Taiwan Travel Guide – Sun Moon Lake

Nestled amidst the mountains of Yuchi Township, Sun Moon Lake is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in Taiwan. As Taiwan’s largest natural lake, Sun Moon Lake boasts breathtaking scenery and a history that stretches back centuries. Sun Moon Lake’s name originates from the unique shape of the lake itself. The eastern shore resembles a crescent moon, while the western side mirrors a round sun. The Thao tribe, one of Taiwan’s indigenous groups, have inhabited the area for centuries. Their cultural heritage is still very much alive around the lake.

When to Visit

  • Taiwanese visitors head to Sun Moon Lake on the weekends, so hotel room rates zoom up on Friday and Saturday nights. Visit during a weekday if you want to avoid crowds and get the best deals. Also note that there aren’t a lot of budget or mid-range hotels (or, if there are, they are not easily found online in English) so booking ahead is probably wise, especially if you’ll be visiting during a weekend or busy season.
  • During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Sun Moon Lake is the site of a massive swim — more than ten thousand swimmers plunge into the lake to swim 3 km across. Join the fun if you wish.
  • Like many other locations in Taiwan, it can get very hot in the summertime, as well as having a higher number of tourists. Visit during the fall, winter, or spring if you prefer a more moderate temperature.

Getting There: Transportation Options

No trains go directly to Sun Moon Lake; the closest major station is Taichung. From there you will need to take a bus or taxi. Some direct buses are available from Taichung or Taipei, but often it is more convenient to take a bus from Taichung to Puli, and transfer buses there for another half hour ride to Sun Moon Lake. Buses typically arrive/depart at and/or across from the Shuishe Visitor Center.

No buses travel directly from Hualien, though cars may be rented and driven through the picturesque Taroko Gorge. The drive on the winding two-lane road takes approximately seven hours, although it is subject to frequent stops due to rockfalls.

From Taipei

  • Green Transit Bus (Feng Jung Bus) – Running daily from Taipei MRT ZhongXiao FuXing Station (Taipei East Area, near SOGO department store, no 274, Fuxing east rd) and Sun Moon Lake. For timetable and other details, please contact ☏ +886 2 27522988 (Taipei), or ☏ +886 49 2990407 (Puli)
  • Kuo-Kuang Bus (國光客運, formerly TaiChi Bus) – Four buses run daily from Taipei West Station (near Taipei Train Station) to Sun Moon Lake. ☏ +866 2 23119893 (Taipei), or ☏ +886 49 2990407 (Puli)

From Taichung

  • Nantou Bus (南投客運) – Running daily from Gancheng Station (干城站) on Shuangshih Road (雙十路, a little bit north of the TRA railway station), via HSR (High Speed Rail) Taichung Station and Puli to Sun Moon Lake for NT$200 one way (return $360). For timetable and other details, visit their website (look for the only English words on it) or ☏ +886 49 2984031 (Puli). You can also see a list of the bus stop locations.
  • Renyou Bus (仁友客運) – Less frequent departures from Liouchuan East Road (柳川東路) near the railway station for NT$200 one-way and NT$350 for a return ticket.
  • Kuo-Kuang buses from Taipei stop over in Chaoma station in Taichung.

Getting Around Sun Moon Lake

The town is quite compact so you can easily walk or bicycle anywhere. A loop road more or less circles around the lake, although you’ll need to get off the road to view the lake (some sections of the lake have a dedicated bicycle/walking path). The most direct way from one side of the lake to another is by boat.

Things to See and Do in Sun Moon Lake

  • Bike around the lake. The main attraction of Sun Moon Lake is its beauty and one the best and most popular ways of enjoying that is to rent a bicycle and ride around the lake. Riding completely around the lake (~30 km) can take a full day with stops and can be pretty tiring if you are not in good physical shape. If you only want to do part of the way (and avoid some of the steep bits), cycle around the eastern shore if you want to visit Wenwu Temple or the western shore and end your trip at Ita Thao, from where you can take your bike back to Shuishe on the boat (NT$100 extra). Prices vary by place and quality of bicycle, but expect to pay 100-300 TWD for a single or 400+ for a tandem bike. Also note that some places rent for the day or even half a day while others rent for 24 hours. Bargain if you need extra time as there is plenty of competition. If one shop won’t give you the deal you want, another probably will.
  • Boat tour. Whether you are up for a bike ride or not, I recommend taking the boat tour. It’s not really a tour so much, though the pilot will usually make some commentary in Chinese that may be interesting if you can understand it. Mostly, it’s just a glorified multi-leg boat taxi. Cost is about NT$300 per person and there is a ticket office at the Shuishe Visitor Center, though I also saw people selling tickets on the street for the same price.
  • Water sports. There are options to rent standup paddle boards (SUP), row boats, electric pedal boats, and aqua bikes.
  • Live music. When I visited, there was live music near the pier in town and also in the square on Ita Thao village. The former was contemporary (popular, I assume) music and the latter was traditional (aboriginal?).
  • Wenwu Temple (文武廟). The biggest temple on the northern bank of the lake. I thought this was a pretty nice/interesting temple and spent a fair amount of time there. If you are riding the bicycle loop, you’ll need to park your bike and walk up a lot of stairs.
  • Ci-en Pagoda (Ci’entang / 慈恩塔). 09:00-16:30. This Chinese style pagoda is a good place to overview the lake. It’s 46 m tall and was built by the Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. It was completed in 1971 and sits on the hill southeast of the lake.
  • Ita Thao (伊達邵). The village of the Thao Aborigines, and also called Dehua village (德化社). The boat shuttle between Suishe and Ita Thao goes twice an hour, takes 10 minutes and costs $100 per person. There are tons of street food vendors and bubble tea shops in this town so arrive hungry.
  • Lalu Island (拉魯島). In the middle of the lake. Lalu (lit. “Lake Island”) is the name the Thao tribe, the original inhabitants of the area, gave to this sacred land, though it was changed to Guanghua (光華 or “Glorious China”) during Chiang Kai-shek’s rule of Taiwan. After 1999’s September 21 earthquake the Taiwanese government, attempting to show greater respect and political awareness towards the Thao, reverted the island’s name back to its original Lalu.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a ton to do for entertainment in Sun Moon Lake so how long you should visit depends how much you want to relax and enjoy the natural beauty or do some hiking, biking, or water sports. I stayed two nights and that was good for me. If I didn’t spend a full day riding the entire 30 kms around the lake (with longish stops) I could have probably done/seen everything with one night and two days.

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