After an extremely hectic few years of work and travel, I decided that I wanted a quiet birthday last year and decided to spend a few days recharging and immersing myself in nature, food and sleep in Hualien and the Sun Moon Lake. I was born in Taipei, and though I grew up in Hong Kong I still make it back to Taiwan a few times a year to visit family; it was time to step outside of my comfort zone and city of Taipei to explore more of what Taiwan had to offer – and why not start at one of the most picturesque places on the island?
Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan is a large body of water surrounded by mountain ranges and draws millions of visitors every year. It is one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan, and was named after its physical resemblance to a sun and a crescent moon. Though several ferries operate on the lake, it has remained relatively pristine and swimming is not allowed in the lake (bar one annual swimming competition). While there are a number of popular tourist attractions around Sun Moon Lake, it’s one of the best places to unwind and throw your itinerary out of the window.
3 nights at Sun Moon Lake rejuvenated my spirit – the crowds are minimal, the air is clean and fresh and the views are breathtaking. What’s not to love? If you’re visiting Taiwan, make sure you stop over at Sun Moon Lake! But first, a few basics.
The best time to visit Sun Moon Lake
In general, the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area tends to be a few degrees warmer than Taipei and Hualien on the east coast. However, the island experiences 4 seasons throughout the year, so the coldest months tend to be from December to February (approximately 17-20 degrees Celsius). The summer months from June to August hover at around 25-28 degrees Celsius and rainfall also tends to be highest during this season.
We visited in May and it drizzled slightly, but there was also a layer of mist around the lake which made it look even more spectacular. If you are headed to Sun Moon Lake, you may want to consider timing your visit for the annual cherry blossom festival in February, or visiting during spring and autumn.
As it is a popular destination for visitors from Mainland China, Sun Moon Lake can get very busy and crowded during the Chinese national holidays – Chinese New Year (follows the lunar calendar but typically in early February) and Golden Week (first week of October). You’ll want to book your Sun Moon Lake accommodation in advance during these periods.
How to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei
Taichung has its own airport (airport code: RMQ), but if you are flying from the U.S., Australia or Europe then chances are you will need to fly into Taipei first. Here’s where it gets a little bit overwhelming, because there are a number of different ways to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei. We actually drove from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake and it took nearly 7 hours because of the terrifying mountain highway that takes you high up into the clouds. Unless you are a skilled driver, I really wouldn’t recommend driving from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake – the highway is also routinely shut due to rockslides. Here are a few other options for getting to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei:
Taipei to Sun Moon Lake by car: Driving from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake will take you just over 3 hours. In my opinion, renting a car to get around Taiwan offers the most flexibility and ability to see what you want when you want, all at your own pace. You’ll want to make sure, however, that you have a valid international driving permit and that your hotel offers parking.
SIM cards can be purchased easily from Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, and you can hop onto Google Maps for driving directions. You can buy a 3-day Taipei tourist SIM card at the airport for about US$10.
How to get around the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area
You have several options of getting around Sun Moon Lake, the easiest of which being self-driving. There are a number of paid parking lots with plenty of spaces around the lake, and parking fees are cheap.
Alternatively, rent a bicycle or take the hop on/off Sun Moon Lake Round-the-Lake bus for NTD80/day.
There are a number of things to do in Sun Moon Lake to keep you busy, but I would recommend taking it easy and only visiting a few Sun Moon Lake attractions rather than planning a packed itinerary. You should aim to spend a minimum of 2 to 3 days in Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area. Read on for some incredible things to do at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan!
1. Check out the lake view from the top of Ci’en Pagoda
There are a number of lookout points around the lake but in my opinion the best view of Sun Moon Lake is from Ci’en Pagoda. To get there, you’ll have to walk 10-15 minutes uphill (don’t worry, it’s a gentle walk), and then up a few storeys for an outrageous view of the turquoise Sun Moon Lake.
Ci’en Pagoda was built by the late President Chiang Kai Shek in memory of his mother. The pagoda is 46 meters tall and is divided into nine tiers. There is no fee to enter.
2. Take the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
This cable car offers stunning views of the lake from above. The journey is 7 minutes long and costs 300 NTD, and also includes entry to the Ita Thao and Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village amusement park. In my opinion, you should either hop on the cable car or visit Ci’en Pagoda – not both.
3. Hop on a ferry
There are a number of small passenger ferries that travel between the three piers around the Sun Moon Lake. You can hop on and off for NTD300 per person, and check out one of the smallest islands in the world from the ferry as you can’t actually step foot on it. Lalu Island is located in the middle of the Sun Moon Lake and is considered to be the home of the Thao people’s ancestral spirits.
4. Visit a tea farm
The conditions around the Sun Moon Lake area make it perfect for growing tea. This is Taiwan’s main base for the cultivation of Assam black tea, which was brought in from India during the period of Japanese occupation for a trial production. There are a number of tea plantations around Sun Moon Lake, the most famous of which being Antique Assam Tea Farm. The plantation is free to visit but you’ll have to book in advance if you want to go on a guided tour. As the booking form and website is entirely in Chinese, your best bet is to ask your hotel to call and book for you.
5. Surround yourself with lilies
If you love beautiful flower fields, then you will love the local lily farms around Sun Moon Lake. The farm that we went to was just a stone’s throw away and full of golden orange lilies. The private farm is operated by local farmers who charge a small fee of NTD100 (US$3) to wander around their fields of lilies.
Sun Moon Lake is a wonderful slow travel destination in Taiwan, and a great place to clear your head and immerse yourself in what nature has to offer. Have you been to Central Taiwan before? Leave a comment with your favorite Taiwan destinations!
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