Sun Moon Lake:
Two weekends ago I made my 3rd visit to Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County in Central Taiwan. This is one of Taiwan’s most popular and famous tourist spots and it isnt surprising to see why.
The name of the lake comes from the shape of the lake, one side curves outward like the sun and the other side is concave like a crescent moon, hence Sun Moon Lake. An island lies in the middle of the lake called Lalu island, an aboriginal word. It was changed to call Guang Hua island during Chiang Kai Shek’s time but after the 921 Earthquake in 1999 which sunk a majority of the island and toppled the pavilion, the island was named Lalu once again to pay respect to its original roots.
Out of the three times I have been, this was the first time I actually went on to the lake itself, which I found extremely exciting and worthwhile.
Our trip started in Taipei where we drove around 3.5 hours to Jiou Zhu Cultural Village (www.nine.com.tw) next to the lake. This is an amusement park and cultural center for Taiwan’s aboriginal population. The amusement park features a few lackluster thrill rides that barely give you enough thrill to satisify one’s need for an adrenaline rush, but also features many family and kid-friendly rides. Most of the land is forest land and dedicated to the showcase of various tribal cultures. The key tribes from Taiwan all have areas in the park where they showcase their dance, food, handicraft, clothing, architecture and art. Unfortunately this part is also lackluster and has so much potential to become a truly vibrant way to display Taiwan’s aboriginal culture to locals, mainland tourists and other foreign visitors. It hasnt been until recent years that there has been more attention given to Taiwanese aboriginals, which I find sad because Taiwan is where many aboriginal groups originated from, including New Zealand’s Mauri tribe as well as the Polynesian language common in many pacific islands. As much as I love Taiwan, I feel it needs to do a better job of preserving its heritage and history rather than making it look tacky and lackluster as with the case of this park.
A shot of the free fall ride and the main roller coaster in the theme park, taken from the inner park cable car:
Aboriginal mountain wood roasted pork, with an Aboriginal liquir made from wheat and rice I believe.
After a few hours in the park we were tired out and instead of taking the bus to our hotel we took the Sun Moon Lake Gondola (cable car).
This was my first time riding a Taiwanese cable car system and I was extremely impressed with the Sun Moon Lake Cable Car. It takes you uphill away from the park grounds then as you arch over the mountain top you are treated to a spectacular overview of the entire lake as it slowly angles you toward the next hilltop before steeply angling toward the Lake station. The cars are painted in red (sun), blue (water), and yellow (moon), thus representing Sun Moon Lake. The entire ride was around 20 minutes or so because the longest part went very slowly for you to take in the views of the lake.
The view of the entire lake from the Gondola.
The end of the journey from the theme park to Sun Moon Lake.
Afterwards our bus took us to our hotel.
Our group stayed at the Fleur De Chine hotel, a 5 star family friendly resort (en.fleurdechinehotel.com/). The most famous hotel along the lake shores is The Lalu, which I have been fortunate enough to stay at once, though if I recall correctly, despite the great exterior and interior designs the service and food was not on par with the asthetics and fame.
The Fleur De Chine Hotel was renamed and upgraded around 4 years ago, at that time I stayed at the hotel when it was known by its old name. And indeed it has improved significantly! There is a lot of staff to help you with all sorts of things, with a big group like us they came on to the bus to give us our keys and explain resort facilities to us rather than have us noisely cramp the relatively small lobby space. Porters came to grab larger suitcases as the manager spoke to us inside the bus. You see friendly staff everywhere and they are sure to smile and say hi. The rooms were facelifted and indeed feel cleaner and crisper, they also have a smart TV system that allows you to control room features and access hotel services from the TV. There is an in-room hot spring bath if you do not want to go to the public bath. The food is buffet style and dinner had two seatings. It was quite tasty for a buffet meal. After the meal I checked out a new feature called the Sky Lounge on the rooftop. It offered great views of the lake and was well designed but poorly managed. When asked if we could have cocktails we were told cocktail hours were at 9pm, and that there were only 4 seating booths open for cocktail hours, there was this wonderfula area with nice lounge sofas that we were told could not be accessed at night. I thought it was quite a waste of useable space that with simple lighting could easily be used to allow more guests to have drinks and star gaze along the lake. That night we checked out the pool area, which featured a 25m pool, spa pools, a kiddy pool, sauna, and two hot spring baths. This area was for everyone and required swimsuits. Another area was the separate male and female public baths that I did not check out. It was nice and relaxing. That night we decided to check out the pillow menu service. We called concierge and along came a cart outside our door featuring their 28 different pillows. We chose one pillow with wooden balls in it which gave off a woody scent and was surprisingly comfortable to sleep on, as well as a curved temperpeutic pillow. This was my first time testing out a hotel’s pillow menu service and I must say I like it!
A view of the lake taken from the Sky Lounge on the roof of the Fleur De Chine Hotel.
Part of the Sky Lounge.
The main seating area of the Sky Lounge with the lake as the backdrop.
Part of why it is a more down to Earth 5 star resort that caters to everyone and that embraces the surrounding environment and culture is because of activities and events like an aboriginal dance and singing interactive show:
The pillow cart with the 28 pillows to choose from! (granted I believe some might have been taken already so it might not add up to 28).
The next day after a filling buffet breakfast, we headed out to take a boat to sail on the lake. I was excited as I finally got to go on the lake. Our first stop was Syuanguang Temple where there is a famous rocked etched with Sun Moon Lake in Chinese and where there is a famous stall cooking Tsa yeh dan, tea, soy sauce and mushroom marinated soft boiled eggs, it was quite tasty.
A partly peeled baked sweet potato, a Taiwanese favorite! This is usually baked in an Earth/ mud oven and sometimes driving in rural Taiwan you can see these mud mounds with smoke rising from it, meaning there are some tasty sweet potatoes being baked!
Yakuft (a type of Yogurt drink that tastes sweet, it helps with digestion) along with a bowl of plain breakfast congee with minced pork, you tiao, scallions, fermented egg, and a bit of parsley.
The sign for the famous tea eggs!
Busy busy, in addition to the lake and temples, this is also a key stop to grab a famous snack.
A ma’s tsa yeh dan, pictured with the lake and docks. It was tasty but I believe that due to the mass number of hungry tourists buying this now famous stall, the eggs were not boiled long enough in the soy sauce, tea and mushroom infused broth.
The view of the lake and Lalu Island from the viewing area in front of Syuanguang Temple.
We then sailed along the coast of Lalu Island, floating platforms lined what remains of the tiny and disappearing island. Passengers used to be able to get off and walk on the platforms but due to pollution, danger of falling in, and further coercion of the island this has been banned. We then sailed and got off at another small area near The Lalu to look and buy some products before heading back to our starting point for lunch. Lunch was a typical meal, included rice, pork, lamb, fish, veggies, bamboo shoots and Taiwanese guava juice and apple sidra soda.
Approaching Lalu Island:
The Owl is a symbole of Sun Moon Lake and the tribe that lives around it. Here is the owl on one of the floating viewing platforms surrounding Lalu Island that have since been closed off to people.
Some of my favorite Taiwanese drinks, Apple Sidra (it is basically a mix of apple soda and a winter cider), and Taiwanese Guava juice.
Afterwards we walked along an old town street and looked at some food and handicraft as well as buying some Assam tea, a world famous tea produced in the mountains of Nantou. Then we boarded the bus to head to Pu Li brewery, a former Shao shing wine brewery that was destroyed in 921 and now converted to a big wholesale market selling wines and other Taiwanese delicacies including wine infused sausages and wine infused do hua.
Old streets along the lake.
Shaking up some iced Assam tea to cool off in the heat.
A canister of Assam tea leaves
The stall in the Puli winery selling the liquor (hong zhao) infused sausages, really really aromatic and tasty.
The wine infused dou hua (a sort of tofu jello, but not gelatinous its more smooth)
Finally we made a last minute stop at a pastry shop in Taichung to buy some Taichung pastries before hitting the road back to Taipei.
I highly recommend people travel to Sun Moon Lake when they are in Taiwan, it is quite a picturesque and pretty sight, and it also has quite a bit of Taiwan’s histroy associated with it, from the aboriginals to the Japanese to Chiang Kai Shek (who had a residence along the lake which you can visit, it is quite interesting, its a small cabin), to being next to the epicenter of the 921 Earthquake and now a huge draw for Mainland tourists (reflective of Taiwan’s modern history). Oh it also has a lot of good food too.
I recommend families and groups to stay at the Fleur De Chine Hotel and if you are a couple seeking that romantic getaway then perhaps try out The Lalu as I think that is what it is catered towards, and who knows the service and food may have improved in the last 10 years.
Other things to do on a trip to Sun Moon Lake:
is to visit the cultural village and take the Cable car, take a boat on the lake, visit nearby sights in Nantou county including the 921 Earthquake Museum as well as preserved devastations from the Earthquake such as a collapsed temple and crooked house.