Chiayi Starts Here

Chiayi Starts Here

I never, ever thought I would visit Chiayi. In fact, had I not gotten stranded in Taiwan at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, I don’t think I would’ve.

It’s not that I didn’t know the city—I did. A good friend of mine in Taipei, in fact, was from Chiayi, and sang its praises on a semi-regular basis. I likewise wanted to visit Alishan, to which Chiayi is the nearest major city, though until covid-19 never took steps to make that a reality.

When you ask yourself how many days in Chiayi you should spend, I hope that a once-in-a-century pandemic is not breathing down your neck. And I hope that you’ll have ready this guide intently!f

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Where to Stay in Chiayi

The bad news? As you might imagine if you’ve visited any secondary or tertiary cities in Taiwan, Chiayi hotels leave a lot to be desired. This is true, regardless of whether you choose a budget property such as Green Hotel, or a more expensive one such as Voco Chiayi. You just shouldn’t expect much style or substance, even if the service might be OK.

The good news? Well, since you’re unlikely to spend long here—a night or two is more than enough for most travelers—you’ll be spending so much time outside of your hotel that you won’t need to dwell on how mediocre it is. This is true whether you continue to another city, or head up into the hills of Alishan (where, to be fair much better accommodation options await).

My Favorite Things to Do in Chiayi

Get in a Japanese mood


Part of why I was so down when I visited Chiayi? I’d opted against taking a planned flight to Japan, which would end up seeing me locked out of the country for over two years. While I can’t claim that visiting Chiayi’s Kagi Shrine (known officially as the Chiayi City Historical Relic Museum) was a worthy substitute, it certainly does highlight Chiayi’s (and Taiwan’s) ties to Japan.

Relax in Chiayi Park


Don’t have any pressing interest in Chiayi’s Japanese heritage? Chiayi Park, which surrounds the aforementioned shrine reconstruction, is still a worthy place to kick-off your Chiayi itinerary, if only to get some fresh air amid the city’s surprisingly dense urban core. Among other highlights, there are some traditional Chinese architectural accents here as well.

Eat a bowl of turkey rice


As an American, one thing that always surprises me when traveling abroad is how rare it is to see turkey meat. While I’ll be honest when I say that Chiayi’s huo ji rou fan (turkey rice) sometimes taste as if it might simply be chicken, the satisfaction I feel upon tearing into a bowl is indisputable. I love the simplicity of the dish, which is literally just turkey meat, rice, a bit of turkey juice and some pickled daikon and fresh cilantro to garnish.

Gain a higher perspective


Before I begin to discuss day trips from Chiayi, another place I want to call attention to is the Jiuhua Mountain Temple. While it isn’t on or near a mountain, climbing to the top of it does give you an awesome view of Chiayi, as if you were on a mountain. On second thought, perhaps the name makes sense—maybe this is why they call it a “mountain temple”?

Don’t forget about Alishan


Let’s be honest: The only reason most people stop in Chiayi in the first place is to continue onward to the tea fields of Alishan. In some cases, as with me, this involves a (very long) day trip from Chiayi city. In other cases travelers will stay overnight, whether at the spartan Fenchihu Hotel or the Hotel Indigo Alishan, the closest thing the region has to a luxury hotel.

Is Chiayi Worth Visiting?

Chiayi is certainly worth a trip, even if you had not considered going. While I obviously hope your motivations for going end up being less dramatic or existential than mine, I think you’ll feel impressed by what Chiayi has to offer. This is true irrespective of how you choose to visit Chiayi, be that for a day or two before continuing to Alishan, or even on a day trip from Tainan or Kaohsiung.

To be sure, while the question of how many days in Chiayi is important, it shouldn’t be determinative. Like, I wouldn’t say that if you can’t devote a night or two to Chiayi, it means you shouldn’t come. The city center is easy to explore on a day trip, though this is obviously a much less heavy lift if you’re already in central or southern Taiwan—from Taipei, though doable, it would be quite a slog.

Other FAQ About Visiting Chiayi

What is Chiayi famous for?

Chiayi isn’t famous, which is part of why it’s such a delight to visit. With this being said, it is known for a few things among Taiwanese, be that huo ji rou fan (aka turkey rice), or the fact that the underrated city center makes a great jumping-off point for trips up to Alishan.

What food is Chiayi famous for?

Chiayi’s signature dish is turkey rice, which is known as huo ji rou fan in Chinese. An understated meal that pairs shredded, slightly seasoned turkey meat (and its juices) over a modestly sized bowl of rice, it’s available all over Taiwan but is most satisfying when eaten in Chiayi City.

Is Chiayi safe?

Like most cities in Taiwan, Chiayi is perfectly safe to visit. However, because there is only minimal public transportation here, you will need to be careful about navigating the city as a pedestrian. Increased car and motorbike traffic (and, frankly, poor sidewalks) means that getting around on foot can be surprisingly hazardous.

The Bottom Line

Unsure about how many days in Chiayi you should spend? For most travelers, a night or two is sufficient—well, in the city center, at least. There’s the question of Alishan, of course, though its answer depends upon whether you want to spend the night or not. It’s possible to visit on a day from Alishan, though this means you won’t be able to experience the famous sunrise over the tea fields. No matter what you do in Chiayi, I think you’ll agree that there’s no other place in Taiwan like it—and that in spite of being on the main high-speed rail line, it feels off-the-beaten-path. Need help planning your trip? Consider commissioning a custom Taiwan itinerary!


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