Sun Moon Lake has been drawing tourists since 1999, when it was reconstructed into a National Scenic Area after a major earthquake. It is now a 9,000 hectare vacation mecca for Taiwanese and international tourists alike. The largest alpine mountain lake in all of Taiwan, it’s perfectly located at almost the geographical center of the island.
Surrounded by mountains on all sides, every direction you look can be a photo opportunity. Rising from 600 meters to 2,000 meters, the hills offer hiking and biking opportunities as well as wonderful overlooks. Approximately a dozen hiking trails of short to moderate distances offer something for everyone.
Depending on your interests and the amount of time you have to spare, there’s no doubt a trail just for you. Interested in meditation and prayer, take the 2.5 kilometer Qinglong Mountain Trail. Want the best sunrise view – that’s the 3 kilometer Maolan Mountain Trail. For sunset, hike the Dazhuhu Nature Trail.
The best workout will be had on the Mt. Hojian Mountain Trail over its 6 kilometer length – the longest in the area. The shortest is 180 meters (Dazhuhu Nature Trail.
Ready to move faster and see more? Jump on a bike and explore any of the bike paths around the lake. In fact, you can pedal around the entire lake on a combination of trails totaling 29 km. Plan to take about three hours.
Bikes can be rented from a number of locations; but I used Giant’s bike rental shop right in Sun Moon Lake. You can rent or buy a wide variety of bikes from their extensive inventory of the best bikes made here in Taiwan. Their store also offers lockers and showers in case you aren’t staying here in town.
Just walk to any of three docks, and you can catch a boat to cross the lake or go half way across and visit Lalu Island. Lalu is sacred to the aboriginal people in this area and is the dividing line between the eastern area that resembles the sun (circular) and the western area that resembles the moon (crescent shaped) from whence the lake got its name.
Bike and boat? Sure. The passenger boats allow you to bring your bike at no additional charge.
Choose from three different routes, starting at Shuishe Pier, Xuanguang Temple or Ita Thao. If you want to spend more time on the water, rent a rowboat at Ita Thao Pier. Rental rates are approximately $8 per hour.
Seeing the lake and its environs from the air is easy with the cable car that runs from Ita Thao to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. If you are visiting the center, your cable car ride will be free. Enjoy your airborne views as you travel up and over the mountain on an almost 2 km trip lasting seven minutes each way.
What to look for?
As you pedal or hike the areas around the lake, keep your eyes peeled for shorebirds of all descriptions: little egrets, black-crowned night herons and common king fishers to name a few. Butterflies are also very prevalent, but if that’s what you’re after, there’s actually a separate Butterfly Garden with 100 different types in residence. Spring and early summer feature the fragrant and beautiful 200+ cherry trees growing around the lake. For kicks, try and find all 142 species of ferns within the park.
You won’t have to look hard to see some of the premier architectural attractions in the forms of pagodas and temples around the lake. The multi-storied Cihen Pagoda sits high atop Erlong Mountain and is plainly visible from the lake. Built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother, this pagoda is 46 meters tall (about 150 feet.) Once you climb to the top, you are exactly 1,000 meters above sea level.
Not far away is the colorful and multi-denominational Wunwu Temple with its two giant lions poised at the bottom of its steps. Built in the style of the Northern Dynasty (386 – 581 AD), this is used by Taoists and followers of Confucius.
Centrally located on the island of Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake can be reached via the high speed rail. Get off at the Taichung Station and take the Nantou Bus. Round-trip fare from the rail station is only $11.
Sun Moon Lake is wonderful place to relax and I’d recommend at least a few days. Consider Sun Moon Lake Hotel if you want full service with free breakfasts and bike rentals included. (read the full review of Sun Moor Lake Hotel here.) Or for something a little funkier, consider the Full House, a B&B on the other side of the lake, with its own outdoor patio restaurant/art display. Dinner there was amazing.
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