Chiayi is an often overlooked city on the Western side of Taiwan.
Foreign tourists typically spend their time commuting through Chiayi’s High Speed Rail, TRA station or its airport at Shueishang, to landmark destinations like Alishan mountain and Penghu island.
A waitress at a donut joint was surprised as to why we would even stay overnight and bother visiting Chiayi since there are more popular places like Taipei and Kaohsiung.
I had actually considered visiting Chiayi a couple of times in my last few Taiwan trips, but the opportunity didn’t come until we decided to make Penghu island, less than half an hour’s flight away, one of our stops.
Chiayi is actually in a great location in Taiwan because it sits nicely between its more tourist-favoured Taichung and Tainan cousin cities.
As we decided to visit Alishan using Chiayi as a base city, we had quite a bit of time to explore this city on foot. What I saw was quite enough to make me decide to seriously consider coming back to this place for an indepth self-planned tour in future.
If you are wondering what’s so great about Chiayi, let me share these reasons with you.
1. Chiayi is super-duper accessible
High Speed Rail
Chiayi has its own High Speed Rail Station, which saves you time when traveling from Taoyuan or Taipei.
Chiayi is also a major stop along the TRA railway line which means all the fastest Zhiqiang and Puyuma trains will stop at Chiayi TRA station.
You can check TRA train timings here and purchase online about 2 weeks in advance to secure yourself a seat on the train, if not be prepared to stand.
You can also fly to and from Shueishang Airport which is just a short 10-15 min drive from Chiayi’s city centre.
In comparison, Taichung Airport is half an hour drive from Taichung city centre.
I didn’t see any cafés at Shueishang airport though, but there’s a vending machine and even a breastfeeding room!
And if your flight is delayed, airport staff will apologise, explain why there is a delay, and what the expected time of takeoff will be. Staff will also make available some packet drinks to passengers waiting in the boarding gate area.
To get to the airplane, passengers have to take a bus which will travel through an army camp to the runway, so that’s something new I hadn’t experienced before.
2. Chiayi is a good location to connect major sights
Besides being in the middle of Taichung and Tainan, you can take a day trip to Alishan mountain (or stay overnight if you wish), and fly to Penghu island.
Flying to Penghu
If you’re planning a trip to the amazing Penghu island, flying to Magong (Penghu) from Chiayi takes the shortest duration and usually the cheapest compared to flying from Taichung or Songshan (Taipei).
We flew by Uniair (book online early to secure a seat because it is a popular route, which took a grand total of TWENTY-FIVE minutes.
It’s the shortest airplane ride I’ve ever taken in my life!
You board the plane, take off, the flight attendants run to the front of the plane with a trolley-full of packet drinks and wet towels, distribute to everyone, then run back to the front with a bag to collect the trash.
We could hardly finish our drink in time! Then the airplane lands.
3. Chiayi city is full of hidden gems
Actually you can already spend a whole day just exploring the city centre on foot. Here I’ll highlight just 2 of the closer options to the Chiayi TRA station.
One of this city’s most famous attractions is the Hinoki Village.
Hinoki Village is a cluster of 28 traditional Japanese houses that are now occupied by various shops selling a variety of handcrafted items, to artisan cafés, to themed time-tunnel mini museums.
You can even rent a kimono and take photos around the village.
Take photos with old trains at this park, it’s pretty deserted as most tourists will prefer to hang out at Hinoki Village just across the road.
We didn’t have time to explore the Chiayi City Koji Pottery Museum, Chiayi City Museum, the instagrammable Song of the Forest, nearby Showtime Plaza, swimming pool + gym at Guohua Water World, Chiayi Old Prison and more. This is just within Chiayi City itself.
4. Take a day trip or two out of the city centre to explore
Further out, there’s a Holland Lake Scenic Area, NCYU insect museum, a reservoir, Zhuqi Riverside Park, Whiteman Toothpaste Tourism Factory, a coffee factory, and Budai Township with its famous glass church in the shape of a high heel. You can also take a 90 minute ferry from Budai Harbour to Penghu island.
5. Chiayi has yummy food too!
Like any other city in Taiwan, Chiayi is chock-full of food. There are takeaways, local eateries, Western cafés, coffee joints, and night markets.
Here are some of the food we enjoyed.
Fried chicken cutlet somewhere near 117 Ximen Street
I am definitely going back to Chiayi to enjoy more of what this place has to offer.
And the traffic is not as crazy as Taichung, with motorbike parking being much easier to find in the city.
This article includes Google map links which you can star as favourites and track your location via GPS.
You can buy simcards or rent WiFi routers with data at Taoyuan airport so you can access the internet in Taiwan.
Check out the price plans for SIM cards and WiFi routers on Go!Taiwan website.
Try to get your own Easycard (you can buy at MRT stations) which you can easily use for MRT/metro trips and bus services.
Also published on Medium.