With a surface area of 7.93 km2, the Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) of Nantou County is the largest freshwater lake in Taiwan!
What and Where is Sun Moon Lake?
Just under 2 hours bus ride from Taichung lies the majestic, blue and misty Sun Moon Lake.
Surrounded by a stunning mountainous backdrop, picturesque bicycle routes and its clear turquoise waters, it is no wonder that this location is a tourist hotspot.
It can get extremely busy over the weekends, especially during the holiday seasons so keep that in mind when you book your accommodation! Try to book at least a few weeks in advance. My girlfriend and I found this out the hard way.
How to Get to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung & Alishan
Being one of Taiwan’s much-loved destinations by both tourists and locals, Sun Moon Lake is fairly easy to get to from Taichung.
You can catch a comfortable 6670 Nantou bus from either Taichung’s TRA station or the HSR. It costs NT$296 (~£7.60).
Taichung is Taiwan’s third largest city so it is also extremely well connected to many surrounding cities with direct trains departing from both Taipei and Kaohsiung.
Before I visited Sun Moon Lake, I spent a few days 2,500 metres above sea level in the Alishan National Scenic Area. There is also a direct bus to Sun Moon Lake that leaves Alishan at 1pm and 2pm daily.
It is common for visitors of Alishan to proceed with their journey onwards to Sun Moon Lake. This meant that getting there was well organised and straightforward. Read my guide for further information about the Alishan National Scenic Area in Taiwan.
Top 5 Things to do in Sun Moon Lake
My girlfriend and I visited the majestic lake for 3 nights and our hotel advised us to get a Sun Moon Lake Pass. There are several types of passes you can get with sizeable discounts on journeys as far as Taichung and Puli, inclusive of the lake activities. I would highly recommend grabbing a pass as it genuinely does save you a lot of money. Our pass included the following for just $NT390 (~£10):
- Round-the-lake bus ticket for one day
- Boat tour (Shueishe, Ita Thao and Xuanguang Temple piers)
- Round-trip Ropeway ticket
- Shuishe-Xiangshan Bus one-way voucher
You can purchase these passes from the office by the Nantou Bus stop or at most 7 Eleven’s. To find out more about what each pass includes, check out the Nantou Bus website. Some passes include much more if you have time to squeeze it all in!
1. Cycle round one of the best bikepaths in the world
This surrounding area of Sun Moon Lake has been built for cycling. Do not miss out on this as it is an amazing and scenic experience! The designated cycle path covers half of the lake with an impressive infrastructure made for both experienced and inexperienced cyclists. We choose a leisurely cycle on the 12km path with regular stops as there was just too much to see and take pictures of. I must have taken hundreds of photos.
Viewpoint from a section of the bikeway
2. Sun Moon Lake Shuttle Boat
This is, by far, the quickest way to experience the lake! The boat runs from 9am – 5pm daily but may vary depending on the season. Check out the boat schedule here. If you don’t opt for a Sun Moon Lake Pass, you can purchase boat tickets from any of the boat ticket booths near the three piers. You can dock the boat at either Shuishe, Syuanguang or Ita Thao Pier and just get back on one when you are done with discovering that part of the lake. The boat tour will allow you to see and visit the following places:
- Lalu Island: Located in the middle of the lake, this tiny island once separated the lake into a crescent moon and round sun. It was inhabited by the Thao people but has since been disintegrated partially due to the building of a dam in the 1930s and the earthquake Jiji in 1999. It is too small and fragile for tourists to explore it, but you can have a great view of it from the boat.
- Ita Thao: You can get off the boat at Ita Thao Pier to find the old village of aboriginal Thao people. There is an abundance of street food, souvenir shops and restaurants for you to relax in.
Street food in Ita Thao
- Ci-en Pagoda: The 45m tall Ci-Pagoda is on top of the 954m high Shabalan Mountain and was built in memory of the late President Chiang Kai-Shek’s mother. You can hike up to this 9-storey high, magnificent pagoda by getting off the boat at Xuanguang Pier and following the Quinglong Mountain Trail. Unfortunately for us, a section of this route was under construction during my visit, so we were unable to continue along the trail.
3. Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
The ropeway was a memorable part of the trip. It runs to and from Sun Moon Lake Station (south east of the lake and just north of the Ita Thao community) to the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village in 6.8 minutes, giving passengers a bird’s eye view of the entire lake.
I would encourage everybody to take the ropeway for a fantastic view of the lake from above, it was so much fun! The tickets can be purchased separately, as a bundle with the F.A.C.V. theme park or as a bundle with the Sun Moon Lake Pass.
The ropeway extends 1877 metres, over two mountains!
4. Wen Wu Temple
Wen Wu temple was built in 1938 from the ruins of two temples, then rebuilt in 1969 to increase its size. The mammoth temple is located on the northern bank of Sun Moon Lake. To get here you can jump on the round-the-lake bus which makes frequent journeys throughout the day.
Wen Wu was one of my favourite temples in Taiwan because of the adjacent gardens and breathtaking views of the lake from the rooftops.
Wenwu Temple overlooking Sun Moon Lake.
5. Catch a festival
There are a few key events that take place at the Lake over the year:
- January/February: Chinese New Year
- February/March: Aboriginal cherry blossom festival
- March/April: Bicycle free tour and Valley Firefly Appreciation September – 10,000 People Sun Moon Lake Traverse (10,000 people dive into the lake and swim across 3km!)
- October/November: Sun Moon Lake festival or the “Sun Moon Lake International Fireworks-Music and Come! Bikeday Festival!”
My trip to Sun Moon Lake was a welcomed break from the busy and occasionally polluted areas of the west coast of Taiwan. It is a beautiful area with a lot of activities on offer. Cycling around the lake was an amusing adventure. The crowds can dampen the mood slightly and I can imagine it would get extremely busy during a popular seasonal event. But if you visit Taiwan, you should not miss the opportunity to see such a stunning place.
Check out my quick video from Kaohsiung, using my new GoPro!