Fenqihu, or Fenchihu or even Funchihu is a small village well hidden in the forested mountain sides of the Alishan mountain range. It started as a small encampment for timber logging in the mountains. As the railway reached the town to support the timber industry, the town became a stop for people going further in the mountains. Nowadays, it is a short stop for some people on the way to Alishan. Mainly geared for tourists, this location still maintains a charm by its size and surrounding bamboo groves as well as conifer forests.
Fenqihu presents itself as a small town with a famous old street full of boutiques and small shops selling mainly Oolong tea, wasabi flavored snacks, wooden articles of all kind and sweets.
The Alishan Mountain Railway running from Chiayi to Alishan passes through Fenqihu, but since a typhoon damaged part of the tracks, the train from Chiayi currently terminates in Fenqihu (as of January 2017).
The Alishan Mountain Railway has daily departures from Chiayi station (not the HSR station) at 9:00am. There are extra trains on weekends on holidays, leaving Chiayi at 9:30am and 10:00am. Detailed timetables can be found on . The trip takes 2:20h and costs 384NT$ for the entire route.
All transport are timed with tourists going to Alishan directly, not stopping to Fenqihu on their way. The important thing to do is reach Shizhuo, another small town about 10-15 minutes away from Fenqihu, but on a main road. Many buses will stop at Shizhuo and from there you have 2 options:
1- take one of the few buses that run about twice a day between Fenqihu and Shizhuo.
2- hitchhike your way to Fenqihu. Hitchhiking is rather easy in that region, as it is in many places across Taiwan. Taiwanese people are good judge of characters and you are likely to catch a ride with the first or second car that comes by. There is a T intersection in Shizhuo that connects the road that gets you to Fenqihu. There are quite a few signs indicating Fenqihu, keep an eye open and you should be able to find the right way. Simply walk your way up and get your thumb up!
Fenqihu is too small to consider a car, too steep to consider a bike and most distances in town will take less than 7 minutes walk, even if you stay at the Catholic Hostel.
Fenqihu itself doesn't offer many activities apart from shopping and riding the train.
On the other hand, the surroundings where pine trees grow tall alongside bamboo groves are filled with hiking trails. This is a very mountainous area, do expect high intensity hiking with all the stairs going up and down.
Shopping along the old street can keep you busy, and also your stomach full, for some hours.
Be careful of certain products.
If you intend to buy tea, maybe you should consider hitchhiking to Shizhuo and buy your tea directly from the tea producers over there. 150g of Oolong tea sold at the tea garden is about 100NTD cheaper than in Fenqihu, that is for an average Oolong tea as there are so many in that area. Prices will vary if you come across some old tea (Laocha), Oolong tea that has been aged, or some Dongpiancha, rare winter tea. Both of these will have significantly higher prices.
Also be aware that units of weigh in Taiwan are not the same as in Mainland China. One jin or one liang(which respectively mean 500g and 50g in Mainland China) has been observed to mean up to 2 different sets of measure. Play on the safe side and simply use ke, which means gram, that way no confusion will arise for both price and quantity.
Don't miss the famous Fenqihu lunch box (奮起湖便當 fencihu biendang), which has a deep-fried cutlet, Taiwanese sausage and a selection of mountain veggies on rice. One that serves the original one sits right underneath the 7/11. Get in, order that one lunch box. 100 NTD take away, 120 NTD if you eat it on the spot.
Another small restaurant is called Tian shui, heavenly water. It is approximately 10 meters away from the 7/11 going inside the old street, on the opposite side of the street. It serves common taiwanese dishes at a decent price. Fried rice with egg goes for 50 NTD.
You can find some breakfast food like Mantou (white flour steamed bun) and Bing (pancake-ish snack) at a small shop that opens early in the morning. it is located about 15 meters away from the 7/11 in the street that goes downhill.
Last stop is a gem tucked away in the back alley of the main area, “Aiyu Bo E Chu” which means “Uncle Aiyu’s home” in the Taiwanese dialect. The quaint cafe run by the Chen family, who concocts innovative versions of the Aiyu Jelly drink, was burnt down in a fire a couple years ago. As of January 2017, they have a stall located in a new shop at the end of the old street, facing a small open area with concrete benches. The drink has a tangy citrus flavor. The drink costs between 30 to 50 NTD depending on cup size.
There are other options along the old street but do understand most of them are there to serve take away snacks for tourists who barely stay 2 hours in Fenqihu.
There are a few coffee places near the train station, offering nice views of the surrounding hills.
Fenqihu offers some accommodation, most of which will try to take many thousands NTD out of your pockets. Do understand the prices in Fenqihu are still a bit cheaper than in Alishan proper.
There is one cheaper and very decent option hidden in the lower part of Fenqihu. The Catholic hostel. You may find that location referred to as just that, the catholic hostel, or the church hostel and one other name, Arnold Jansen activity center. This location is run by a small staff including a sister and a father. A one person room will go at 500 NTD a night. There also are dorms and bigger rooms available.
They do speak English, Mandarin and German. Last time checked, their website wasn't really functional. It is best to call them and make a reservation (+886 52561134). It really is a lovely location with clean bathrooms and rooms. Luxury is not present, it is a catholic community after all, but the basics are very well cared for.
To reach it, simply turn left after coming down from the bus stop when you are facing the 7-11 and follow that road, and its curves, downhill. You will go by small houses, a timid hairdresser salon and an alleyway that leads to a small cafe/restaurant. Keep going past an abandoned building and look for a gate with a cross on top of each pillar. Simply go down to the building that has the tower, it sits between the two other ones. Keep an eye open for the sister, she usually is somewhere around there and will be happy to welcome you, especially if you made a reservation with a name that she is expecting.
Again, hitckhiking to Shizhuo will be very easy, even early in the morning if you intend to get a bus to Alishan from Shizhuo.
From Shizhuo, there are buses that will lead you to Alishan, or back to Chiayi/Jiayi. Be aware that there are buses that leave from Alishan to the Sun Moon lake for a decent price (approx 300-400NTD)
For those going back to Chiayi/Jiayi, there is a bus that leaves at 9h00 in the morning from the bus stop just by the train tracks, opposite to a very foresty looking coffee house.
There is also a train at 2pm that goes to Chiayi. This is the famous Alishan Forest Railway train. You can purchase the ticket in advance at Chiayi or Alishan depending which way you are coming in from. Of course, you can also purchase the ticket at Fenqihu station itself. One way to Chiayi costs 384NTD (as of January 2017). The train ride takes 2 hours 20 minutes.