Justins World

Trains in the forest

I arrived into the town of Chiayi, with visions of it being a small town, but it was another bustling Taiwanese city. This is where the chaos of the past few days began. The information desk at the railway station informed me that i needed to book tickets for the bus up to the mountains to a place called Alishan. The only way to book these tickets is on a computer terminal in a FamilyMart and its only in Chinese! I found a family mart and discovered that all the buses were booked out the next day. Luckily I chose to stay 3 night nights! Originally I was planning to stay in 3 places for 2 nights each but opted to cut that back for a slower pace of travel. Right now i’m thankful for that. There were tickets available for the following day but an 11am departure and journey time of 2-2 1/2 hours means I’ll be lucky to get 4 hours in the forests of Alishan. I’m often good at planning but this time, this slipped my attention.

I filled my empty first day wandering the sweltering streets of Chiayi. The museum was closed, but the Old Taiwanese Tile museum was open. It was a combination of gallery, museum and giftshop in a very compact 2 story space. The tiles are amazing ranging from floral patterns to depicting animals and scenes from Taiwanese life. I had a very “interesting” request here. The lady in the museum wanted to take a photo of me…. holding a tile and doing the bunny fingers with my other hand. Who knows what that was for, but maybe i’ll be the posterchild to entice more westerners to visit the little museum.

The Alishan Forest Railway museum was a large open park with lots of the old steam trains they used to use to haul timber down from the mountains. None of them look like they could ever move again though and if anything I feel any rust just gets painted over with more black paint. It was also avery warm 35C today, way to hot for me to be outside for too long and longing for the much cooler mountain temperatures the next day.

The bus ride up into the mountains was over 2 hours of nausea inducing twists and turns that really left me in a queasy state on arrival at Alishan, what I thought would be a small place felt more like a small ski resort village in the mountains. I didn’t have much time but it seemed possible to ride the train to one of the train stations then hike the trails to the other train station on another branch line and train back to where I started hopefully in time to catch the last bus back in the evening. The train journey through the forest was nice and a lot shorter than I expected. I started my hike to the first place the Sisters ponds, which looked nothing like the photos on the internet lacking the mist and charm of an early m orning visit. I walked through the Magnolia forest to a small complex with a temple and some handy food and souvenir stalls. The temple was under renovation though. I checked the time, and still had plenty to keep going.

One thing i have lost count of is just how many steps I’ve gone up and done on in Taiwan. No need for fitness classes, there are steps everywhere and this forest was no exception. Annoyingly, Alishan was also dotted with things the instagrammers and selfie takers of Taiwan absolutely adored. The fresh forest air was kind of offset by the hoards of people. I guess i’m privleged to have access to such beuatiful mountains though so can’t begrudge this place too much. it was a beautiful forest, but i’d had enough by the time i got to the next train station. I caught the bus back down to Chiayi and the adventure of the past few days was over. Not much left for me in Taiwan to visit, other than a ride on the High speed RailFast and a last day in Taipei.

One thought on “Trains in the forest

  1. Noel Kemp

    Interesting to read of your travels/experiences, and, some nice photos Justin. I don’t envy you the nauseous-inducing bus ride. I would guess that the flowering tree would be a magnolia – that (forest) would be quite a site if they all flowered at once. The R/H, along with the temps would be a little overbearing!

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