Taiwan is undoubtedly one of the most popular travel destinations for Hong Kong people. Nevertheless, most of the time when Hong Kong people talk about Taiwan, it’s always about Taipei. Taipei has its own magic, with its scrumptious food and bustling night markets, but sometimes city life can be tedious. What’s so great about Taiwan is that, apart from Taipei city, there are so many scenic areas as well all around the country. For this trip, my family and I had decided to visit one of the very famous scenic spots over the country – the Sun Moon Lake.
Sun Moon Lake, being the largest body of water in Taiwan, is a very famous tourist attraction of the country. It is also home to one of the Taiwanese aboriginal tribes, namely the Thao tribe. The Thao tribe is the smallest ethnic group in Taiwan and the people now mostly work in the tourism industry of Sun Moon Lake. Over the century, though being the smallest Taiwanese aboriginal tribe, they have retained their customs and traditions fairly well.
We first drove past the cable car that leads to the Formosas Aboriginal Culture Village. It is actually a theme park that introduces the Taiwanese aboriginal culture and is also an amusement park with various entertainment attractions. The cable car ride overlooks the spectacular view of the Sun Moon Lake.
We continued to drive until we reached the Ita Thao side of the lake. From there, we settled into our B&B down the main street and started touring very soon.
Sun Moon Lake Street Food
The main street is full of food stalls and souvenir shops. Food specialities include fried mushroom buns, fried mochi, tea-braised egg, Assam tea, etc. Assam tea is also a must-try at the area as it is the place of its major production, and that smoothing texture of the tea will undoubtedly impress you.
Sun Moon Lake Boat Tour
After a little foodie tour, there is something that everyone has to do when they’re at Sun Moon Lake – take a boat tour.
At the pier, you can enjoy the splendid view of the water body and the mountain view from faraway. Strolling along the promenade had been very mind-refreshing as the mild breeze blows across your face and fresh air filling up your lungs.
There are two types of boat tours: one allows you to hop on and off from each stop and stay as long as you desire at each stop; the other takes about an hour, merely making one stop and giving passengers a 15-minute stay at the stop before heading back. We took the latter due to time constraints.
Syuanguang Temple (玄光寺) and Tea-Braised Egg
The boat stopped at the Syuanguang Temple (玄光寺). There was a crowd near the pier and it was because of the famous tea-braised eggs. The stall was opened and managed by an old lady, in Chinese we call her Ah Ma. Her tea-braised eggs are so popular and it was said that up to ten thousands of eggs are sold per day. The tour guide on the boat also mentioned that the stall location was exclusively given by none other than the then leader of the Republic of China, Mr Chiang Kai-shek himself.
The tea-braised eggs were indeed no disappointment. The stall was surrounded by the distinct aromatic smell of the tea mixture. The flavour was so rich and deeply infused into the egg. What made it stand out is that the eggs were not merely braised with tea leaves but also with fresh mountain mushrooms.
After the delicious eggs, we walked up the stairs that leads to the Syuanguang temple (玄光寺). The hike wasn’t long and soon enough we were up there facing the temple.
The temple was surely an attraction sight, however, I guess the major attraction there is the rock right opposite the temple. There was a long queue for taking photos with the rock. The rock has the Chinese words for Sun Moon Lake and Syuanguan Temple carved onto the sides of it. It is a photo-taking spot because firstly it signifies the lake and the temple, and secondly, it creates a beautiful picture as it overlooks the lake view.
After taking pictures around, we descended the stairs and took the boat back to Ita Thao and called it a day.
A Drive Around Sun Moon Lake
The next morning, after a simple breakfast from our B&B, we set off and continued our journey around the area. We first drove to another famous temple around the area – the Xuanzang Temple (玄奘寺). This temple is very different from the Syuanguan Temple we have visited the day before. The Xuanzang Temple is apparently bigger and is magnificent. Looking down from the temple is the absolutely breathtaking view of the lake.
After visiting the temple, we then drove up to an even higher point and all the way up to the Ci-en Pagoda. The Ci-en Pagoda is the highest point around Sun Moon Lake. There is no driveway that can access directly to the doorstep of it. Cars have to be parked at the tourist track and everyone has to walk up there. The track is about 700 meters long and is an easy and comfortable walk with many plantations surrounding it.
The Ci-en Pagoda is built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory for his mother. It is an octagonal building that is 46 meters in height. Doors are opened for people to climb up to the top of the building.
At the very top story of the building hangs a gigantic bell and it was thunderously loud. High up there we can enjoy the stunning panoramic view of the lake. I believe this is the best view anyone can get from Sun Moon Lake.
Next stop we drove to the Wenwu Temple, which is the biggest temple on the Northern bank of the lake. Unfortunately, it was pouring by the time we arrived, hence we have only pulled over for a quick photo and drove off.
We then drove to places outside the lake area. We visited the Paper Dome, which is a temporary church building constructed with paper tubes. I was pretty anticipated with this before and had quite huge expectations for it. I was slightly disappointed when the Paper Dome didn’t seem as magnificent as I have expected. Nonetheless it is still a dazzling sight and the paper tube structure is absolutely admirable.
One little extra note: the Paper Dome is also home to numerous species of butterflies and it promotes the protection of butterflies. If you are a lepidopterophobe (scared of butterflies) like I am, it is best to be prepared mentally for the possibility of butterflies flying around.
The King Garden
Due to my phobia, we didn’t stay there for long. We then stopped by another attraction – The King Garden.
At first, it sounded like an interesting tourist spot to see this adorable European-style castle in the midst of the mountains. However, we soon discovered that inside the castle was simply packed with souvenir stalls and souvenir shopping seemed to be the sole agenda there. In other words, it’s a tourist trap.
The King Garden might be a bit a slight disappointment. Nonetheless, Taiwan is a country that excels in souvenirs and the castle actually houses some fairly good souvenir options. No one leaves Taiwan without buying bags of souvenirs, particularly edible souvenirs. In the King Garden, you can find pineapple pastry cakes – i.e. most renowned signature souvenir from Taiwan; Taiwanese sausages – made with mushroom or even seafood such as squid; Dried fish snacks – which I realize to be quite an addictive snack, so on and so forth.
To conclude this part of the trip, I most enjoyed the scenery at the Sun Moon Lake. I think it is an absolutely tremendous getaway and I find the scenery an absolute worthwhile experience. I am a person who particularly has a thing with views with a water body, and being able to enjoy such a view left me feeling very inspirational!