Full travel guide to Southern Taiwan

From Taiwan’s ancient capital of Tainan to the tea country and thick forest that cloaks much of the region, Southern Taiwan is enchanting and rewarding in equal measure...

4 mins

Expect history and culture in spades. Drop by Taiwan’s ancient capital, Tainan, and discover the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum. There’s also the forested Alishan mountains and Yushan National Park, not to mention a world-class mountain railway and some of the country’s finest tea (and in Taiwan, that’s really saying something). It all adds up to make this an incredibly rewarding part of Taiwan to visit...

Great Alishan

The Alishan Forest Railway (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

The Alishan Forest Railway (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)


The Alishan Forest Railway is one of the world’s truly great train rides. This narrow-gauge mountain railway climbs from just 30m above sea level (at Chiayi) to 2,216m at Alishan Station in just over 70km. Along the way it threads some 47 tunnels, 72 bridges and numerous switchbacks. A branch line also continues from the upper terminal to an altitude of 2,451m at Zhushan. The railway opened in 1912 and was originally used to transport logs down the mountain; it now offers passengers breathtaking views, and it passes not too far from Mount Yushan (3,952m), the highest mountain in Taiwan.

Alishan itself is the most famous Forest Recreation Area in Taiwan: an outdoor playground of hiking trails, lush forest, cherry blossoms and unforgettable views from up above a sea of clouds. Watching the sunrise from Jhushan will take your breath away.
Make a stop in the village of Fenqihu, often called the Jiufen of the south for its old streets lined with market stalls. Also try to drop by Hinoki Village, which includes the most extensive group of Japanese-era buildings in Taiwan. Then visit the Danaiku Nature Ecological Park, where numerous species of fish can be spotted in the upper reaches of the Zengwen River. Alishan is also famous for its tea plantations, and the ‘High Mountain’ Oolong tea from this region is simply exquisite.

235 Region

Chiayi City International Band Festival (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Chiayi City International Band Festival (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Chiayi County stretches inland from the south-west coast, along the Tropic of Cancer. It contains a host of ‘national scenic areas’, including Alishan, the Southwest Coast and Siraya, making this a great escape for those wanting a bit of peace. 

Chiayi City is mainly known as the gateway to the Alishan mountains, but don’t miss the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum in nearby Taibao, which was established in 2004 to redress the balance in major art and cultural venues between north and south. The outstanding permanent collection includes sections on Asian textiles, Buddhist art and East Asian tea culture, combined with excellent temporary exhibitions. The building itself is impressive, designed by leading Taiwanese architect Kris Yao and approached by an elegant curved bridge over an artificial lake.

Chiayi City is also the place where traditional jiaozhi pottery first developed, while the Chiayi Art Museum, built in 1936, is a good example of Japanese era architecture. In nearby Shuishang Village there’s a large monument to the Tropic of Cancer, while on the coast you’ll find traditional salt harvesting at Budai, where the salt is piled into large white mounds.

Southern Taiwan is one of the best parts of the country for birdwatching, with vast numbers of migrating birds as well as numerous endemic species. Head to the Aogu wetlands on the coast, or go inland to Yushan National Park, which includes Taiwan’s highest mountain peak, the majestic Mount Yushan.


Shennong Street (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Shennong Street (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)


One of the oldest cities in Taiwan, Tainan is awash with ancient history and heritage. Traditional culture continues to thrive here, a time-honoured way of life that's best explored through its well-preserved temples, traditional architecture and historic architecture. The city's Anping Old Fort was built by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century and as Taiwan developed into one of Eastern Asia's most important trading hubs, the fort in turn become a core business centre on the island. Only its red-brick exterior dates back to its construction but the small on-site museum is a fascinating place to learn more about the island during Dutch occupation. Nearby lies the Anping Tree House, a former salt-processing warehouse that has been claimed by the thick roots of a banyan tree.

For a true immersion in local life, take a stroll along Shennong Street, considered to be one of the best-preserved historical streets in the city with its buzzing cafés, traditional shophouses, boutiques and art galleries. It's easy to escape the city as well: just take a cruise along the Sicao Green Tunnel, a web of mangrove-flanked waterways where you can spot wildlife like fiddler crabs, egrets and black-crowned night herons. There's a reason why locals call this 'Little Amazonia'.



Kaohsiung from above (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Kaohsiung from above (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Not only is Kaohsiung Taiwan’s second-largest city by population, it is also its biggest industrial centre and a major port. Nevertheless, it has plenty of parks and a good network of cycle trails; plus there is a nice a mix of traditional culture and history in the city and the surrounding area.

Visit the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, surrounded by a 100-hectare park. For Kaohsiung’s ultimate selfie spot, make for the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, part of a temple built in the 1970s on the edge of Lotus Pond, a large artificial lake. Next, take a boat to Xiaoliuqiu, a tiny coral island just a few kilometres offshore from Kaohsiung that is one of the country’s greatest snorkelling hotspots, or head inland to the foothills of the Central Mountain Range, where you’ll find the best paragliding spot in Taiwan at Saijia Air Park. Or if you prefer to take it easy, at Kaohsiung’s Singda Harbor – the largest fishing port in Taiwan – you can watch freshly caught fish being unloaded from the boats; these are for sale at the adjacent market.

Just south of Kaohsiung, Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area is a large lagoon created by sediment from the Linbiang and Donggang streams. It is good for birdwatching and there are several temples nearby and in the Donggang Township. Donggang Temple is the site of the enormous Wang Ye festival, which is held every three years and culminates in the burning of a massive boat (Wang Ye worship is particularly strong in southern Taiwan).

Pingtung County

Discover spectacular snorkelling opportunities in Kenting National Park (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Discover spectacular snorkelling opportunities in Kenting National Park (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

At the southern tip of Taiwan lies Pingtung County, including the Hengchung peninsula and Kenting National Park – Taiwan’s oldest national park, established in 1984 and covering an area of over 300 sq km. It’s an area that is recognised for its extraordinary biodiversity. Along with the subtropical climate, expect a kaleidoscopic mix of landscapes, from the whitish sands of Baisha beach to the Longpan grasslands, as well as areas of fractured shale emitting burning natural gas. Kenting National Park was even one of the filming locations for Ang Lee’s film version of Life of Pi.

Longluan Lake is a haven for migrating birds, and you can see grey-faced buzzards, goshawks and other birds of prey fly over the Hengchung peninsula in their tens of thousands during September and October.

Pingtung County is also home to traditional Hakka culture, and is Taiwan’s main growing area for deliciously crisp and juicy Lianwu wax apples. Meanwhile, South Bay is popular for its swimming, and there’s excellent snorkelling to be found among the coral reefs off the coast – the limpid-blue waters around Kenting National Park have the richest coral ecosystems of anywhere in Taiwan. Explore on two wheels along the Rainbow Bikeway, or head to Eluanbi to watch the waves of the Pacific Ocean and Taiwan Straight rolling together in spectacular fashion.

Feeling inspired?

For more information, head to the official Taiwan Tourism Bureau website.

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