When you say Taiwan, the first thing that comes to mind is Taipei. For me, though it was a totally different story.
I sat there musing at the ticket confirmation of my flight to Taiwan dated July 17, 2018. All I could remember is that I was binge watching on Meteor Garden in Netflix, a Taiwanese TV series launched in 2001. Who would think that my fangirling over a certain series led me to an adventure off the beaten track?
There's little that I know of Taiwan, especially about Alishan-Chiayi. And for a 1st-time solo traveler, it is overwhelming. With this day and age of technology, everything that we need is at the tip of our fingers.
There’s not much about Chiayi or Alishan online as it is not too popular for non-Chinese speaking travelers. The only resource available then was saying that it’s an 11-hour trip from Taipei. Not the best option for someone who is just spending 4 days in the country. Yet I pursued. Was I spellbound? Daoming Si (main lead played by Jerry Yan must have cast a spell on me! The series hit me with waves of nostalgia. As if traveling to the location would bring me back to my glorious days. After the conscientious effort, it finally paid off. I chanced upon a guided tour to the south of Taiwan.
That was July 18, 2018, I woke up excited to embark on this adventure to the unknown. Eleven hour trip is out of my list, instead I took the high-speed railway (HSR) cutting travel time to one and half hours. From Ximending, you can take the subway to Taipei Main Station. And then you can pick up your ticket at the HSR station. I recommend booking your tickets in advance online for discount. It is the fastest yet the most expensive among all other options (bus and taxi). What led me to South of Taiwan are two of these locations.
Alishan National Scenic Area
Alishan National Scenic Area
Although not part of the shooting location, it was a recommended destination in the tour I booked. The park is stunning with its giant cedar and pine trees, streams, picturesque mountain view, stunning sunrise and sunset over sea of clouds, and rolling tea plantation. It was equipped with old trains and trails any 1st time hiker could navigate. At 2500 feet high, Taiwan’s highest peak, Alishan proves to be a beauty waiting to be explored.
How to get to there
Booking a transfer in advance would save you time. The tour guide picks you up at the high-speed railway station to Alishan National Scenic Park. Non-Taiwanese visitors have to pay an entrance fee of NT$300.
If you like to travel like the locals, going to park would mean getting 1st to Chiayi TRA station, located in downtown Chiayi. Or you can either take a taxi or shuttle bus. Travel time is approximately 2.5 hours.
Must do or must visit
Try the Alishan Tea. Taiwan boast of the oolong tea specifically from the region of Alishan. The cold climate in the area made it suitable for oolong tea to grow. Several tea houses can be seen on the way to the park. And a quick trip to one is something you should not pass on as they offer free taste to everyone.
Take the forest train. Take a trip down memory lane through the Alishan Forest Train. Constructed back in 1912, it is reminiscent of the logging days in Alishan, now converted as a tourist spot and transportation system.
Forest Trails. With the map and signposts, you can never get lost in the forest.
Travel Tip: All the travel guide and signs are in Chinese, so it helps to get a brochure in English at the Alishan Visitor Center. You can check the different trails available to maximize your time. Umbrella or raincoat can come handy due to occasional rain showers.
One of the trails would lead you to the mysterious sister pond(s). Legend has it that there were 2 sisters who fell in love with one guy. Their pursuit for this love led them to take their own lives. The deities showed compassion on the two sisters and made them into 2 ponds. Down the track, you will 1st see the smaller pond which is the younger sister’s pond and the bigger one which is for the older sister. A tragic story that now gives the park an enchanting beauty.
The best time to visit the park is during spring that runs from March to April and autumn which is from October or November.
National Chung Cheng University
From the park, we head next to National Chung Cheng University. It was built in honor of the late president Chiang Kai Shek in 1980. It has an open landscape nestled in the middle of trees and vast manicured lawn creating the park-like campus vibe. Each building has its own unique architectural style, symbolic of its purpose and individuality. It was a great location to shoot one of Taiwan’s iconic TV series. A must see for any die-hard Meteor Garden fan and is referred as Ying De University.
How to get there
Tour packages that offer transfer from the park to the university. You can book this ahead of time through kkday. This is the most convenient option which I recommend for woman solo travelers.
From Alishan National Scenic Park to the university. An alternate route would be to board Alishan bus #7329 or #7329A. The bus station is located at the open parking lot area down several flight of stairs from Alishan Railway Station.
From Chiayi HSR station, board bus #106 (Taiwan Tour Bus Southern Branch) or 7309 to National Chung Cheng University. Otherwise, you can also take a taxi from the station to the University in only 40 minutes. When riding a taxi in Taiwan, it is imperative that you show the Chinese name of your destination.
The Central Fountain
Due to time constraint, we did not get to visit the Business Ad Building, Gymnasium and Tranquility Lake is where the student activity center is located. I recommend staying there overnight to fully enjoy the place and even get a glimpse of the famous sunrise over the sea of clouds.
For Meteor Garden fans, it is a dream come true. Even if you are not a fan, southern Taiwan is a place to be. It’s not the usual destination like Taipei. But with a little legwork, you will truly enjoy these destinations. After all, traveling is all about getting outside of our comfort zone and discovering new places.