Located in southwestern Taiwan, Chiayi (嘉義) or Chiayi City (嘉義市) is the main city of Chiayi County. While you may or may not have heard of Chiayi, you must have heard of Alishan, one of the top tourist attractions in Taiwan. And Chiayi is the gateway city to Alishan.
Most travellers use Chiayi Taiwan as a jumping-off point for seeing the majestic forest in Alishan, but many skip the charming city and miss all the tourist spots.
I spent a few weeks in Chiayi, and I must say, there are many things to do in Chiayi, and you should spend at least two days and see some of the best Chiayi attractions before going on an epic hike.
So I compiled a list of the 17 best things to do in Chiayi City that any solo traveller will enjoy. Keep reading and discover what you can see and do in Chiayi City.
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Table of Contents
Before you visit Chiayi City in Taiwan
Before you visit Chiayi City in Taiwan, take a look at my post on learning all my best tips for travelling to Taiwan. I included a lot of information, including getting a Taiwan prepaid SIM card, transportation around the country and more.
How to get to Chiayi City
The closest airport to Chiayi is Taichung International Airport in Taichung (台中), where the airport has mostly domestic flights and a few international flights within Asia. The airport is over 100km away and would require several modes of transportation to Chiayi.
If you fly from overseas, you will most likely arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei (台北). And there are several ways of travelling from Taipei to Chiayi.
From Taichung International Airport to Chiayi
From the Taichung International Airport, you must take a public bus or metered taxi to Taichung Railway Station first, then take the train to Chiayi.
It is easier to take the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) train and not the Taiwan High-Speed Railway (HSR) train because both Taichung HSR Station and Chiayi HSR Station are outside the respective cities.
- Taichung International Airport to Taichung Railway Station
- Taichung Bus Route 9, U Bus Route 302
- Time: 60 minutes
- Cost: about NT$15 (with EasyCard or iPass)
- Taichung Railway Station to Chiayi
- TRA Tze-Chiang Limited Express
- Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Cost: NT$224 (with EasyCard or iPass)
- TRA Local Train
- Time: from 1 hour 50 minutes
- Cost: NT$144 (with EasyCard or iPass)
- Check Taichung Station to Chiayi Station train schedule and cost
- TRA Tze-Chiang Limited Express
From Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Chiayi
The easiest way to travel from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Chiayi is via Taipei Metro (MRT) to Taipei Main Train Station, then take a direct local express TRA train to Chiayi.
- MRT: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei Main Train Station
- Time: 35 minutes +
- Cost: NT$150 (with EasyCard or iPass)
- TRA: Taipei Main Train Station to Chiayi Station
- Chu-Kuang Express, Tze-Chiang Limited Express or Puyuma
- Time: from 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cost: from NT$461 (with EasyCard or iPass)
- Check Taipei Station to Chiayi Station train schedule and cost
How to get around Chiayi City
You can access most of the Chiayi attractions by walking. Everything is in the city centre but make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
However, a few attractions are on the city’s east end, which is best visited by Taiwan Shuttle Bus Route #66. The tourist bus takes the scenic route (also known as Guanginwojia Route) around the town and stops at Chiayi Park and Lantan Scenic Area, the last stop.
There is more information online about Route 66, including the timetable (however, it is in Chinese). The bus fare costs NT$12, and you can pay your bus fare with EasyCard or iPass.
If you haven’t already, purchase a rechargeable smartcard at any train station or a convenience store in Taiwan. Either card is good for taking public transportation in Taiwanese cities.
Map: 17 best Chiayi places to visit
Wondering what to do in Chiayi in Taiwan as a solo traveller? There are many Chiayi attractions that you should see before hiking Alishan.
I came up with a list of the 17 best things to do in Chiayi, and each tourist spot is pinned in the interactive map below.
You can find more information about each activity by clicking the individual pin. You don’t need to join a Chiayi day tour. Use this map and create your own Chiayi city tour!
Top things to do in Chiayi in the centre of the city
1. Visit traditional Japanese houses at Hinoki Village
Hinoki Village used to be dormitories for the Forest Department Taiwan during the Japanese Colonial Era. Then it served as dormitories for the Kano baseball players, a baseball team established in the 1930s.
This Chiayi tourist spot is Taiwan’s first forest cultural and creative park. It has different businesses that occupy 28 traditional houses that are built entirely out of Taiwanese cypress trees. There are tea houses, retail boutique stores selling arts and crafts, souvenirs and food, coffee shops and restaurants.
You can even rent a yukata (a traditional Japanese garment like a kimono but for summer) for a few hours and take photographs around the traditional Japanese gardens.
2. Take Instagram photos at the Song of the Forest
Designed by Wang Wen-Zhi, an artist from Chiayi, the Song of the Forest is a large-scale landmark made with local materials like wood, rattan, rocks and discarded railway tracks.
Since Chiayi is the gateway to Alishan, the artist wanted to create a landmark that best represents Chiayi. The egg-shaped dome symbolizes the trees in the forest of Alishan, and the walking paths symbolize the railway from Chiayi to Alishan.
During the day, you can take many Instagram photos to capture the geometric properties of the dome. While at night, the dramatic lighting creates a different feel and dimension to this Chiayi tourist spot.
3. See old trains at the Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park
As one of the world’s most famous mountain railways, the Alishan Forest Railway begins in Chiayi, where the train zigzags uphill to Alishan.
And located near Chiayi Station, many old retired trains are “parked” at the Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park. The park has old steam trains, diesel locomotives, and various railway equipment.
If you are a train enthusiast, you must visit the park. Plus, there is no entrance fee!
4. Join a free tour around the Old Prison in Chiayi
Walk around on your own or join one of the four free guided tours through the former prison in Chiayi. Even though the tour is in Mandarin at this Chiayi tourist attraction, it might still be worth joining as you can wander around the Old Prison.
The four free tours run from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 10:30 am, 10:30 to 11:30 am, 1:30 to 2:30 pm and finally, 2:30 to 3:30 pm.
5. Watch water dances at the Central Fountain
The Central Fountain is in the heart of the city where the two main roads, Zhongshan Road and Wenhua Road, intersect, and a few other roads radiating from the fountain.
The fountain has 14 water dances; each dance runs in a cycle every 15 minutes. And the fountain is particularly beautiful at night as many lights highlight the famous landmark.
6. See colourful tiles at the Museum of Old Taiwan Tiles
If you want to visit a whimsical museum full of colourful tiles, you must visit the Museum of Old Taiwan Tiles. Not only will you see a large collection of hand-painted decorative tiles, but you’ll also tour the historic timber building.
7. Visit the oldest surviving temple in Chiayi, Cheng Huang Temple
Built in 1715, Cheng Huang Temple is the oldest surviving county-level temple from the Qing Dynasty.
As a national historic site, the temple houses over 700 historical artifacts spanning over three centuries. The temple is always busy with worshippers as many people give offerings and pray to the city god and his wife, Mazu and Guanyin.
After visiting the temple, visit the East Market (the next Chiayi attraction).
Chiayi: things to do and eat for foodies
8. Feel the buzz at the East Market
After you visit Cheng-Huang Temple, cross the street to East Market, just north of the temple.
The East Market is the oldest market in Chiayi. This is where you can buy fresh produce and eat the most authentic Taiwanese food at one of the food stalls. The market is extremely popular with locals.
But beware, the East Market is always busy. It might feel overwhelming because of the sheer number of people inside the market. And because there are many food vendors inside, the temperature of the market is quite warm.
9. Try different Taiwanese snacks at Wenhua Night Market
Taiwan is all about food and night markets! There is always at least one night market in each city. And in Chiayi, Wenhua Night Market is right in the middle of all the action.
Many food vendors line both sides of Wenhua Street between the Central Fountain and Wenhua Park. There are many vendors, so bring your empty stomach!
While you are there, try some must-eat Taiwanese food, including fried chicken, stinky tofu and scallion pancake. And if you are feeling adventurous, look for a food stall that sells soy-braised duck parts. It is a very popular Taiwanese food in Chiayi where different duck parts are braised in soy sauce.
10. Eat hotpot at Chia-Le-Fu Night Market
Another night market in Chiayi is Chia-Le-Fu Night Market, a busy night market on the west end of the city.
The difference with this night market is that they have a few more sit-down types of restaurants rather than rows and rows of food stalls. And many of those restaurants offer hotpot, where you cook your food in a small piping pot. The size of the pot is perfect for one person.
Hotpot is super popular in Taiwan, so make sure you try it at least once before you leave Taiwan.
11. Try Chiayi’s specialty: Turkey Rice and Stewed Fish Head Soup
Food is a big part of any travel adventure. And Chiayi has a few signature dishes that you must try!
First, you have to try turkey rice because it originated from Chiayi. Restaurants serve small bowls of white rice with shredded turkey on top where a homemade oily sauce is drizzled over it. And most restaurants charge about NT$30 for a bowl. Not a bad price for something so delicious!
Many local restaurants serve the Chiayi specialty, but the best places to eat turkey rice are at Liu Li Zhang Ji Rou Fan (劉里長火雞肉飯) and 阿宏師火雞肉飯.
Then you’ll have to try the stewed fish head soup at Smartfish Stewed Fish Head in Clay Pot (林聰明沙鍋魚頭). It is probably the most popular and busiest restaurant in Chiayi because they are genuinely good and is featured on Street Food, a Netflix show.
Best things to see outside of Chiayi City
12. See a panoramic view of the Chiayi from the Sun-Shooting Tower
Located in Chiayi Park, the Sun-Shooting Tower stands 62 meters tall, and the shape and design resemble the giant trees of Alishan. A bronze sculpture in the tower’s core originated from the aboriginal people’s “sun shooting myth.” And from the ground, you can see the giant Bauhinia, the flower of Chiayi, on the slanted roof of the tower.
While there are many design details to appreciate, most people will want to visit the observation deck on the 11th floor and see a panoramic view of Chiayi.
Moreover, there is a Sun-shooting Art Gallery on the 10th floor, the Tower Cafe on the 11th floor and a rooftop garden on the 12th floor.
But be mindful of the opening hours. This Chiayi tourist spot only opens Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. During weekends and holidays, it opens from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
13. Learn about urban development at the Chiayi City Historical Relic Museum
The traditional Japanese building was built in 1915 and was used as a Military Hospital during World War II. And during the Japanese colonial era, the building became a Shinto Shrine.
After the fire in 1994, the building was restored in the original style of Japanese Shoin-zukuri architecture and became Chiayi City Historical Relic Museum.
You can learn about Chiayi’s history and urban development through the exhibitions inside the museum. Or you can walk around the museum and enjoy the zen atmosphere.
14. Admire the architectural details of Chiayi Confucius Temple
In the middle of Chiayi Park is Chiayi Confucius Temple. The original temple was built outside the city. However, the temple suffered much damage from natural disasters. Eventually, the temple was rebuilt in Chiayi Park.
Many trees and a beautiful set of stairs within Chiayi Park surround the symmetrical red-lacquered temple. Personally, I liked the design elements inside the temple. The ceiling is quite intricate with decorative details.
15. Get lost on the windy paths in the Chiayi Botanical Garden
The Chiayi Botanical Garden is part of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute’s Jhongpu Research Centre, where they conduct biodiversity research and focus on providing teaching materials. They also preserve plant resources and provide recreational opportunities whenever necessary.
Also, there are many Para Rubber Trees in the garden where they produce high-quality rubber. These rubber trees are the best species to make tires and other rubber products.
The lush forest has many tall tropical trees and plants where it shades you from the harsh sun. So if you enjoy a leisurely walk through a serene forest, you must visit the Botanical Garden in Chiayi City.
16. Visit Lantan (Orchid Lake) Scenic Area
Located on the east end of Chiayi City is Lantan Scenic Area, a recreational area popular with locals.
The area includes Lantan Lake (or Orchid Lake), which has been a major reservoir for the city. The lake is shaped like a yun bao (the old Chinese metallic currency), and it is over two square kilometres and has a volume of over 9.25 million cubic meters.
Other highlights of the scenic area include the Sanxin Pavilion, the colourful fountain with musical performances and the Rippling Moonlit Talk, a stainless steel sculpture that resembles the Song of the Forest and is also designed by the same artist, Wang Wen-Chih.
As mentioned before, the best way to get to Lantan Scenic Area is by taking the Taiwan Shuttle Bus Route #66.
17. Watch the sunrise at Alishan Forest Recreation Area
With all this talk about Chiayi being the entryway to Alishan, it only makes sense to visit one of the best Taiwan tourist attractions, Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
Alishan has over 1,400 hectares of cypress trees, and at least 36 are over 1,000 years old. The park area has many hiking trails that meander through the dense forest. Moreover, the sunrise at Zhushan is one of the best spots to watch the famous Alishan sunrise.
Even if you are not a strong hiker, you can still easily see the lush forest and the famous sunrise.
And going to Alishan is quite simple. The easiest route is taking a public bus from Chiayi to Alishan. In my blog post, I included all the details about the routes, costs, and schedules. Then follow my 2-day Alishan itinerary and hike solo in the national park.
Where to stay in Chiayi Taiwan as a solo traveller
- Oinn Hotel & Hostel 文化輕旅 ($) – Get a bed in the dorm room or a mini single room if you want more privacy.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Travel Art Inn (行藝文旅) ($) – The 2-star hotel has clean private rooms and shared dorm rooms. A breakfast buffet is included in the price. And there is a lounge area at the reception for guests to use.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Lan Kwai Fong Garden Hotel ($$) – Next to Chiayi Wenhua Night Market, Lan Kwai Fong Garden Hotel is a 4-start hotel with comfortable and clean guest rooms where you can enjoy a good night’s sleep. The hotel offers a good breakfast as well.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
Which Chiayi tourist spot are you interested in visiting?
I hope I convinced you to visit Chiayi before you embark on your solo hiking trip to Alishan. It is a charming city with amazing sights, friendly people, a great atmosphere and many things to do.
After seeing my list of top things to do in Chiayi, which Chiayi attractions will you see? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading my Chiayi travel guide
You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Taiwan:
Introduction to Taiwan
- Things to know before visiting Taiwan
- How and where to buy a Taiwan prepaid SIM card
- How to spend 3 weeks in Taiwan
- 22 must-eat food in Taiwan
- Top 10 must-try Taiwan 7-11 Food
Southern Taiwan posts
- How to travel from Chiayi to Alishan
- Alishan 2-day solo itinerary
- Things to do in Tainan as a solo traveller
- 23 Things to do alone in Kaohsiung
- 3 Best night markets in Kaohsiung
- Kenting Travel Guide: things to do
Eastern Taiwan posts
- 46 Best things to do in Yilan Taiwan
- Caoling Historic Trail: day trip from Yilan County or Taipei
- Things to do alone in Hualien Taiwan