When people talk of Taiwan, one of the places that will certainly come up in discussion is Sun Moon Lake; renowned as a picturesque getaway in the central Nantou county of Taiwan. It is a beautiful place where you can enjoy the highlights of natural Taiwan at its best.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a couple of days to explore it. What follows is a brief summary of the highlights of my trip as well as some ideas on how you can make the most of your visit.
The key thing to note is that it is incredibly easy to get to Sun Moon Lake from T-Life hostel. It is also well worth taking the time to do so!
How to Get There (and back)
From T-Life hostel you need to take one of the many frequent buses (bus numbers 300 to 310) from Tunghai into central Taichung. Ask the guys in the hostel and they’ll happily show you where to go. Get dropped off at the bus stop just after the train station. Cross the street and you’ll spot the bus stops and signs for the Sun Moon Lake shuttle bus.
It costs $195 for a single, $300 for a return and takes less than two hours to get there. Once you’re in the mountains the journey is picturesque so make sure not to snooze like I did and miss out on the lovely views!
You’ll get dropped off in Shuishe, on the north east side of Sun Moon Lake. From there it is easy to travel around the lake if you need to. See below.
To get back to Taichung simply reverse the journey. The bus also stops off in Nantou and at Taichung highspeed railway station, so you can also make your way to other cities if that’s your plan. Also, there are buses from Sun Moon Lake to many other places, so don’t worry about connections to your next destination.
Getting around Sun Moon Lake couldn’t be simpler. You can take a taxi to your hotel/hostel. Or you can take a bus. There are buses that circle around the lake in both directions. An all-day pass is $80 while a single is $30.
Depending on your destination you can also take one of the many boats that cross the lake every half hour. A single is between $100 and $150, depending on where you buy your ticket.
Where I Stayed
I stayed in the delightful PerBed hostel in Itathao on the south-east side of the lake. The beds in the comfortable dorm room are private and have everything that you’d expect from a well-appointed hostel. As well as the comfortable rooms, there is cool communal/kitchen area where you can hang out with the other guests, cook in the well-equipped kitchen or eat food that you’ve brought in. There are also many instruments to play if you’re musically inclined.
The owner is a friendly guy who has plenty of advice on where to go and what to do. He also has good connections with people in Itathao. If it’s not busy, he is happy to go with you to help you get things sorted. Like helping me hire a mountain bike for the day!
I stayed two nights in PerBed Hostel. I arrived in the afternoon, got my bike from one of the rental agencies in the village ($300 for 24 hours). I then went off exploring around the lake towards the famous Wenwu temple, on the east side of the lake. From there I took in the fantastic views and enjoyed a delightful pink and purple sunset.
In Itathao there are plenty of places to eat. You can sit down for a set menu or you can try one of the many stalls that serve a variety of tasty but filling snacks. I tried a pork wrap that was simply delicious. If you’re on a budget, you can always get something from the Family Mart or 7 Eleven and eat it at the hostel.
On my second day I woke up less early than planned and headed out to circle the lake. The hostel does do breakfast, but I try to save some pennies and always carry a huge bag of oats everywhere I go. The route around the lake takes between 3 and 5 hours for those not used to cycling and depending on how often you stop for photos and rests. I’m an active, healthy guy and it took me about 5 hours. But that’s mainly because I stopped for about 2 hours in total for lunch, coffee and photos!
There are some stunning points to stop at as you go around, but they depend on the light and the weather, so I haven’t included any specific points in this article. I’d recommend stopping at the Pagoda, to take in the view from the top. But beware of the significant number of steps! I’d also recommend stopping at Wenwu temple to enjoy the view and to appreciate the incredibly detailed and beautiful structure.
In Shuishe I took a set menu for lunch. It was overpriced and adequate but nothing to celebrate. The set menus are expensive but are probably more worthwhile in larger groups than one! As I was travelling alone it wasn’t the smartest choice. If I’d been less lazy, I’m pretty sure I could have found something cheaper by searching for another few minutes.
After a full day’s cycling, in the evening I relaxed in the hostel, chatting to the other guests, reading and catching up the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Don’t worry, no spoilers here!
On my third day I simply relaxed by the lake, reading with a chilled coffee, before taking a boat back across the lake to Shuishe for the bus back to Taichung. If I was slightly more proactive, I could easily have done a few more things before leaving. See below for a few other ideas for activities that you can easily do at Sun Moon Lake.
What Else You Can Do
Here’s a list of some of the other activities that may take your fancy:
- Watch the sunrise over the lake;
- Swim in the lake – while this isn’t technically allowed, if you get up early enough or find a sheltered spot no one is going to know, care or stop you;
- Take the cable-car/Ropeway that is a 5-minute walk from Itathao to explore the Formosan Aboriginal Culture village;
- Do some water activities on the lake – you can rent paddleboards, canoes, and paddleboats;
- Drink tea – Sun Moon Lake is an ideal place to sample the delicious varieties of tea that Taiwan has to offer.
What Are You Waiting For?
There you have it. A brief run-down of what awaits you at Sun Moon Lake. It is a beautiful part of the world where all of your senses have something to appreciate!