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Starry sky above a sea of clouds atop Taiwan’s Alishan

A look at the best places in Taiwan for stargazing

The star-embellished night sky above a sea of clouds on Alishan. (P.K. Chen photo)

The star-embellished night sky above a sea of clouds on Alishan. (P.K. Chen photo)

Whenever cold wind and light rain take hold of Taipei, Keelung, and Yilan in the winter, those who enjoy outdoor activities face disappointment. However, those who are familiar with the climate are unperturbed.

That is because when the strong northeast monsoon makes its way south along China’s coast, it lingers below 1,500 meters due to the lack of convection above the sea. Elsewhere, in Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, which extends from north to south, there are 268 mountains higher than 3,000 meters.

Looking down from an orbital path in space, you can see the low-hanging clouds of the northeast monsoon cut open by the Central Mountain Range like a slice of cake. After 4 p.m., due to the waning heat from the sun, the clouds sink lower and form the spectacular "sea of clouds."

What are the best places to see a sea of clouds? If you live north of Taichung, then Hehuanshan is a great choice. If you live south of the city, then Alishan in Chiayi County is a spot that you definitely should not miss!

The Youth Activity Center on Alishan provides cabin lodges, a timber railway, and a wooden deck at the Erwanping Train Station for lying down and stargazing. It is a great location for cloud-watching that provides convenient options for accommodation and dining.

Starry sky above a sea of clouds atop Taiwan’s Alishan
A sea of clouds on Alishan. (P.K. Chen photo)

As for those living in south Taiwan’s Tainan and Kaohsiung, a good spot to see a sea of clouds would be atop Taimushan, which stands tall at 3,092 m.

As for the best time to catch the spectacle, the stronger the cold air mass is as it descends south, the more magnificent the clouds will be.

On the day the cold air mass arrives, when Taipei’s weather turns gloomy and rainy, that is my cue to pack and start driving. Usually, I head south on the second day of the cold front at 5 a.m., which allows me to avoid traffic and arrive at Hehuanshan or Alishan in hours.

A time-lapse video records a surging sea of clouds atop Alishan at dusk. (P.K. Chen video)

After a quick afternoon nap, I set up my camera at around 4 p.m. and start shooting a time-lapse video. That’s when you will see the clouds swirling around you slowly calm down, and as the sun sets the sea of clouds will reach its full glory, presenting beautiful colors and lights until night finally falls.

Don’t rush to leave just yet, though. Turn on your portable gas stove and start a hot pot, and you can enjoy a fine, hot meal beneath the star-adorned sky that appears over the sea of clouds.

Orion, Gemini, Taurus, and Sirius shine in the winter sky, keeping you company in the night.

Starry sky above a sea of clouds atop Taiwan’s Alishan
Visitors take photos of Alishan's scenery at dusk. (P.K. Chen photo)

(Translation by Stephanie Chiang)

Chen Pei-kung (陳培堃), known among amateur astronomers as P.K. and children as Star Peter Pan, is a renowned photojournalist and astrophotographer. His writing and photography have been frequently featured in the American Sky & Telescope Magazine, the Japanese Tenmon Guide, and major Taiwanese newspapers and magazines. In 1985, atop Jade Mountain, he became the first person in Taiwan to photograph Halley’s Comet.