Taiwan’s largest lake, Sun moon lake, is not only the largest water body in Taiwan but also an immensely beautiful one surrounded by the mountains of Nantou county. The area around the lake is home to the Thao tribe, one of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. The name of the lake is inspired by the fact that the east side is round like the sun and the west is long and narrow like a crescent moon. Any trip to Taiwan would be incomplete without exploring this stunning lake!
How to get there: From Taipei you can take the high speed rail to Taichung from Taipei Main station MRT station located on the blue line. The tickets can be bought on the spot or can be booked online here. There is no difference between reserved and non-reserved seats, so if you are unsure about time I would suggest buying tickets once you reach the station. One way ticket costs 700 NTD. A round trip ticket is valid for the same day so don’t buy one if you don’t plan to return the same day (like me!! Found out only the next day that my ticket is not valid). The HSR takes an hour to reach Taichung from Taipei.
At Taichung station, go one level down and from the counter on the left you can buy a bus ticket from Taichung to sun moon lake. The bus stand can be found as soon as you exit from the HSR station and it takes 90 minutes to reach sun moon lake bus stand. The ride is quite a scenic one with mountains and lush greenery. Brownie points for having free wifi and mobile charging points in the bus 😊
How to explore: The counter at HSR station sells all inclusive passes. I bought a pass costing 720 NTD which included round trip bus tickets from Sun moon lake to Taichung, round trip cable car tickets, round trip ferry tickets, unlimited round the lake bus trips and some discount on bike rentals! Good value for money!
My first impression on seeing the lake from my window seat in the bus- the lake is as picture perfect as it looks on Instagram- endless turquoise blue waters surrounded by mountains and green hills. I was picked up from the bus station by my lovely hosts (full review of the awesome B&B here). I checked-in and my hosts then dropped me back to the lake. Since it was already 4pm, I decided to do the boat tour. It was too late for cable car and since it was cloudy I postponed biking for the next day. My pass already included round trip ferry tickets so I went straight to the Shuishe pier and hopped on to the boat. The shuttle boat starts from Shuishe pier and goes to the Xuanguang temple pier and then to the Ita thao pier. Boat frequency at each pier is 15 min and the last boat departs from Shuishe at 5 pm and Ita Thao (back to Shuishe) at 5:30 pm. If it’s too cloudy and visibility is low, the shuttle boat service is stopped for safety reasons.
While going to the Xuanguang Temple pier, our boat crossed the tiny Lalu island. Once a bigger island and home to tribals, it was reduced to its current form due to a massive earthquake. Unfortunately, the tour guide on the boat spoke only spoke Mandarin and a very sweet local translated every thing for me in English. He also guided me on what each pier is famous for. Xuanguang Temple pier is popular for its temple and a more than 50 year old stall selling Assam tea eggs. Tea egg is a Taiwanese delicacy prepared by boiling eggs in a cauldron of black tea. It’s simple but very flavourful as the eggs absorb the aroma and flavours of tea.
The temple was former home of relics of Master Xuan Zang who embarked on the famous ‘Journey to the West’ to Central Asia and India in his endeavour to promote Buddhist teachings.
The island at Ita Thao pier is bigger with shops selling local delicacies, souvenirs and rice/millet wines. I tried out some Taiwanese street food here- quite good and Super cheap!
I took the last ferry from Ita thao and explored the shops at Shuishe. A very sweet Taiwanese shop keeper lady sat me down to taste the various teas in her shop. Bought some nice oolong tea from her. What I liked about her was that she was using her translation app on WhatsApp to convert mandarin to English! Language is definitely an issue in Taiwan (especially outside Taipei) but the Taiwanese make an earnest attempt to communicate with you and understand! Also bought some buns from a bakery (lured by the awesome smell) and plum wine!
My next morning started quite well and I was especially happy to see the sun shining bright (perfect visibility for biking right?). But by the time I finished my breakfast, it had become supper foggy. I was quite dejected and almost thought that I won’t even get to see the lake today thanks to the fog. Anyways, I checked out and my hosts dropped me to the lake. And what do I see? It’s bright and sunny again! Woohoo! I put my luggage in the locker- a free service provided at the visitor centre right in front of the bus stop. I then picked up a purple coloured bike from one of the rental shops in the same lane. Remember that you need to give your ID card as a deposit here for renting a bike.
This cycling trail is considered as one of the most trails around the world. Its a 12 km long path (both ways) that covers almost half the perimeter of the lake. Directions are very clearly given (in English as well!) so there is no chance of getting lost. I won’t say much about the trail but just see the pictures below- absolutely gorgeous right?
After returning the bike, I went to the Ita Thao pier and walked towards the ropeway station to enjoy an aerial view of the lake. It’s a fun ride with amazing views and well worth your money. The cable car takes you to the Formosan aboriginal culture village. It also has a tiny shopping street. I skipped the culture village (maybe next time!) as it was already 3 pm and I didn’t want to reach Taipei too late in the night. So I took the cable car ride back and spent some time exploring the market at Ita Thao.
I had the sausage here and some caramel ice cream. Also, bought some millet wine and souvenirs to take back to Singapore.