Sun Moon Lake is a beautiful scenic area in Taiwan and a popular tourist destination. Besides the lakeside scenery, one can also enjoy boat rides, Taiwanese street food, gift shops, temples, a gondola, aborigine theme park, and more. It is for sure a must-see destination for anyone coming to vacation in Taiwan.
We have visited Sun Moon Lake a total of 6 times over 7 years, using 3 different cameras and 3 cell phone cameras, in luckily mostly good weather. In the blog below I will stitch together all of these trips in a way that hopefully makes sense. It may not be the most ultimate guide ever but it has most of the major sites in it.
Background: Sun Moon Lake (aka Zintun in local Thao language) is the largest natural lake in Taiwan and home of the aboriginal Thao tribe. According to legend, a white deer led the tribe to the lake, and is now trapped in a marble stone on Lalu Island, which is sacred ground to them. The name “Sun Moon Lake” comes from the different colors of the water in the lake, some of it being murky and on other parts of the lake, clear. Another account says that the name comes from parts of the lake being round like the sun, and other parts of the lake being curved like the moon. The first hydroelectric plant was built on the lake in 1919 by the Japanese, which was later taken over by the ROC government. The hydroelectric power is part of a system of hdro power plants running from Wushe to Sun Moon Lake down to Shuili Township, and includes at least 8 plants. Sun Moon Lake Scenic area was created in 2000. The lake attracts visitors from around the world from year round for its beauty and surrounding sights, and is also known for the annual Sun Moon Lake Swimming Carnival which thousands of people attend each year.
How to Get There: Bus: There are buses (Ubus/Kbus/etc) that leave all day from Taichung Station. By Car: Take National Highway 6 from Taichung up to Puli, and then follow the signs on highway 21 down to Sun Moon Lake. You can also take a car/scooter up highway 21 up from Shuili Township further south. Boat: You can circle the lake via three spots: Shuise Pier, Xuanguang Pier, and Ita Thao Pier.
Price: Scenic Area Entrance: Free Parking: Around 100 NT per day for cars Boat Ride: 300 NT per person Gondola Ride (Ropeway): 300 NT per person Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village: 850 NT per person
Hours: Scenic Area: 24/7 Parking: 24/7 Boat Ride: roughly 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM every day Gondola Ride: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM every day Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village: 9:30 AM- 5 PM every day
Map: Please see below:
In this guide we will cover 10 Places: Shuishe Pier 水社碼頭 Xuanguang Wharf 炫光碼頭 Ci En Pagoda 慈恩塔 Ita Thao Wharf 伊達邵碼頭 Ita Thao Old Street 伊達邵老街 Sun Moon Lake Ropeway/Gondola Ride 日月潭纜車 Jiuzu Cultural Village 九族文化村 Wenwu Temple 文武廟 Shuishe Dam 水社壩 King Garden 元首舘
On our most recent trip, we drove down from Puli to Shuishe Pier (水社碼頭), where we found a sweet deal on a boat ride tickets that included free parking.
Shuishe Pier 水社碼頭:
Above is the boat schedule. The first stop being Shuishe, then Xuanguang, and finally Ita Thao, before going back to Shuishe.
We headed down the street looking for the boat people in blue vests. There are tons of places to eat and shop along the way.
The Shuishe Pier is also a great place for wedding photos I guess.
Walking over the the pier. There are quite a few boat companies, but most all of them offer the same price of 300 NT per head. If you go early enough in the morning theoretically you can ride the boats all day until they close after 5 PM.
A family poses for a photo in front of the lake.
Boats and Ci En pagoda in the background.
A view of Wenwu temple from the pier.
The seating arraignments on the boat.
Off we go!
Stop 1: Xuanguang Wharf 炫光碼頭
Our first stop was Xuanguang wharf. From here you can see the most expensive hotels on the other side of the lake. Our boat driver said one night there is about 10,000 NT.
Here you can see the beautiful turquoise color of the water in Sun Moon Lake.
Main pavilion at Xuanguang pier.
Some aboriginal singers at the pier.
From above the hill you can see Lalu Island, a sacred Island to the Thao Tribe. I though the boat ride would take us there, but I guess it is off limits.
I don’t know what kind of flower this is, but it made for a nice photo.
Ci En Pagoda 慈恩塔
If you feel in the mood for a good hike, you can walk up from Xuanguang Peir up to Xuanguang Temple and Ci En Pagoda. Here are some photos I took from a previous trip, in which we drove straight to the pagoda.
This Pagoda was built by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1971 in remembrance of his mother.
The weather on this December day was amazing. The clouds and sunshine made for some incredible scenery.
Looking down from the top of Ci En Pagoda. There is a bell here that you can ring, but I do not have a photo.
View to the north of Ci En Pagoda.
View to the West.
View of the mountains to the south.
Another view to the south.
Closeup on Shuishe from the top of the pagoda.
And then we continued our journey onward. Xuanguang pier was kind of a dud, but Ci En Pagoda is worth visiting.
Closeup on Ci En Tower as seen from the lake.
Master Xuan Zang memorial hall as seen from the lake.
Master Xuanzang was a Buddhist Monk during the Tang Dynasty who visited India to learn more about Buddhism. His journey was later novelized as Journey to the West.
The entrance of Master Xuan Zang Memorial Hall.
Another view of Wenwu Temple. See below for photos of the inside.
Another boat crusing back to Shuishe Pier.
Two guys fishing on a canoe.
Stop 2: Ita Thao Wharf 伊達邵碼頭
View of Ita Thao Pier with the Ropeway (gondola) in the background.
Closeup on the gondola.
Ita Thao Visitor Center on the pier.
Ita Thao Old Street 伊達邵老街
Ita Thao Old Street (伊達邵老街) is the best place for eating and shopping at Sun Moon Lake.
Lots of people enjoying the views from Ita Thao Pier.
Ita Thao Old Street has many restaurant and souvenir shops, definitely a must see stop for tourists.
There are many shops like this where you can buy traditional aborigine clothing and trinkets.
Also you can try out aborigine food like wild boar meat.
More aborigine themed trinkets.
View of Ita Thao Old Street looking toward the lake. This is one of the best old streets in Taiwan in my opinion, so make sure you give yourself lots of time to look around.
From Ita Thao old street you can walk over to the ropeway/gondola. There is a nice boardwalk along the lake connecting the two.
Here is some drone footage along the boardwalk. Flying drones is restricted near any of the three piers at Sun Moon Lake.
Tree branch in front of the lake.
The lake as seen at dusk.
You can also rent a bike and cycle around the whole lake!
Sun Moon Lake Ropeway/Gondola Ride 日月潭纜車
Ita Thao Pier as seen from the Gondola.
We went to the Gondola on a Monday, but there was still a ton of people there.
Lots of students on a field trip or graduation trip I assume.
People Mountain People Sea.
Finally after half an hour in line we made it!
Riding up the Gondola!
View from a little higher up.
View of the East Side of the lake that appears to be slowly silting in. Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village九族文化村
At the other side of the gondola you will find yourself at Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village, which is an aborigine themed theme park.
I did go into Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village. I did pay the 850 entrance fee. Worth it? Yes! Sorry for the blurry photos. You’ll just have to go there yourself to enjoy it!
Aborigine parade down the streets.
Cherry blossoms near the parking lot.
I guess the northwest Native Americans are also part of Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village?
There are also dolphin shows! I didn’t get photos, but the dolphins jumped like 20 feet out of the water.
A child playing in one of the cultural exhibitions.
A dance show put on at night.
See above for a video of the fire dance! There are also roller coasters in the park, but I failed to get any photographic evidence of that. If you go though, I promise you will not be disappointed.
Taking the gondola back. Please forgive the finger.
Wetlands on the east side of the lake.
I’ve been on the gondola twice. In the image above, you can see the water level is way lower than at other times. Also on the top right is a fountain of water rushing up. Depending on the time of year they adjust the water levels to make sure there is stable hydro electricity production.
Rows of gondola cars.
Ci En Pagoda as seen from the gondola.
More stuff you can buy inside after you ride the gondola.
Wenwu Temple 文武廟
On the north side of the lake is Wenwu Temple, the biggest temple in the area. You can’t get there by boat, but you can walk or drive.
Wenwu temples are Chinese temples that combine deities from literature and war. This temple has halls dedicated to the God of War, the Warrior God, the God of Literature, and Confucius. The original temple was built in 1938, as a consolidation of two temples that were flooded after a dam was built on the lake. It was rebuilt and expanded again in 1969 as a tourist destination.
View from the front of the temple.
Buddhist images for sale in the temple.
A Chinese soldier mime inside the temple. He looked pretty much like a statue, and scared quite a few people.
Ornate decorations from the temple.
Ci En Pagoda as seen from Wenwu Temple.
Another view of the lake from Wenwu Temple.
Shuishe Dam 水社壩
On the south side of Shuishe, you can find the Shuishe Dam, which was built in 1934 along with Toushe Dam 頭社壩 to control the water level on the lake and make way for hydroelectric power.
People enjoying the bike ride along the dam.
Another photogenic rock placed in front of the lake.
Autumn leaves near the dam.
Dusk falling on Ita Thao pier.
Night scene of Shuishe Pier.
Walking back to the car after a long day on the lake.
King Garden 元首舘
Another place we visited on the way out of Sun Moon Lake was the King Garden (元首舘) which is kind of a quirky castle meant for Taiwanese tourists, with lots of Taiwanese memorabilia in there.
Famous Taiwanese baseball players guarded by golden roman guards?
I got some delicious deep fried ice cream there, which I have not eaten before or since.
The strange hills in Caotun on the way back out of Puli.
Green tourism destination for international certification (Green Destinations Awards / Certification) for the Sustainable Tourism Certification Mark of the most prestigious international. Certification unit