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 put together a list of the 17 best things to do in Chiayi City that any solo traveller will enjoy. Keep reading and find out how you can see and do in Chiayi City.
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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.
Travelling to Taiwan? Learn how you can see all the major Taiwanese cities in 3 weeks
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 are flying 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 will have to 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 both outside of 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 travelling from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Chiayi is via Taipei Metro (MRT) to Taipei Main Train Station, then taking a direct local express TRA train to Chiayi.
- MRT: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei Main Train Station
- Time: from 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 a pair of comfortable shoes.
However, there are a few attractions on the east end of the city, 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, which is the last stop on the route.
There is more information online about Route 66, including the timetable (however, it is in Chinese). The bus fare costs NT$12, and you can pay your bus fare with EasyCard or iPass.
If you haven’t already, purchase either rechargeable smartcard at any train station or convenience stores in Taiwan. Either card is good for taking public transportation in Taiwanese cities.
Where to stay in Chiayi Taiwan
Although the budget accommodation choices are not as exciting as cities like Taichung or Taipei, there are still a few excellent accommodations in Chiayi to choose from. I stayed at several different places in Chiayi, and these are my recommendations.
- BoBooks (書旅拾光) ($) – Located close to Chiayi Station, BoBooks is a cozy hostel in an old building with vintage furniture and finishes. They have private rooms, shared dorm rooms, shared kitchen and free laundry facilities on the roof. The reception is on the ground floor, which is also the same place as the coffee shop and used book store.
- 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 that has 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
17 Top Things to do in Chiayi Alone
Wondering what to do in Chiayi in Taiwan? There are quite a bit of Chiayi attractions that you should see before hiking Alishan.
I came up with a list of the 17 best things to do in Chiayi, Taiwan and each tourist spot is pinned in the interactive map above. You can find more information about each activity by clicking on the individual pin. You don’t need to join a Chiayi day tour. Use this map and create your own Chiayi city tour!
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.
Today, 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 (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 symbolizes 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 railway, 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. There are old steam trains, diesel locomotives and various railway equipment throughout the park.
If you are a train enthusiast, then you have to visit the park. Plus, there is no entrance fee!
4. Watch the sunrise at Alishan Forest Recreation Area
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 of them 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 see the lush forest and sunrise with ease.
And going to Alishan is quite simple. The easiest route is taking a public bus from Chiayi to Alishan. I included all the details about the routes, costs, and schedules in my blog post. Then follow my 2-day Alishan itinerary and hike solo in the national park.
Or you can join one of the many tours to see Alishan and take the headache out of planning everything on your own.
5. Join a free tour around the Old Prison in Chiayi
There are four free guided tours through the former prison in Chiayi. Even though the tour is in Mandarin at this Chiayi tourist attraction, it might be still 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.
6. 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 few other roads radiating from the fountain.
The fountain has 14 water dances where each dance runs in a cycle every 15 minutes. And the fountain is particularly beautiful at night as many lights highlight the famous landmark in the most remarkable way.
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 your visit to the temple, visit the East Market (which is the next Chiayi attraction).
8. Feel the buzz at the East Market
After your visit to Cheng-Huang Temple, cross the street to East Market, which is just north of the temple.
The East Market is the oldest market in Chiayi, where you can find the most authentic local food. The market is extremely popular with locals. You can buy fresh produce and eat at one of the food stalls.
But beware, the East Market is always busy. It might feel a bit 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. 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. There is a bronze sculpture in the core of the tower that 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 on 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.
10. Learn about urban development at the Chiayi City Historical Relic Museum
The traditional Japanese building was built in 1915, where it 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 the history and urban development in Chiayi through the exhibitions inside the museum. Or you can simply tour around the premise of the museum and enjoy the zen atmosphere.
11. Admire 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 damages from natural disasters. Eventually, the temple was rebuilt in Chiayi Park.
The symmetrical red-lacquered temple is surrounded by many trees and a beautiful set of stairs within Chiayi Park. Personally, I liked the design elements inside the temple. The ceiling is quite intricate with decorative details.
12. 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, then you must visit the Botanical Garden in Chiayi City.
13. 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, which is 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.
14. See colourful tiles at the Museum of Old Taiwan Tiles
If you want to visit a whimsical museum full of colourful tiles, then you’ll have to 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 around the historic timber building.
15. 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 of the 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 parts of a duck are braised in soy sauce.
16. Eat hotpot at Chia-Le-Fu Night Market
Another night market in Chiayi is Chia-Le-Fu Night Market, and the busy night market is on the west end of the city.
The difference with this night market is that they have a few more sit-down type 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.
17. 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 was 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 is at Liu Li Zhang Ji Rou Fan (劉里長火雞肉飯) (pictured above) and 阿宏師火雞肉飯 (both pinned in GoogleMap).
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 they were also featured on Street Food, a show on Netflix.
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 are you going to see? Let me know in the comments!