Mt Maolan is a 4.6 kilometre walk not far from Shuishe Pier. The track is windy and passes tea fields (and a tea research station). We started walking in the late afternoon and arrived at the Sun Moon lake weather research station for a sunset overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains.
Sun Moon Lake is one of the most popular destinations in Taiwan. The lake is large and a magical teal colour. You can only swim in the lake one day a year, and that day wasn't while we were there.
The weather was mild to warm and we spent time cycling or walking through the towns that lay on the banks of the lake.
Alishan National Scenic Area is located in the central mountains of Chiayi County. It is popular for hiking and mountain climbing, with many marked trails and short forest railway lines.
We travelled here by bus from Sun Moon Lake.
The mountains are thickly forested, and one trail featured many enormous cedar trees, most 1000-2000 years old. Despite being a very popular location, when we travelled was the off season and we were able to have most of the paths practically to ourselves.
The railway was okay.
Alishan was much, much colder than Sun Moon Lake and elsewhere we had been in Taiwan. Another defining feature of the weather was the speed with which fog would descend upon the tracks. The fog would quickly cover mountain panoramas and even block visibility right in front of you.
The centrepiece of the small township located within Alishan National park proper was in typical Taiwan style, a 7/11. Seeing this 7/11 surrounded by the picturesque mountains was quite surreal. It was well stocked though, and also where you went to buy bus tickets.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Taiwan is the Alishan Sunrise. It involves a 5am train ride that often sells out to the peak of Mt Ali. To get to this we woke pretty disgustingly early, making coffee in the room. When we arrived at the station at around 4:40 people were already waiting in long queues.
The train ride itself is quite fun, riding a packed rattly carriage up a mountain in the dark. At the summit there are vendors selling coffee and warmed soy milk.
Again we were lucky that the crowds weren't too bad due to it being the low season, and were treated to some incredible views of the sun rising above the clouds. You can take the train back down the mountain, but we chose to walk down, which again let us see some amazing views all to ourselves.
The Alishan forest railway is supposed to soon run all the way from Chiayi to Alishan, but the frequent typhoons that Taiwan suffers have hindered and delayed construction, meaning the train can currently only be taken from Fenchihu. Most travellers begin in Chiayi and take the train to Fenchihu, finishing the journey to Alishan by bus. We decided to do this the opposite way, staying a night in Fenchihu before catching the train.
Fenchihu is small railway town, which is now primarily based around tourism to do with railway. This became very apparent after the last train left for the day, when the main street of the town became deserted apart from us. I spent the late afternoon walking among the quiet backstreets.
Like Alishan, Fenchihu was colder than elsewhere we had been in Taiwan. Also like Alishan, Fenchihu offered incredible views of the clouds and mountains, and a decent variety of trails that were practically empty due to how quiet the town was when most people had gone back to Chiayi, or on to Alishan.
A famous attraction in Fenchihu is the railway lunch - a meal consisting of many varieties of pickles, some greens and a (fake) meat. The 'original' version of this, now sold across 7/11s in Taiwan was available here. We thought it was okay, but preferred the one offered from our hotel.
Another feature of Fenchihu was many (many) Taiwanese Giant Golden Orb spiders. We had seen these elsewhere in Taiwan, but in Fehchihu you could not look up without seeing a group of 6 or 7 (or more) giant spiders.
The forest railway itself was a stunning narrow gauge, rickety trip winding throughout the mountains.
From Chiayi we travelled to Kaohsiung City (Taiwan's second city) and then took a bus to beachside Kenting National Park.
Kaohsiung was a large city, and we spent a day cycling to the famous Dragon and Tiger Pavilion. It was okay.
Kenting had some beautiful beaches and wonderful weather. It was very warm and a great way to end the trip. From Kenting, we caught a bus back to Kaohsiung, where we took a bullet train took us just an hour and a half to retrace our journey back to Taipei.