If you're heading up to Alishan (阿里山) this weekend, and you're not riding the train, chances are you'll be taking the No. 18 Road from Chiayi (嘉義). Indeed, you might not even be aware that you have any alternative. In the No. 159, however, an alternative does exist.
Just below the picturesque town of Rueili (瑞里) in Taiwan's southwest county of Chiayi (嘉義) lie the Yuntan (雲潭, "cloud pool") and Shuangxi (雙溪, "twin river") waterfalls. Nestled in the Alishan National Scenic Area, their beauty and easy access (just a few hundred meters' walk from the main road) have made them a favorite with tour groups and families alike.
From the dark and brooding to the bright and lurid, green in a hundred shades and tones lies in swathes across the Dinghu (頂湖) landscape. Trees, ferns, tea plants, bamboo, bushes, there is a such a wealth of plant-life here that whether you look up, down, right, or left you cannot escape it. Nature surrounds you at every turn.
The three-sided, single-story courtyard house is a symbol of rural Taiwan, as timeless as rice paddies and water buffalo. From the beginning of mass Han Chinese settlement in the 1700s until as recently as the 1940s, courtyard houses accounted for the majority of human residences built in Taiwan's villages and small towns.
When you visit the seaside village of Budai (布袋) along the coast of western Chiayi (嘉義) County, don't expect to see the 24 Heavenly Kings when they come ashore to visit the local gods.
The Taiwanese seem to be just as interested in ghost stories as people in other countries, yet few places in Taiwan are associated with specific ghosts or ghostly incidents. An exception, however, is the Minsyong Haunted House (民雄鬼屋), half-an-hour's drive north of downtown Chiayi.
The mountains of Chiayi (嘉義) County offer an almost endless supply of beautiful spots waiting to be explored by weekend city-dwellers and keen hikers alike, and plenty of mountain resort areas offer cool air, enchanting scenery and the chance to either relax and unwind, or stretch the legs and work up a sweat.
Back in the days when the only way to reach Alishan (阿里山) was by rail, Fenchihu (奮起湖) was the biggest and most important stop-off station. It was here that the train changed engines, and here where people rested, bought lunch, and relaxed.
Chiayi County, home of the Alishan Scenic area, has more than its share of hiking resorts and trails. One of the best of these -- and at less than 35 minutes drive from Chiayi (嘉義) City, one of the most convenient -- is Doulishan (獨立山).
With attractions to suit both young and old alike, Rhinoceros Beetle Farm (獨角仙農場) is the perfect family day out. Located in Jhongpu (中埔), Chiayi County (嘉義縣), it is a must for those living nearby; and with kindergartens visiting from across the country, its appeal to the younger generation cannot be underestimated.