Friday, February 2, 2018

To the Alishan Forest Railway

I am now on my sixth day going around Taiwan using only public transportation. Today I leave from Tainan Railway station and travel to Chiayi City where I will spend the night and then in the morning take the Alishan Forest Railway to Fenchihu (Fenqihu) Station. 

Map of the Alishan Forest Railway
The Alishan Forest Railway does not continue past the Fenchihu station to Alishan. Apparently, typhoons and earthquakes have taken their toll on that part of the railway. You can continue to Alishan from Fenchihu station by the Taiwan Tourist shuttle bus that meets the train. My schedule did not allow an overnight on Alishan and I did not want to make a rush up and rush down trip, so I only went as far as Fenchihu, which surprisingly has a lot of things to do (most involve eating and hiking).

What is amazing to me is that the Railway and Taiwan government has kept this railway going. It is constantly needing repairs from washouts and earthquake damage.

Leaving Tainan Station for Chiayi Station

The day began leaving the excellent breakfast at the Shangri-la Far Eastern Plaza hotel in Tainan and walking across the street to the train station.  Actually, you go into a tunnel that goes under the tracks so you can get to the front of the station. I had purchased my train ticket the day before when I arrived in Tainan. I did not want to buy a ticket at the last minute and risk not having a seat. It was a nice train ride up to Chiayi City passing many scenic farms.

 I saw this man playing a Guzheng in the tunnel under the tracks in Tainan station
Just as exited the train station at Chiayi City, I turned left and saw the ticket window for the Alishan Forest Railway. I then purchased my ticket for the next morning.  I understand tickets sell-out so it is best to get them in advance.

At the Chiayi Station, you can catch the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle to the
 Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum

There is good signage at the Chiayi Station, just look up!

The Alishan Forest Railway ticket booth in front
of the Chiayi Train Station
I then went to find my hotel, Maison de Chine. I walked to it from the train station, but later I found out they have a free shuttle pickup from the train station which I probably should have done because it was so hot!

King room in Maison de Chine, Chiayi City

I checked into my very adequate room. Time for lunch! The specialty in the area is the turkey rice bowls. Apparently, turkey was introduced to the area by early Americans stationed here. However, the good restaurant was too far to walk, so I settled for some Japanese curry about a block from the hotel.

A small Japanese curry restaurant near the hotel

Price not too bad

After lunch, I headed to the Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park which was an outdoor museum of old railway cars and engines and also part arboretum. Some of the rail cars and engines had been restored and it looks like some of the old engines are still runnable. To preserve this history, I would like to have seen the items protected from the elements.

Next stop was the Hinoki Village. It was a cultural village with many shops. While the old building architecture was very cool, inside of the shops looked very touristy.

The next morning I got the FREE hotel shuttle to the train station. Since I checked out of the hotel and didn’t want to carry my bag on the train, I put it in the storage locker at the train station. To lock the locker, you only need to insert the minimum amount for that size locker. When you come back it will tell you what additional money you owe. SAVE YOUR RECEIPT and have the exact change ready.

There are different size storage lockers at the Chiayi Train Station

The Alishan Forest Railway train is Platform 1
all the way down to the right

The train car that will take me up the mountain, at least part-way

Inside is pretty nice, even a bathroom!

Alishan Forest Railway train schedule

You see a lot of trees, drop-offs and sometimes a glimpse of the farms and ocean in the distant. The train makes a few stops where you can get off, depending on your ticket. Since I had a one-way to Fenchihu, that is where I will get off.

Arrived at Fenchihu Station

Visiting the Fenchihu station was like going back in time, I was picturing the railroad as it was intended back during the Japanese colonial period as a way to bring logging harvests back down the mountain. Directly in front of the train is the old workshop now turned into a small railroad museum.

This is the workshop museum. Go through it and turn left on the road to catch the
 Taiwan Tourist shuttle bus to Alishan

Old steam engine in the workshop museum

If you are going on to Alishan, walk through the workshop and turn left, you will see the bus stop up the hill a little ways. Take the Taiwan Tourist shuttle bus to Alishan. Since I didn’t have time to go to Alishan on this trip, I went into the train station and bought a ticket for a return to Chiayi City.

You have about 10 minutes to catch the bus after the train arrives

Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus to Alishan

Alishan Tourist Shuttle bus schedule

Finchihu Station ticket office to get a return ticket

It was time for lunch so I went down Fenchihu Old Street and saw many people eating at this traditional food eatery. The proprietor was very busy and shouting out orders. It was obvious he didn’t speak English, but with help of some other tourists, I got a plate ordered. When a plate is good and cheap you get this very satisfied feeling. That is what I had.

Popular lunch place!

Railway luchbox type of lunch

There are many hiking trails around the village, but most are them are uphill. I did find one that was an easy hike with a great lookout over the station and Fenchihu Village. I couldn’t understand why more tourists were not here. They continued to stay around the train taking selfies while I got a great view and some peace and quiet in the forest.

Good hiking around Fenchihu

Overview of the Fenchihu station
It was time to head back on the train. Going down the mountain on the train was faster than going up. The greater speed exaggerated the swaying of the car back and forth.  Pretty thrilling.  It was only later that I learned that there have been derailments with tourists killed. Yikes!

My train to Taichung!
I made it safely back to Chiayi City and got my bag from the luggage locker. My next stop will be to Taichung by train so I timed everything just right so I only had a short wait at the Chiayi Station before my train to Taichung came. 

All Aboard Taiwan!

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