sell tickets directly for the Sunrise Train. If you can’t stay in Alishan, one of the other options of catching the sunrise is to either rent a hire or hire a taxi on the day that you want to catch it, driving up the mountain to the carpark where the train would normally leave, and then hiking up yourself, although this will take an additional hour, and driving from Chiayi to Alishan will take an additional 2-hours, so you will need to factor all that in.
Watching the famous from the sunrise viewing platform is arguably the most popular activity to do in Alishan, and catching the Alishan Forest Train to the platform is definitely a big part of the experience. In saying that, within the Alishan Mountain Ranges itself, there are plenty more activities you can participate in. There are a number of hikes such as the Tefuye Historic Hike and the Giant Tree Hike that you can do after watching the sunrise, as they’re both located around the area. Simply follow the signs that are pasted along the roads.
Chiayi Taiwan – Fenqihu Railway Bento Box & Aiyu Jelly
As mentioned earlier, part and parcel with the Alishan experience is getting your hands on one of the famous Fenqihu (also known as Fenchihu) Bento Boxes. Fenqihu Railway transports people back and forth from Chiayi City to Fenqihu, but only once a day. People who want to continue on to the Alishan Forest Recreational Area should continue on via bus.
The bento boxes themselves are sold at various stores throughout Fenqihu, however, we recommend the shop with the small aunty at the counter right next to the railway. It’ll be hard to miss her bright red signage, and there are multiple options to choose from – we tried to chicken leg and pork chop, and they were delicious! Soft, tasty meat, with pickled and fresh vegetables to accompany them, and just the right portion of rice to go with it. You can help yourself to some free tea as well! Another specialty of Fenqihu is the aiyu jelly drink, a drink which basically consists of thin sweet jelly with a citrus sweetener topping.
For those wanting to explore this quaint village, come here on an empty stomach! The bento boxes are a must, and you’ll definitely need to search the alleyways for some aiyu jelly to wash it down, but aside from those who, there are also stalls upon stalls of vendors selling everything from fried fish to hard candy to gift-wrapped cakes to fried chicken – try just one, or try them all, it’s up to you, but just know the smells will be so tantilising, and prices so cheap, you’ll probably end up ordering more than you intend to.
Address (restaurant): 604, Taiwan, Chiayi County, Zhuqi Township, 嘉義縣竹崎鄉中和村奮起湖168號
Access: Catch the famous Alishan Railway to Fenqihu. There is only one train that leaves daily on weekdays and twice daily on weekends from Chiayi to Fenqihu, departing at 9:00am and taking 2 hours and 20 minutes. Otherwise, if you drive there are plenty of places to park.
Chiayi Taiwan – Eryanping Trail (Alishan)
We discovered that the Eryanping Trail is an activity that’s covered mostly by locals, domestic tourists, but not many others. However, it’s one we highly recommend doing, as it’s close to the Alishan Forest Recreational Area, and it’s also easy to get to. Not only that, but the trail itself is not too long, and takes you through a myriad of different sceneries: you start off by trekking up a short but steep length of stairs under towering leafy greens, before reaching the first platform, which is a resting area with a pagoda that overlooks a tea plantation. If you’ve never seen a tea plantation before, you will immediately fall in love with this place. It’s serene, it’s peaceful, and the view of synonymous fields of tea leaves stretching for miles before you is quite a sight to behold.
You can then continue onwards where you will eventually reach an observation deck and during the better months, you’ll be able to capture pictures with the famous ‘sea of clouds’ – basically when the clouds are set low enough so that you will be able to witness them hovering above the fields in front of you whilst standing on the observation deck. At sunset, this is quite spectacular, so try and coincide your trek during that time!
Access: It is easiest to get to the Eryanping Trail by driving, as there is free parking opposite the entrance to the trek, however, you can also get there via taking the 7322 bus from Chiayi Station towards Alishan, which stops as Anding (鞍頂). The bus ride will take 2-hours and cost $173 TWD.
Chiayi Taiwan – Hinoki Village
For something out of the ordinary in Taiwan, you can visit Hinoki Village, an area that has preserved and maintained a whooping 28 Japanese-style wooden houses, each built according to varying degrees of importance in the person it was intended for. Here, you can peruse through the houses to awe at the re-produced houses that give you insight into how the people who developed the Alishan Recreational area lived.
There are lily ponds that encompass this village, creating a serene image just like historical Taiwan. After walking around and exploring the lovely town for a bit, you can head to one of the souvenir shops and purchase some crafts, or relax for some coffee.
Access: From Chiayi Bus Station, take the 6880 bus to the Chiayi Forestry Bureau (10-mins, there’s a bus every 2-hours, $8-15 TWD), and walk 3-minutes to Hinoki Village. Otherwise, from Chiayi Station, take the purple main train line towards Peimen Station (8-minutes, 4 times a day, $20 TWD), and walk 2-minutes to Hinoki Village.
Chiayi Taiwan – Wenhua Road Night Market
If you’re a night market veteran and are used to the busy hustle and bustle of the night markets in Taipei, chances are, you’ll be slightly disappointed with Wenhua Road Night Market. Seemingly set up and aimed more for locals, it’s a short strip of food and merchandise stores along a section of Wenhua Road that won’t take long to go from end-to-end. You’ll find that most of the food stalls are the usual: grilled skewers, fried chicken, charcoal-grilled buns, hot pot on-the-go, pancakes, etc. However, be on the lookout for the small cart selling the Vietnamese-inspired crispy pork belly rolls – one of the best food options in eyes! You can’t find it anywhere else in Taiwan.
If you’re after some small gifts and haven’t been able to grab any anywhere else during your visit to Taiwan, this is also a good spot to stop by and grab some souvenirs, as they have stalls that sell knick-knacks such as luggage tags, plush toys, small electronics and so on for relatively cheap prices.
Be care as you amble along here though, because unlike most other markets, the roads are not closed off and cars and motorbikes are allowed to drive along the road even as people are perusing along the market!
Access: From Chiayi Station, it is a 6-minute walk. There is also plenty of paid parking around the area.
Chiayi, a small city that packs a light punch, makes the perfect pit stop for when you’re traversing through the west coast of Taiwan. Whether it be for a few days of exploring the mountainside, or simply for the food, you’ll find it to be the toned-down break that you needed from the fast-paced hustle bustle of its neighbours.
PS: If you are looking for beautiful beaches in Taiwan, feel free to check out this blog post: Best Taiwan Beaches.