The Scenic Sun Moon Lake
Days 909 - 913
Farewell Toucheng and hello to the scenic Sun Moon Lake for a couple of days. Is it as nice as the guide books say, we wondered?
After a relaxing last few days in Toucheng, we felt quite sad leaving our apartment where we’ve stayed for the past month. Claudia and Celso kindly gave us a lift into Taipei where we had brunch together before a fond farewell. Thankfully, we’ll be seeing them again in a week when we meet up at Penghu Island. We have grown very fond of our new friends.
The remainder of our journey to Taichung went smoothly; we do see some strange sights sometimes, like a cat in a bag and a dog with a nappy on! After staying for one night in a very affordable £14 compact room with its own washer/dryer, we then picked up our hire car ready for our trip to the spine of Taiwan.
Our first stop was Sun Moon Lake, one of the top destinations in Taiwanese guides. I’ve read that the Lake gets its name as the east side resembles the sun and the west side, the moon. I can’t see it myself, but maybe this is because the shape has changed after the Japanese built a dam here in 1931.
Would this Lake live up to its reputation, we wondered? Our first glimpse of the massive natural Lake quickly showed that it would. The water is a stunning turquoise colour contrasting against the scenic dark green mountains around the circumference. Yes – this place will do for the next day and a half.
So how did we spend our time here?
We do like a bit of modern architecture, and so parked up at the Xiangshan Visitor Centre. This place was a treat, with sleek lines, green roof, sharp rectangle ponds, two sweeping arms representing an “integration between human habitation and the natural world” and a stunning view across the Lake.
After a mediocre lunch of soft marshmallow textured sweet bread and plastic cheese, we went on a relaxing walk around the lake for a couple of hours. We could hear some delightful flute music wafting in the breeze and came across the musician playing under a canopy. The raucous sound of cicadas wasn't quite as beautiful!
Our first hour was warm and sunny, but then the heavens opened. We had just reached the Apricot Platform, connected with Confucius teachings, so sheltered there until the rain stopped, watching two elderly couples doing their Qidong routine.
We arrived back just before the Visitor Centre closed and heading off to Puli for a night’s rest. Accommodation near to the Lake is very pricey. Being canny travellers, I found a place 7 miles away for £25 per night including breakfast. The drive took us through the countryside, past tea plantations and mountains, one with a massive scar from a recent rockfall and then down the narrowest of lanes by paddy fields. I’m glad Tim was driving; otherwise, I reckon we’d have landed in the ditch.
As we entered the grounds of the brightest sunshine yellow hotel, chillaxing music was being played through speakers around the large artificial lawn! Two young men cheerfully greeted us and showed us to our tiny log chalet. It was so small that the toilet was in with the shower, which was somewhat disconcerting as it was one of those fancy Japanese electric toilets! Mmmm… electricity and water never mix well. We survived.
After an interesting Taiwanese breakfast of Thousand Island dressing over alfalfa sprouts, soya “bacon” and egg, we drove back to the Sun Moon Lake to spend the day there.
First was a ride on the Cable Car. We could see that this tourist attraction is catered for the usual hordes of visitors, but there was only one couple in front of us in the queue. Temperature checked, and hands sprayed, we jumped into the green “crystal” gondolier with its glass bottom. What a view up through the Buji mountains with a fabulous vista overlooking the lake.
We reached the top where we were expecting to be able to walk down the mountain through the trees. However, the only exit of the Ropeway Station was to the entrance of The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, which looked too touristy for our liking.
We sat down to work out what to do next. This is where we had another disappointment. We received a text that our flight back to the UK had been cancelled. After unsuccessfully searching on China Airlines website to rebook, I phoned the airline and was relieved to hear that I was first in the queue. (I’ve had to wait for over 90 minutes a few times to try and get our money back from our cancelled flight to Vietnam. Six weeks later, we still don’t have the money.)
It seemed from our conversation that all June flights to the UK are cancelled, so I booked the next available flight on 1st July. Please can you keep your fingers and toes crossed for us? We want to get back for our son’s wedding!
After our cable ride, we wound our way around the lake for a picnic lunch, then on to Ci’en Pagoda which can be seen rising out above the trees on top of Erlong Mountain.
Tim had read that it took an hour to walk the steep incline to the Pagoda with its 300 steps. Perhaps the writer had a dodgy leg as we walked the 530m in 20 minutes and that was going slowly; stopping to admire the view, hearing birds and seeing butterflies flittering around. We only saw a couple of other people during our entire walk.
The late President Chiang Kai Shek had this 46m octagonal nine-tiered tower constructed in memory of his mother, and it is a beauty. The 360-degree view from the top was fabulous, even with the mist of the clouds.
Was there really 300 steps? You probably guessed it – we counted them. One hundred fifty-four going up one staircase and the same going down the other staircase. Phew, in this humid weather, I’m glad it wasn’t 300 each way!
We returned to the Xiangshan Visitor Centre car park for another walk, this time in the opposite direction from yesterday. We strolled past modern sluice gates, fishermen, a group of lads kayaking and a plantation of Camphor trees. Just as we were about to return, we heard an almighty crash in a tree – it was a couple of indigenous Formosan rock monkeys!
The people in Taiwan are very friendly, so there are lots of “Ni Hao” greetings while we walk around. We’d earlier past a chap taking photos of two women and said hello to them. On our way back, the man (with bright red teeth from chewing betel nut) started to take photos of us. He beckoned us to sit on a rock and snapped away. He asked for my email address, but to date, no pictures have been received. Hey ho!
If you ever come to Taiwan, we would highly recommend visiting Sun Moon Lake. There are lots of other trails to walk, some Temples to see and you can always have a boat ride on the Lake. We decided to surpass this, as we had recently been on a boat trip and we do need to watch our budget occasionally!