The ALISHAN FOREST RECREATION AREA (阿里山森林遊樂區; ālǐshān sēnlín yóulèqū), at the terminus for both the Alishan Forest Railway and buses from Chiayi, is the National Scenic Area’s premier attraction. Its pristine alpine forests are dotted with mostly easy walking paths and several scenic overlooks offering superb views of the surrounding mountains and the surreal “sea of clouds” sunrise. However, what attracts the most tourists to the Recreation Area are its cherry trees, which come into full bloom from mid-March to mid-April. During this period, the area is inundated with ten thousand visitors a day, completely choking walking trails and making accommodation scarce. If you visit during this season, it’s advisable to come during the week, though hotel and food prices skyrocket for the entire period. The area is especially cherished by busloads of mainland Chinese tourists – the Taiwanese folk song ālǐshān de gūniáng (Alishan Girl) dates back to 1949 and remains wildly popular amongst middle-aged Chinese (you’ll probably hear them singing it).
Bear in mind that given the area’s 2200m altitude, it can get cold here even in the height of summer, and afternoons tend to be quite chilly once the usual midday mists roll in.