Swanning around Sun Moon Lake | Taiwan News

The iconic waterbody has mountain hikes, bicycle paths and a 12-story pagoda sure to pique any traveller’s interest.

  • By Mark Roche / Contributing reporter

Surrounding Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) there are a multitude of activities suitable for all the family that can be enjoyed on a day or weekend trip. On a recent visit, I hiked to a peak, rode a ferry across its emerald waters and visited a pagoda with outstanding views.

Located in Nantou County’s Yuchi Township (魚池) at 748m above sea level, Sun Moon Lake it is an excellent destination in summer or winter with a year-round moderate temperature.

The lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan with a circumference of 27 kilometers. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon — hence the name.

Photo courtesy of Mark Roche

MOUNTAIN HIGH

The lake and its surrounding countryside have been designated one of the thirteen national scenic areas in Taiwan. On a recent trip I enjoyed a walk along the Maolan Mountain Hiking Trail (貓囒山步道), which is located at the northern edge of the lake and rises to an elevation of 1,020 meters.

The Japanese colonial government established the Maolan Mountain Tea Research and Extension Station here in 1936, mainly to carry out the improvement of growing leaves for black tea.

Photo courtesy of Mark Roche

On the right side of the entrance to the trail there are several old Japanese-style buildings that houses employees for the tea research station that are made with cypress with the inside walls being of bamboo. They have been designated by the county government as a historic site.

The trees along the trail are Ceylon olive elaeocatpus, so-named because they are native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and India and have fruit that resembles the olive. They are evergreen trees and the red leaves turn fiery red in the fall and winter and, when they fall, pave the ground with a red carpet that makes this a favorite spot for taking wedding pictures.

The hike to the peak of the mountain, all on paved road, only takes an hour and is well worth the effort for the spectacular views of the whole area. The warm sunrise illuminates the tranquil lake water and the tea plantation that covers the mountainside, showing another side of the lake’s beauty. There is a weather station on top, which is one of the four highest in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Mark Roche

Maolan Mountain is also No. 49 of the Xiaobaiyue (小百岳) or “Small 100 Peaks” — specially selected “suburban mountains” that are more accessible in Taiwan’s cities and counties.

CRUISING THE LAKE

A visit to the lake wouldn’t be complete without enjoying the ferry service across it that connects the main tourist area piers of Shueishe (水社碼頭), Itathao (伊達邵碼頭) and Hsuanguang (玄光碼頭). This service, which triangulates between the three piers, runs from 9am to 5pm daily and costs NT$30. Both Shueishe and Itathao have an abundance of guest houses and restaurants and either of these locations is ideal for an overnight stay.

Photo courtesy of Mark Roche

Taking the ferry across allows visitors to fully appreciate what a substantial body of water the lake is—the furthest points between the two main piers is nearly 3 kilometers in distance.

Although I didn’t do so on this occasion I would highly recommend renting a bike to enjoy the bike path that circles the lake. There is a Giant bicycle service station located at the Shueishe Pier. Rentals are reasonable and start at NT$200 per hour (e-bikes are also available).

pagoda in the clouds

One final place to visit is the Cien Pagoda, (慈恩塔), located just a few kilometers from either Itathao or Hsuanguang. Former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) had it built in 1971 in an imposing traditional Chinese style in memory of his mother. The bamboo forest lining the route to the gardens at the top is the picture of tranquility.

The building in front of the pagoda was used as a rest house by Chiang and became one of his favorite places to visit.

The pagoda is 46 meters in height and sits on the 954 meter-high Shabalan Mountain (沙巴兰山) bringing its top to an even 1,000 meters above sea level. The pagoda is an octagonal building; The three floors at the base are painted in white, while the nine floors of the main body are painted in golden red.

The view from the top offers spectacular views of Sun Moon Lake and the surrounding mountains.

Regardless of age, fitness or interests there is something for all the family to enjoy at the lake for a night or two and be sure to finish off your day at one of the many coffee shops or sipping a beer with a lake-side view.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE
Visitors can take a local train at Changhua Station or Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail-Taichung Station, head to Shueili Station or Checheng Station, and then take the Nantou Bus to Sun Moon Lake. For more information about the many activities on Sun Moon Lake and surrounding area in Chinese and English, visit: www.sunmoonlake.gov.tw

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