Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 (Taiwan)

Before setting off to Taiwan, I was keeping an eye on the weather at Sun Moon Lake. I was hoping for good weather as we had planned to cycle there - CNN has crowned it one of ten of the world's best bike routes for cyclists. I am no cyclist but am always up for some good views while burning off the fats stored from eating at the night markets. 

1) Brief background 

Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan. The area around the lake is home to the Thao tribe. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon. 

You will note that there is an island in the centre of the lake. Lalu Island is considered to be the home of the Thao ancestral spirits. As the Thao tribe consider this island a sacred place, tourists cannot visit the island. 

2) Getting to Sun Moon Lake 

As we were at Taichung, we took the Nan Tou Bus 南投客运 from Taichung. The route and timings are available online and we studied the timetable before setting off to the Taichung Gancheng Station. It took around 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Sun Moon Lake and cost NT$195 for a one-way trip. 

3) Boat trip around Sun Moon Lake 

As we were spending a night in Sun Moon Lake and only reached in the afternoon, our B&B host suggested that we take a boat ride so that we get a flavour of the place. 

We walked to the Shuishe Pier and some boat operator approached us. As we thought it was getting late in the day, we didn't check the prices of other boat operators and agreed to pay NT$300 per person. The boat operator also gave us a timetable of the times that the boats leave each pier. There were 3 stops - Shuishe Pier, Xuanguang Temple Pier and Ita Thao Pier. 

Our first stop was the Xuanguang Temple Pier. 

Even on weekdays, each stop was teeming with visitors.

On the brochure, one of the places recommended was 阿嬷香菇茶叶蛋 (Mushroom Tea Leaf Egg) (1 for NT$13). I didn't try it as I am not a fan of Tea Leaf Egg but my husband said that it tasted very ordinary.

We then walked up to Xuanguang Temple where you could get a bird's eye view of Sun Moon Lake. There is a rock which states 日月潭 and people were queueing up to take photos next to the rock but we did not as we wanted to cover sufficient ground before catching the last boat back from Ita Thao. The relics of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang are in this temple.

We then took the boat to Ita Thao Pier. From Ita Thao Pier, you could take the ropeway to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Or if you are rushing for time like us, you can just walk around Ita Thao where there was plenty of street food. It was the first time we tried a rectangular piece of mochi grilled over charcoal, where you could choose your toppings (we chose sesame and peanut).

We thought that the attractions we visited were average, and the views not exactly great. Was this all that Sun Moon Lake had to offer?

4) Walking around Sun Moon Lake 

After returning to Shuishe Pier, we walked around asking the bicycle shop operators what time they opened the next morning as we wanted to do an early morning cycle before leaving at 10 a.m. They typically open at 8 a.m. which was a little too late for us. Luckily for us, we walked into Merida Bike where the shopkeepers were so accommodating they said we could just give them a call from 6 a.m. onwards and the boss would open the shop early for us. How's that for excellent customer service!

Not only that, the lady shopkeeper also recommended that we take a walk around 涵碧步道 to catch some sunset views. It could not have been a better recommendation.

We enjoyed a cooling and easy walk, complete with good sunset views.

5) Cycling around Sun Moon Lake

One thing I realised in Taiwan was that like Singapore, you cannot trust the weather forecasts. Despite the forecasts of rain, it never rained in Sun Moon Lake when we were there and the weather was glorious.

We called Mr Wang of Merida Bikes at around 6:45 a.m., asking him if he would be able to open his shop for us to rent the bike. Not long after we reached, the shop was open as promised. He was clearly particular about safety, telling us that we should ride slowly in areas where there is tree cover, that we should not speed, and that we should wear safety helmets. We paid NT$100 per hour per person - this may be on the pricier side compared to other shops. That said, their bikes are in good condition. Given that we only had two hours to spare, he also recommended the best route to take.

I recommend an early morning ride because the views are great and there were no crowds to jostle with.

As we only had two hours to spare, we took the route recommended by the owner. There is a brief description of the bicycle route at this link. It was a relatively easy and safe ride. If you are not confident, you can always get down the bicycle and push the bicycle. There are some pretty up and down slopes- if you want, you can always choose to turn around once you reach that portion of the cycling route.

The cycling allowed us to take a good look at the beautiful Sun Moon Lake- views which we would have otherwise missed if we were content to just accept the views on the boat ride.

The thing I did right this trip was to walk and cycle around Sun Moon Lake. If the weather is good, you really get the best views of Sun Moon Lake. If you are up for it, I certainly recommend taking some time to explore Sun Moon Lake at your own time- the boat ride simply does not do it justice! 


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