The Ultimate Sun Moon Lake Guide – 7 Beautiful Attractions in 1 Day
December 09, 2017
Taiwan’s largest lake, Sun Moon Lake, is surrounded by spectacular mountains, and there are many hiking trails which offer panoramic views of the scenic town. Use a little imagination and you’ll know why the lake got its name – the East side of the lake is round like the sun while the West side is long and narrow, shaped like a crescent moon. This area houses the aboriginal Thao tribe, and the town Ita Thao is located across the lake from the pier area beside the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. The small island named Lalu situated in the middle of the lake is reserved for aboriginal religious practices, so it’s off limits to tourists.
Swimming in Sun Moon Lake is not permitted, with the exception of one annual event called the Swimming Carnival of Sun Moon Lake. It is the only time swimmers are allowed in the lake. This 3-kilometre race is held yearly during the Mid Autumn Festival, and includes fireworks, laser shows, and concerts.
Sun Moon Lake is almost always populated with tourists, so there are many hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Remember to book your favourite accommodation early to avoid disappointments. Without further ado, find out how we managed to cover 7 beautiful attractions in Sun Moon Lake within a day.
This is the best starting point for first-time visitors of Sun Moon Lake. Our Airbnb was located near the visitor centre therefore, it was very convenient for us to obtain all kinds of tourist information and services. There are many restaurants and souvenir shops here. We tried Carton King, where everything from utensils to furniture are made from carton boxes.
You can either rent a bike or go on a cruise to explore the area. Sun Moon Lake was part of our self-drive itinerary, so we skipped cycling and cruising around the island. Initially, we were quite worried about where to park the car as we wanted to avoid being fined. Thankfully, our worries were unfounded as parking lots are aplenty at Sun Moon Lake.
Xiangshan Visitor Centre
After dropping our luggage off at the Airbnb, we followed the route around the lake to Xiangshan Visitor Centre. This eye-catching architecture was designed by Dan Norihiko, the architect behind Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Terminal One. The café features floor-to-ceiling windows, and offers great views of Sun Moon Lake. You can even go up to the rooftop to admire Sun Moon Lake’s beauty.
Those who have read the pre-modern Chinese fiction, “Journey to the West” will be familiar with the Buddhist monk, Xuangzang (玄奘). To benefit the rest, the story depicts the Buddhist monk’s pilgrimage with his three disciples, Sun Wukong (孫悟空), Zhu Bajie (豬八戒) and Sha Wujing (沙悟淨), to obtain Buddhist sacred texts in Central Asia and India. They came across many obstacles during the journey as many monsters were after Xuanzang’s flesh to achieve immortality. Eventually, they overcame all the hardships and returned to China safe and sound.
This story is fictional, but a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang did exist in the Tang dynasty. He was a prestigious monk who devoted his whole life to promoting Buddhist teachings. During World War II, the Japanese army brought the relics of Xuanzang from Nanjing to Japan. In 1955, the fourth abbot of Paochueh Temple, Master Zongxin, managed to bring his relics back to Taiwan and kept them in Xuanguang Temple in Sun Moon Lake. The relics were later relocated to Xuanzang Temple upon its completion in 1965. Even without the relics, Xuanguang Temple is still visited by many tourists today.
Don’t forget to try the famous tea egg stall which has been around for more than 50 years! We love the hint of local Assam tea and shiitake mushrooms when biting into the tea eggs. There are some pretty spots here for photo-taking too!
Built in 1971, Ci’en Pagoda is dedicated to the loving mother of then-president Chiang Kai-shek. The 46-metre high pagoda sits atop the mountain at an altitude of 954 metres. We were surprised to find this place almost empty despite being an obvious landmark in Sun Moon Lake. I highly recommend ascending the 7-storey high pagoda for incredible views of the lake and its surroundings. The trail leading up to this pagoda is less than one kilometre, and well shaded by trees. We wouldn’t call this a hike at all.
Ita Thao is the origin of Thao people and continues to convey the history of this aboriginal tribe in Taiwan. It is believed that their ancestors, originally from Alishan, chased a white deer to a faraway lake where they found an abundance of fish. They returned to their homeland, brought the whole tribe, and decided to settle down at Sun Moon Lake, as we call it today. Although tribal life is almost extinct now, a visit to Ita Thao allows you to experience the aboriginal culture and you get to taste delicious aboriginal food too.
Besides traditional aboriginal food, you should definitely try the coconut muah chee! It was our first time trying coconut-flavoured muah chee, and we enjoyed the refreshing burst of coconut flavour in our mouths – much better than the peanut, red bean, and matcha muah chee which are commonly found! Walk to the end of the food street, and you’ll arrive at the incredible pier offering many photo opportunities. (Wearing Eina shop’s Elodie Floral Print Blouse in Yellow)
Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
This cable car service brings you from Sun Moon Lake to the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village theme park in less than 10 minutes. It’s so interesting that the ropeway’s cabins are painted red, yellow, and blue, to symbolize the red sun, yellow moon, and blue lake. Moreover, in the aboriginal culture, red symbolizes happiness, yellow for a healthy lifestyle, and blue for ecology. Isn’t it fun to discover little details and understand the meaning behind them?
Please schedule this temple as your final stop because the view of the sunset here is beyond amazing. The temple is divided into three different halls, with the front hall enshrined with the Civil God of Wealth and more, the main hall enshrined with the God of War and General Yue, and the rear hall dedicated to Confucius and the four saints.
There are 366 steps which bring you to the top of the temple. Each of this step symbolizes a birthday, and is carved with the names of celebrities who were born on that particular day. The other charm of Wenwu Temple is the delicately carved fountain where many visitors toss coins into, and make a wish.
We stopped in Sun Moon Lake for only a day, so we didn’t manage to squeeze any hikes in. But, as proven by us, it is possible to visit 7 main attractions in Sun Moon Lake within a day. The time spent in Sun Moon Lake might be short, but it left us with so much wonderful memories!
very nice publish, i actually love this web site, keep on it
Thank you so much for your positive feedback!
Wow this place is beautiful; I can’t believe how blue that water is! Great photos!!
Ohyes! Taiwan has many incredible spots, and Sun Moon Lake is just one of them! Thanks so much Vivian!