Sun Moon Lake is renowned for its beauty, especially its sunrise. So we decided to make a trip there while in Taipei and do a one night in Sun Moon Lake to catch the sunrise.
Getting to Sun Moon Lake
We took a red eye flight from Singapore to Taipei Taoyuan Airport, arriving at around 5am and headed straight to Sun Moon Lake. On hindsight, it was a little too ambitious as getting Sun Moon Lake took half a day. Despite being sleep deprived, the beauty of the lake and its surroundings energised us until we hit the sack at the end of the day.
Here’s how we got to Sun Moon Lake and it might be helpful to you.
From Taoyuan Airport to Sun Moon Lake (Vice Versa)
We went to the bus station at the Taoyuan airport. I highly recommend that you buy a YouYou Card 優游卡, a stored value card it is accepted mode of payment for public transport, both bus & trains, and purchases at 7-Eleven. There are machines at the bus station where you can purchase and top-up the card. Alternatively, you can buy them at 7-Eleven or convenient stores.
- From the airport bus station, take bus no 705 from Taoyuan Airport to Taoyuan HSR station (short for High Speed Rail). It costs about NT30 for a 20min ride.
- From Taoyuan HSR – Taichung HSR. It costs NT540 and the journey takes about 50min. I recommend book tickets online ahead of time. There is a good chance of getting discounted tickets too. Online booking website: https://irs.thsrc.com.tw/IMINT?locale=en We did not book online as we did not want to rush after getting off the plane to give time for breakfast and delays. To our surprise, the reserved seats were full and we had to buy the unreserved seats. For unreserved seats, it is first come first served basis. This meant that we might not get into the train we wanted and have to wait for the next train. There are only about 3-4 unreserved cars in the train, usually car 10-12. We are thankful that we managed to get onto the 8am train, but stood all the way to Taipei for almost an hour trying to keep our eyes open.
- Upon arrival, we walked to the bus station at Taichung HSR Station and boarded the bus to Nantou. We paid for this bus journey using our You You card. Cost is about NT170 (varies between cash and card payment) and took us about 90min. There were people around trying to sell us the sightseeing ferry tickets at Sun Moon Lake. Feel free to say no as there are many opportunities to buy them at NT100, which is the same price, at Sun Moon Lake itself. You will alight the bus in Sun Moon Lake opposite of Shuishe Visitor Centre. You can go in there to ask for direction and information. Our homestay, Mei Jen Home, is less than 100 meters walk from the visitor centre. Highly recommend it!
From Sun Moon Lake to Taipei (Vice Versa)
We went to Taipei from Sun Moon Lake. Actually we did a one night stay in Taichung along the way but this does not change the route to Taipei from Sun Moon Lake.
- Go to the bus stop in front of Shuishe Visitor Centre and take the bus to Taichung HSR. We used our You You Card to pay for the ride. Cost is about NT170 and takes about 90min.
- Next, we took the high speed rail from Taichung HSR to Taipei HSR. Cost NT700 and takes about an hour. We bought our reserved tickets when we were at Taichung station on our way to Sun Moon Lake so we had reserved seats this time round.
Accommodation in Sun Moon Lake
After much online research, we decided on Mei Jen Home. There are hotels that you can book that are right by the lake, which makes sunrise watching a lot easier. We wanted a more homie feel, so a homestay will be ideal. We love the fact that Mei Jen is just 50 meters away from the visitors center where the bus dropped us off. Their breakfast is amazing! The owner won an award for culinary skills and has the plaque placed at the reception. Love the condiments that goes with the porridge, and they serve the most aromatic milk tea we had in our whole Taiwan trip.
The staff at Mei Jen was very nice and chatty, giving us various recommendations of sites to see. One recommendation was to visit Ci-en Pagada for the view of the lake. We did not regret the climb for the view. Mei Jen organises sunrise watching for guests. We gather at 4.30am while it was still dark and walked 150meters to the pier where we waited. She usually will bring guests for a nice morning climb in one of the mountains after the sunrise as that was her usual health routine. She could not bring us that morning as she needed to make a trip to Taichung to do some urgent errands.
Getting Around Sun Moon Lake
There are many forms of transport one can take at Sun Moon Lake – ferry, bicycle, bus and taxi. We only made use of the first two, ferry and bicycle, more specifically electric bicycle.
Rental of bicycle is inexpensive. Bicycle for a day is about NT100 and electric bicycle for NT300. We rented ours from a shop just a few doors away from Mei Jen. We were pleasantly surprised when we rented our bicycle at about 4pm, we only needed to return it by 12pm the next day. A very good deal indeed! Mei Jen has space in front of her entrance to park our bicycles and this works out great. Cycling is possibly one of the best ways to experience Sun Moon Lake as CNN Travel named it as one of the ten most breathtaking cycling routes around the world.
Many parts of the cycling tracks are rather narrow. It allows only 2 cyclists in the same breadth, and usually in two directions. So do be careful when you are cycling as overtaking is a little tight at some places.
The next best form of transport will be the ferry. Ferry tickets are sold at NT100 and you can buy them almost anywhere at Sun Moon Lake area with sellers touting sales along the roads to the kiosks. What is great about the ticket is that it is valid for the day when you ride it and you can hop on and off as many times as you like. We got a stamp on our hand upon our first ride from Shuishe Pier and used the stamp to take as many rides as we like in the day. Listen out for the pier number as to where to board the ferry before disembarking. This will be where passengers should wait to board the ferry to the next destination. Caution: be prepared to wait in the sun as the pier has no shelter while you are in line.
The NT100 ferry goes to three stops in the lake – Shuishe Pier, Xuanguang Pier and Ida Thao Pier. The ferry will circle these three piers in this order. It takes about 10-15min to travel from one pier to another.
Sites in Sun Moon Lake
I will start of by using the route of the ferry. Each pier that it stops have its own attractions.
Xuanguang Pier 炫光碼頭
Xuanguang is the monk from the famous story Journey to the West, where Sun Wukong the Monkey King is one of his disciples. People come here for the Xuan Guang Temple to pay him reverence. The temple was not a draw for me but there are two other reasons why we stopped here.
First, the tea egg 茶葉蛋 here is AMAZING! The best ever. You cannot miss the stall as it is just by the pier and there is only one stall selling tea eggs. The tax department of Taiwan once counted the number of eggs sold per day and it was said to be almost 23,000! The eggs are small, so most can easily eat two.
Second, is Ci’en pagoda 慈恩塔. I list it as a must see because of the view of the lake. It is about 90min hike up to this look out point. The trail is rather interesting as there are some other places of interest and statues that are photo worthy. It was a hot summer day when we were there, so the heat was a huge battle to get ourselves up there.
You can get a taxi to bring you uphill if you do not want to do the climb. The road brings you all the way to the base of the pagoda, which shortens the climb to about 10-15min.
Ita Thao Pier 伊達邵碼頭
There are hotels and shops right by the pier here. Definitely a bustling area where food and amenities are easily available. There is a cable car service called the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway that goes to the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village theme park 九族文化村. We did not take it due to time constraint and also the fatigue from the red eye flight.
We walked the old street where there were many food and craft stalls. The black wild boar meat is a specialty to this area occupied by the Ita Thao tribe. We tried the sausage and it was very flavourful.
As we walked through the old street, we cannot help but wonder why the locals have such love for owls. We asked several locals and they explained that they believed that owl brings good luck in all areas of life. This explains why there are owl lucky charms for studies, career, love life, health, wealth, and the list goes on. We were told that the owls do live in the mountains but not common in the tourist areas where we are at. So no chance of sighting a live owl!
Shuishe Pier 水社碼頭
This is where we started our ferry ride as it is walking distance from our homestay. There is no old street here but many shops and eateries. As you can see from the photo of Mei Jen, Watsons was just next door with 7-Eleven just opposite. There is also a Starbucks cafe just round the corner. This is definitely The Central of Sun Moon Lake with buses from Taichung drop off here.
I will like to mention a restuarant that we randomly walked into but was amazingly good. We had four dishes plus one soup and only cost us NT1000. The dishes include
- Roast black pork which is a must try
- Deep fried shrimp that is great dish to those who drink beer
- Fried mushroom
- Stir fried local wild vegetable which all of us love
- Lingzhi soup which is a delicacy for Chinese cuisine
They provide free flow of rice. 😊
Xiang Shan Visitor Centre 向山遊客中心
We did the cycling route which ends at Xiangshan Visitor Centre. The locals will say it is a 2-hour route. We took almost four hours simply because we just had to stop to take photos. There are points where we needed to go slow due to the crowd and even had to get off to push the bicycle at one point for safety reasons.
If I go back to Sun Moon Lake, I will opt for a 2 nights stay so that I can truly enjoy the beauty of the lake and surroundings. Well, at least it gives me another morning to catch the sunrise if I missed it the first morning. I have pinned the places I went in the map below. There are many more places to explore in this beautiful area. This just gives me more reason to come back again the next time!