One of the must see and do for all visitors to Alishan, besides hiking that is; is to get up at the crack of dawn, brave the cold mountain air to view the sun rising above the sea of clouds over the Alishan mountain range. A spectacular sight not to be missed, we were told.
There are 2 designated spots for viewing the sunrise in Alishan, one at the DueiGaoYue and the other near Jhusan rail station. The latter is the more accessible of the 2; therefore expect crowds jostling for best spots, especially during peak seasons. Most visitors take the early train to Jhusan station and hike downhill after the sun is up. The train journey takes about 25 minutes in gradual ascent. There is usually only 1 service but more may be added during peak season. Visitors can check the time of departure the day before at their hotels, the visitor center or at the train stations. The departure time is dependent on the time of sun rise. A round trip ticket costs NT150 while a 1 way ticket, NT100 (half price if you are above 60 years).
The best time for viewing sunrise is from November till February. We were lucky for sunrise was not until 7am, which means we got to sleep a little more. Still, we bundled ourselves and headed for the train station across our cabin ahead of time (kiasuism is in our nature). The train ride was smooth but cold (no heating), fortunately, our carriage was not crowded. There was not much to see in part due to the darkness and the cold had misted the windows. Once we arrived, the crowd literally rushed up the stairs to pick the best spots. There were commentators standing on low step ladders shouting and directing the crowd through megaphones to the viewing platform. Stalls selling hot drinks and breakfast competed for our attention as well. We were a little overwhelmed at the noise and crowd. Certainly it was not what we had anticipated.
All the choice spots had been taken by the time we arrived. I was almost in despair when I spied a small group of Japanese tourists wielding mean cameras and tripods being led up a road by a guide. I followed them and after a 10 minute climb, we arrived at the Pavilion, the designated sunrise viewing lot. It was less crowded and quieter with just 1 Mandarin commentator who was a guide leading a group of students on a field trip but was "extending" his services to everyone within hearing vicinity. He was entertaining and humorous, giving tips on where the sun would appear, how to capture the perfect moment with your camera and to what kind of souvenirs you should buy while in Alishan and for how much. He even passed around locally produced raisins to everyone while we waited with bated breath for that magic moment.
From the pavilion, we were able to see the Tashan ridge as well as the Alishan mountain ranges. When the moment finally arrived, it was not as it should be. The cloud of sea did not quite form while a thick cloud covered the sun, diffusing the light. The sunrise was disappointing and many left disappointed. Still, the views from the pavilion of the Alishan mountain range were breathtaking.
To avoid the crowded train (there was only 1 service back), some chose to trek down the Jhusan trail (about 1 hour hike down) to Jhaoping Station. Follow the road from Jhusan station, cut to the trail midway as it “shortcuts” through the forest and ends just next to the Steam Yarair across the Jhaoping station. What better way to start the day than with an invigorating walk in the cold mountain air followed by a hearty warm breakfast of steam mantou (milk buns), porridge and dumplings.
Less effort is required when viewing sunset. As our taxi-driver informed us on our way up to Alishan, the sunset is usually ignored and under-rated among visitors but it is no less beautiful. Some of the best viewing spots: on the slope leading into the Alishan recreation, the balcony at the Alishan House or at the Annex. The sunset was magnificent. It was a clear day, the sea of clouds had blanketed the valley, the mountain range had turned a golden hue while the sky, a fiery red just as the sun began to disappear into the sea of clouds. It was almost dream-like and picture postcard perfect.