I think so. Might be faster to take the bus from Taizhong to Jiayi though. You might also contact one of the hiking clubs. You rent a big van with a driver to take you anywhere for about NT$5000. Less if your pickup point is Taizhong.
Why on earth do you want to go to Alishan? It’s a complete tourist trap. Try spending a few days in the Yushan area instead. Hike down the Nanxi forestry road from Tatajia (Yu Shan trail head). Then walk (on a weekday) on Highway 21 down to Alishan and take the train to Jiayi (leaves around 1:00 PM).
Wow; interesting and ambitious travel plans. I can’t be a great deal of help but I’ll tell you what I know and think.
Re. buses over the top on Zhonghen (Central Cross-Island Highway);
You’re right about the bus through Tailuge (Taroko) to Dayuling (Tayuling). My friend took that then at Dayuling got picked up by some strange kind of tourist bus which seemed to be sponsored by fruit farmers as it stopped at every little fruit stand on the way over to Puli and Taichung; about ten stands in total.
My friend wasn’t able to find out a regular service timetable; you may be able to but if not then I wouldn’t trust this fruit bus to have room for ten extra unannounced people.
There is a road that goes through direct from Puli to Alishan. It looks great on the map but I know nothing about it; I don’t even know whether it’s open all the way. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s done this road. As for public buses on this route, your guess is as good as mine. The Lonely Planet says that there are two bus stations in Puli; one run by the Nantou bus company and the other run by the Taiwan bus company (presumably that’s the Guoguanghao?) You could try contacting them.
If nothing’s doing on that route then the transport from Taichung to Jiayi (Chiayi) and then on to Alishan is fine. You have a choice of train or a number of different coach companies going Taichung - Jiayi. At Jiayi, go to the train station. I highly recommend that you take the tourist train up to Alishan on the old Japanese logging route at least one way. It’s a beautiful route. Tickets can get sold out quickly though. There are scalpers hanging around; I don’t know whether the tickets they sell are all genuine.
There are also buses running up there; you may find it more convenient to take the bus up there and then take the train back down the next day; just remember to get your ticket well in advance up at the Alishan train station.
Alishan itself is very nice. If some of the people in your party haven’t been there before, then I suggest that you do the whole routine of early morning call and taking the little train further up to the viewing to see the sun rise, then walking down and doing the tourist trail round the two temples (one Daoist, one buddhist) and the sacred trees. There are two reasons for doing this; the first is that it can be a beautiful sight and the walk back down in the early morning is also lovely; the second is that it is quite an interesting experience in itself to take the little train up, packed with other people, in the pitch darkness and then crowd together with them at the viewing point, feeling the excitement as everybody waits for the sunrise. (When it has risen, I recommend you wait around for a bit; the people will soon go away, it’s very peaceful and you can watch the sun continue to rise and the colours change.)
One thing; if you do decide to take the train up there in the morning then you’ll probably still need to walk along the road about a mile from where most of the hotels are to get to the train station. Don’t worry; it’s all pretty well laid out and the tourist information office are very helpful.
Back to transport for your whole trip; would it not be possible to rent a minibus for all or part of it? That would give you more flexibility. As I said, I’m far from clear on the Zhonghen buses and I fear that tourist information offices may be a bit hazy as well.
P.S. if you do have your own transport and you’re up at Alishan, try to go on to Tatajia (Tatachia); I’ve heard it has very good views of Yushan.
P.P.S. Oh, I’ve just seen that Feiren’s already mentioned Tatajia. Thanks for the hiking tips Feiren - I’ll try that when I get up there next.
The road from Puli to Alishan is Highway 21, also known as the New Cross Island Highway (Xinzhongheng). Along with the Southern Cross Highway (Nanheng) and the road over Hehuanshan, this is one of the highest and most beautiful roads in Taiwan. My favorite is still the Southern Cross, especially the first 50k coming down on the Gaoxiong County side.
Unfortunately, public transportation (Nantou Keyun) will only get you as far as Shuili if you are coming from Puli on Highway 21. You can probably rent a truck or van in Shuili on the spot to take you up to Tatajia or on to Alishan. I know local hikers who have done this, but you will need to speak Mandarin.
It is also very easy for small groups of two or three to hitchhike in this area.
In Tatajia you can stay at the Dongpu Hostel for NT$250/night. Yoou’ll need a reservation on weekends because this is where hiking groups stay before they climb Yushan.
There are 5 or 6 km of trail around Tatajia with excellent views of Yushan for day trippers. You can also do the Nanxi trail I mentioned in my earlier post. Other possibilities include the Lulin Shan Wild Animal Refuge (entrance @ 83K Highway 21) and the Tefuye Hunting Trail that begins at Zizong around 80K. The Tefuye was used by the Zou people as an access route to hunting grounds in the Yushan area. It’s about 6K long and has recently turned into a walking path by the Jiayi Forestry Bureau.
On the way up from Shuili to Tatajia there are four forestry roads going east into the real back country: Danda, Renlun, Junda, and Shali Xianxi. These give access to hundreds of kilometers of very rough back roads and hiking trails. You should complete your paper work in Xinyi on the way up. You should be experienced and well prepared before you venture too far into these areas. Be prepared to have to hike over and around major landslides as well. The Formosa Complete Road Atlas Volume II (Taiwan Quan Lantu: Nandao. Shanhe Wenhua. ISBN 957-97588-6-7) is very helpful for exploring this beautiful area.