Legendary Sun Moon Lake is one of Taiwan’s top attractions, and rightly so. Sparkling waters in turquoise and cerulean hues framed by misty peaks and leafy trails are perfect for leisurely strolls, picturesque hikes and well-planned cycling routes. Our 24-hour itinerary takes you on an overnight excursion just a few hours away from Taipei.
Words & Photography: Abby Yao
Taiwan’s largest lake, set in the heart of the countryside, was once shaped like the sun and a crescent moon, hence its poetic name. The scenery inspires not just poets and painters but all who had the great opportunity to behold its splendour. Most travellers spend at least a night here to see Sun Moon Lake in all its different moods from sunrise till sunset.
11AM Arrive at Sun Moon Lake from Taipei. Pick up your round-the-lake tour bus tickets (part of your bus ticket – more details below) and timetable at the counter outside Shuishe Visitor Center.
1130AM Check in to your hotel in built-up Shuishe or Ita Thao village. Grab a quick lunch to whet your appetite for the afternoon’s sightseeing.
1230PM Get to Wenwu Temple on top of the hill with your round-the-lake bus pass. In the past, people arrived by boat and climbed up to the temple. Today, the 366 steps have been carved with dates of the leap year and names of famous people born then. Hang a wind chime on your birthday step for good luck.
2PM According to legends of the indigenous Thao tribe, a white deer brought hunters across rivers and up the mountains into Sun Moon Lake. Today, only a few hundred are left in Ita Thao. Catch their thrice daily (five on Sundays and holidays) performances at Zhulu market.
3PM Ride over to Ita Thao shopping street for freshly made snacks and cute souvenirs. There are owl souvenirs aplenty as the bird has become a symbol of the Thao people. Black (Assam) tea grown in Yuchi township is also highly favoured.
4PM Catch the boat between Ita Thao, Xuangang Temple and Shuishe. Xuangang Temple is popular amongst Buddhist pilgrims as well as foodies looking for a taste of the famous Grandma’s Tea Eggs sold there. The shuttle boat also passes by the tiny Lalu Island.
5PM Get on the southern side and choose between the Dazhuhu Hiking Trail (0.18km), Tutingzai Hiking Trail (0.6km) or Ita Thao Lakeside Trail (0.9km) before sunset. Catch the last bus back to your hotel before dark.
6PM Free and easy evening – grab a quick dinner and take a leisurely walk around the dock area. Sun Moon Lake is very quiet so you can enjoy a good night’s sleep. If you’re staying in Ita Thao, head over to the Crystal Resort’s bar for some drinks.
8AM Go on the 3-km Maolan Mountain Trail, said to be the best sunrise trail, or Hanbi Lakeside Trail (1.5km), passing by Meihe Park and Christian Church. Another option is the Shuishe Lakeside Trail (1.5km) leading to Bamboo Rock Park.
10AM Board the round-the-lake bus for Xuanzang Temple (not to be confused with the lakeside Xuangang Temple, though both are dedicated to Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who inspired the classic novel Journey to the West). Say a prayer or two before heading uphill towards the nine-storey Cien Pagoda. Wear comfortable walking shoes if you’re planning to join the hike up.
11AM Depart Sun Moon Lake for your next destination. Alternatively, continue the rest of the day at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Take a glimpse at Taiwan’s largest European-themed gardens or check out the tallest free-fall ride in Taiwan, amongst aborigine dance and song performances.
WHERE TO NEXT?
A number of towns also in Central Taiwan’s Nantou County are convenient to get to by bus from Sun Moon Lake:
- Shuili Try your hand at traditional pottery at Shuili Snake Kiln
- Jiji Rent a bike and explore the town’s attractions, such as the Endemic Species Research Institute, Wuchang Temple and Green Tunnel
- Checheng Sharpen your carpentry skills with DIY Woodworking at The Grove and see the town’s timber history at the Checheng Logging Exhibition Hall
- Puli Check out the Puli Wine Museum and make your own handmade paper at Guanxing Paper Mill
- Cingjing Hang out with sheep and horses at Cingjing Farm
Getting in by bus
From Taipei, Kuo Kuang bus departs from Taipei West Bus Station five times a day (six on Saturdays). NT$460, 4 hours.
Getting in by train + bus
HSR (High Speed Rail) departs Taipei for Taichung. From NT$740, 1 hour. From Taichung HSR Station, Nantou buses go to Sun Moon Lake. NT$217, 1 hour 20 minutes.
Getting around by bike
The road around the lake is 29km long, which takes 3 to 4 hours by bike. There are bike rental spots at Shuishe Visitor Center, Chinghsing Parking Lot and Xiangshan Visitor Center.
Getting around by bus
Three types of Sun Moon Lake Passes available from Nantou Bus counters at Taichung Station, Puli Transit Station and Shuishe Visitor Center provide excellent value for money.
The NT$360 Sun Moon Lake Pass includes a one-day round-the-lake bus pass voucher (NT$80 value), Sun Moon Lake Ropeway roundtrip voucher (NT$300 value), Shuishe-Xiangshan shuttle one-way bus voucher, one-day boat voucher (NT$300 value) and discount voucher for bike rental.
If you’re coming from Taichung, the NT$680 Sun Moon Lake Pass includes the same privileges as the NT$360 Pass, plus bus tickets for Taichung-Puli, Puli-Sun Moon Lake and Taichung-Sun Moon Lake.
Additionally, visitors to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (FACV) can avail of the NT$990 Sun Moon Lake Pass, which includes the same privileges as the NT$680 Pass plus entry to FACV worth NT$780 on its own.
For more information on Sun Moon Lake, visit the official Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area website at www.sunmoonlake.gov.tw.
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