Sun Moon Lake Taiwan: A Comprehensive Guide

Sun Moon Lake‭, Nantou ‬is Taiwan’s largest lake‭ ‬and‭,‬‭ ‬with 6‭ ‬million visitors a year‭, ‬also‭ ‬one of Taiwan’s‭ ‬most popular scenic attractions‭, ‬along with Alishan and Taroko Gorge‭. ‬

Sun Moon Lake‭ ‬attractions‭, ‬which include‭ ‬Wenwu Temple‭, ‬the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway‭, ‬and scenic views around the lake‭,‬‭ ‬draw in tour group masses‭, ‬but it is still easy to‭ ‬enjoy a pleasant‭ ‬and crowd-free‭ ‬stay‭.‬

Below‭ ‬I’ll tell you my favorite places to stay and things to do at Sun Moon‭ ‬Lake‭, ‬and help you plan your Sun Moon Lake itinerary‭.‬‭ ‬I’ve been to Sun Moon Lake six‭ ‬times in my 10‭ ‬years in Taiwan‭, ‬so apparently I have a soft spot for this often criticized tourist magnet‭.   ‬‭ ‬

Taichung City is the main access point to Sun Moon Lake. If you plan to stay in Taichung, make sure to check out my article on the top Taichung attractions and other day trip ideas from Taichung!

 

View of Sun Moon Lake Taiwan from Ci En Pagoda

 

There is so much information that I want to share here that I’ve written separate articles for Sun Moon Lake’s famous teas‭, ‬Sun Moon Lake tours‭, ‬and deciding whether you should get the Sun Moon Lake pass‭.‬

Sun Moon Lake is also included on this 2-day tour from Taipei‭, ‬best of Taiwan 5-day tour‭, ‬or you can visit Sun Moon Lake on a day trip from Taichung‭. ‬

I’ve made several hotel recommendations in this post, but our favorite place to stay at Sun Moon Lake is actually an Airbnb cabin (see “Where to stay in Ita Shao” section below”). Use this link to sign up for AirBnb and get NT1100 off your first booking. I’ve also recommended several activities that you can book at a discounted price on Klook. Use this link to sign up for Klook and save NT100 on your first activity!

 

Why is Sun Moon Lake so Popular?

Iconic view of Sun Moon Lake from behind Wenwu Temple
The iconic view of Sun Moon Lake from above Wenwu Temple

 

The simple answer to this question is that Sun Moon Lake is incredibly beautiful‭. ‬Surrounded by the western foothills of the Central Mountain Range‭,‬‭ ‬the 748‭ ‬m lake is like a gem on the side of‭ ‬Taiwan’s‭ ‬mountainous‭ ‬crown‭.‬‭ ‬

The first time I stood‭ ‬on the shore of the lake‭, ‬I didn’t quite see what the hype was all about‭. ‬It wasn’t until I admired the lake from higher vantage points‭, ‬like Wenwu Temple‭, ‬Ci En Pagoda‭, ‬and the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway‭, ‬that I finally got it‭. ‬

The Sun Moon Lake shore has been inhabited by the Thao aboriginal‭ ‬tribe‭ (‬邵族‭) ‬since the Qing Dynasty‭. ‬Today‭, ‬the Thao‭, ‬who mostly live in the lakeside village of Ita Thao‭, ‬number less than 1000‭ (‬only 626‭ ‬listed by Wikipedia in 2008‭), ‬making them one of the smallest of Taiwan’s officially recognized aboriginal tribes‭. ‬

According to Thao mythology, Thao hunters spotted a white deer in the mountains and chased it to the shore of Sun Moon Lake. They were so impressed by the lake that they decided to settle there.

As a visitor‭, ‬you can observe Thao customs and make donations at the Thao Performance Center‭ ‬in Ita Thao‭ (‬details below‭)‬‭, ‬my favorite village to stay at Sun Moon Lake‭. ‬

Overall‭, ‬I think it is the natural beauty‭, ‬aboriginal culture‭,‬‭ ‬ease of access‭, ‬and of course‭ ‬developed tourist‭ ‬infrastructure that make‭ ‬Sun Moon Lake so popular‭. ‬

 

Aboriginal Taiwanese performers at Sun Moon Lake
Taiwanese aboriginals in traditional costumes at Sun Moon Lake

 

Aboriginal Taiwanese at Sun Moon Lake
Aboriginal woman in Ita-Thao

 

The Sun Moon Lake Swim

There are no beaches‭, ‬and swimming is not allowed in Sun Moon Lake‭, ‬except at the annual Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim in September‭, ‬one of the largest in the world‭. ‬

To participate in the mass swim‭, ‬you need a group of at least three people‭, ‬including one Taiwanese person who can help you register here‭. ‬Then you pay NT1000‭/‬person at 7-11‭. ‬Registration usually opens about two months in advance‭. ‬

The 3km swim takes a few hours‭, ‬and a floatation device is required‭. ‬There are safety rest stations along the way‭. ‬You will also definitely need waterproof sunscreen‭. ‬

In recent years‭, ‬3km and 5km competitive races have also been added the day before‭. ‬

On a personal note‭, ‬I actually joined a busload of expats to do the swim many years ago‭,‬‭ ‬but couldn’t swim in the end, embarrassingly, because I got diarrhea that day‭. ‬Also‭, ‬I‭ ‬once‭ ‬snuck a swim at Sun Moon Lake on another trip by jumping off a boat dock when nobody was looking‭  : )

 

Sun Moon Lake Mass
The annual Sun Moon Lake Mass swim from Shuishe to Ita Thao

 

Orientation

Sun Moon Lake is‭ (‬sort of…‭) ‬shaped like a sun on the eastern side and moon on the western side‭, ‬hence the name‭. ‬Shuishe‭, ‬on the northwest ‬shore of the lake‭, ‬is the main tourist village where most people arrive‭, ‬and location of the Sun Moon Lake visitor center‭.‬

The eastern and southern sides of the‭ ‬“sun”‭ ‬part of the lake are where most of the popular‭ ‬Sun Moon Lake‭ ‬attractions and best views are found‭. ‬Much of this shoreline is also lined with‭ ‬wooden walkways‭, ‬and cycling Sun Moon Lake along the main road around the lake is a popular activity‭.

The lake’s second tourist village, Ita Thao, is located on the southeast shore. I’ll explain below why I think it is the best place to stay at Sun Moon Lake.  ‬

The western‭, ‬or‭ ‬“moon”‭ ‬side of the lake sees less tourists‭, ‬and much of the road is not right along the lake until meets up with the spread of resorts on the north shore‭.‬‭ ‬You can cycle around the lake in a full day‭, ‬or ride a scooter around it in about one hour‭ (‬with no stops‭). ‬‭

 

Shuishe: The Main Tourist Village

Distant view of Shuishe, the main village on Sun Moon Lake
The resort buildings of Shuishe poking up in the background

Shuishe‭ ‬‭(‬水社‭)‬‭ ‬is collection of‭ ‬tourist oriented restaurants‭, ‬resorts and other facilities‭. ‬Personally‭, ‬I consider it a transportation hub and place to rent your bike‭,‬‭ ‬scooter‭ ‬or hop on a bus‭ ‬to get out of‭.‬‭ ‬

On‭ ‬the plus side‭, ‬you may choose to stay in Shuishe‭ ‬due to its‭ ‬convenience and some of the great mid-range and‭ ‬high-end hotels in town‭.‬‭ ‬To be fair, it’s not a terrible place to stay‭, ‬with nice paths and lake views on the shore‭. ‬‭ ‬

Most buses arrive at and depart from just in front of the Shuishe Visitor’s Center‭.‬‭ ‬Last time I visited‭,‬‭ ‬there was no ticket window there‭; ‬you just show up and get in line at the right time‭. ‬The bus around Sun Moon Lake also begins here‭. ‬

The Starbucks in Shuishe‭ ‬offers decent lake views from its patio‭, ‬and you‭ ‬can also appreciate the lake from Meihe Park or the Shuishe Pier‭.‬‭ ‬There are many restaurants in town‭, ‬especially on the main road and near the Shuishe Pier‭, ‬with an emphasis on Taiwanese and seafood‭. ‬‭ ‬‭ ‬If you feel like going for a private hot spring soak, check out this Spa package with buffet lunch or dinner set meal at Fuli Resort in Shuishe.

Shuishe is also the starting point of the annual Sun‭ ‬Moon Lake Mass Swim‭.‬

 

Where to Stay in Shuishe

Unfortunately‭, ‬there isn’t much on the budget end here‭. ‬Some of the cheapest deals can be found at Tanxiang Resort Hotel (read reviews / see prices) near the Shuishe Pier‭, but the reviews for it are pretty bad. Sun Moon Lake B&B (see prices) is another barebones property west of town‭.‬‭ ‬I’m‭ ‬not aware of any hostels in Shuishe‭.‬‭ ‬There are better budget choices in Ita Thao‭.‬‭ ‬‭ ‬

In the mid-range‭, Shaoguang 188‭ (read reviews / see prices) ‬is a very popular‭, ‬highly rated choice with stone tubs in the rooms‭, ‬while‭ ‬Doris Home (read reviews / see prices) nearby offers artfully decorated‭, ‬cat-themed‭ ‬rooms in a lovely house‭.‬‭ Yue Lake Backpackers (read reviews / see prices) west of town offers‭ ‬reasonably priced‭ ‬rooms considering they have good‭ ‬lake views‭. ‬

The classiest options in Shuishe include Wenwan‭ ‬Resort (read reviews / see prices) and Lalu Sun Moon Lake (read reviews / see prices)‭.‬

Sun Moon Lake Hotel (read reviews / see prices) just west of town‭, ‬is a moderately priced‭ ‬upscale choice offering incredible lake views‭, ‬while Fleur de Chine (read reviews / see prices) east of town is one of the most opulent properties on Sun Moon Lake‭.‬

 

Ita Thao: My Personal Favorite

Ita Thao, Sun Moon Lake
Ita Thao, an aboriginal and tourist village on Sun Moon Lake

 

Ita Thao‭ (‬Yida Shao‭, ‬伊達邵‭) ‬is the other main tourist village on Sun Moon Lake and located on the southeast shore of the‭ ‬“sun”‭. ‬The actual aboriginal village‭, ‬which you probably won’t even see or notice‭, ‬is located just above the tourist village‭.‬

Personally‭, ‬I strongly prefer the vibe at Ita Thao to Shuishe‭, ‬even though it is still entirely tourist oriented‭. ‬There are more guesthouses than resorts‭, ‬the flavor is more aboriginal‭, ‬and there is greater access to the waterfront‭, ‬with‭ ‬a nice collections of‭ ‬boat‭ ‬docks that you can walk on‭.‬‭ ‬‭ ‬

 

Boats at sunset on Sun Moon Lake
The docks at Ita Thao offer fine lake views

 

On the docks at Itashao, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
On the docks at Itashao

 

The best place to experience Thao culture is at the Thao Tribe Performance Center‭ (‬see‭ #‬6‭ ‬on my list of things to do at Sun Moon Lake below‭). ‬The performances here are the real deal‭, ‬as opposed to some of the shows put in‭ ‬big hotels‭, ‬on the Shuishe pier‭, ‬or other tourist centers in Taiwan‭, ‬which often have a‭ ‬fake feel to them‭. ‬‭  ‬

Ita Thao is the end point of the Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim‭, ‬and it is within walking distance of‭ ‬the Sun Moon Lake ropeway‭ (#4 below).

 

Ita Thao night market, Sun Moon Lake
The Ita Thao night market, the best place to eat at Sun Moon Lake

 

The best part about Itathao is its great food stalls and night market‭. ‬From the bus stop‭, ‬follow‭ ‬the main street‭ ‬all the way down to the pier‭. ‬The street is packed with shops and restaurants and becomes an atmospheric night market in the evening‭. ‬This is one of the‭ ‬most‭ ‬accessible places in Taiwan to try aboriginal specialties like boar meat‭ (‬山豬肉‭),‬‭ ‬bamboo tubes of sticky rice‭ (‬竹筒飯‭), ‬and millet wine‭ (‬小米酒‭).

 

Aboriginal food in Ita Thao
Aboriginal food in Ita Thao

 

Aboriginal themed gua bao in Ita Thao night market
Aboriginal gua bao

 

Xiaomijiu (aboriginal millet wine), Ita Thao
Xiaomijiu (aboriginal millet wine) in Ita Thao

 

Something I’ve never seen elsewhere in Taiwan is millet wine slushy drinks‭, ‬though the alcohol concentration was disappointingly low‭ (‬0.4%‭ ‬according to the vendor‭). ‬

 

Xiaomijiu (abotiginal millet wine) slushy drinks in Ita Thao
Aboriginal millet wine (小米酒) in slushy form

 

aboriginal millet wine slush
aboriginal millet wine (小米酒) in slushy form

 

Besides aboriginal fare‭, ‬there are lots of‭ ‬other great Taiwanese snacks to find on the Ita Thao night market‭. ‬Some personal favorites were grilled mochi‭, ‬deep fried oyster‭ & ‬egg balls (a Chiayi specialty)‭, Sun Moon Lake black tea flavored ice cream and beer‭, ‬and marinated dou gan‭ (‬tofu cubes‭). ‬

 

Sun Moon Lake Assam black tea beer
Sun Moon Lake Assam black tea beer, brewed in nearby Puli

 

Sun Moon Lake black tea ice cream
Black tea ice cream

 

Stinky tofu, Ita Thao night market
Stinky tofu marinated in Sun Moon Lake tea

 

Marinated dou gan (tofu cubes)
Tofu cubes marinated in Sun Moon Lake tea

 

Where to Stay in Ita Thao

As we usually stay in Ita Thao‭, ‬I can speak from personal experience here‭. ‬My absolute favorite place to stay in Ita Thao is an AirBnb cabin property five minutes walk up a small road from the Ita Thao bus stop‭. ‬If you haven’t signed up for AirBnb yet‭, ‬please use my sign up‭ ‬link to get‭ $NT1100 ‬off your first AirBnb stay‭! ‬

There‭ ‬are two gorgeous cabins here and a larger family house‭. ‬I brought my kids here on a father-daughter-son trip and we loved it‭. ‬It’s in a quiet‭, ‬totally natural setting‭, ‬so‭ ‬you completely forget you are right by‭ ‬one of the most popular tourist centers in Taiwan‭, ‬but it’s only a five-minute walk to Ita Thao‭, ‬where you can enjoy the night market‭, ‬restaurants‭, ‬or walk to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway‭. ‬

On our most recent visit‭, ‬we were looking for the cheapest possible‭ (‬but family friendly‭) ‬room to crash‭ ‬in Ita Thao‭ ‬for the night‭, ‬and chose at Itathao Vacation Hotel (read reviews / see prices) on the main road around the lake‭. ‬Our expectations were low‭, ‬but we were pleasantly surprised‭! ‬The room seemed very new‭ (‬not normal in Taiwan for this price‭ ‬range‭), ‬beds were comfy‭, ‬and our 5th‭ ‬floor balcony had a view of the lake‭. ‬Not the best view‭, ‬but better than nothing‭!‬

Unlike Shuishe‭, ‬Ita Thao also has an actual hostel‭, ‬perBed hostel (read reviews / see prices).‬‭ ‬

There are several properties right on or directly facing the pier in Ita Thao that have incredible views of the lake through full-wall windows‭. ‬We almost considered staying in one of these as they are quite reasonably priced for what you get‭. ‬

I also almost booked ShuiYang Boatel Hotel‭ (read reviews / see prices), ‬with full wall lake views from a very quiet end of town‭, ‬while Shuian Lakeside Hotel (read reviews / see prices)‭, ‬Hu Yue Lakeside Hotel (read reviews / see prices), ‬Ming Yue Hu (read reviews / see prices)‭, ‬and Crystal Resort (read reviews / see prices) are all enticing options‭.

 

Planning Your Sun Moon Lake Itinerary

When planning your Sun Moon Lake itinerary, I feel that one night is sufficient, two tops, to experience the best of the lake. If you hire a scooter, ride a bike, or use the bus, you could see most of the sites below in one full day. Taking boats only, you won’t be able to see everything of course. Make sure to buy a Sun Moon Lake Pass to save some money.  

The best way would probably be to arrive as early as possible on your first day, do some exploring that afternoon, visit the night market in Ita Thao that evening, and then see anything else you missed the next day.

The sights below are roughly in clockwise order around the lake, starting in Shuishe.

 

Things to Do at Sun Moon Lake

 

1. Take a Boat Across Sun Moon Lake

Riding a boat, one of the most popular things to do at Sun Moon Lake
See Ci En Pagoda (thing to do #7) at the top?

 

Strangely‭, ‬in my six trips to Sun Moon Lake‭, ‬I’ve never done this‭, ‬but it is one of the most popular things to do at Sun Moon Lake‭. ‬Boat rides are included in most Sun Moon Lake passes.

Alternatively, can buy an all-day boat pass on Klook for NT300‭ ‬that gives you unlimited rides between the three main piers‭ (‬Shuishe‭, ‬Ita Thao‭, ‬Xuanguan‭) ‬on an eco-friendly electric boat‭. ‬There is also an option to include a bike rental in the deal‭.  ‬

 

2. Wenwu Temple (日月潭文武廟)

Sun Moon Lake Wenwu Temple, a must on your Sun Moon Lake itinerary
Wenwu Temple, a must on your Sun Moon Lake itinerary

 

The view from‭ ‬just above Wenwu temple‭, ‬with the temple’s orange roofs in the foreground and lake in the background‭, ‬is the most iconic‭ ‬view of Sun Moon Lake‭. I would say that this is easily one of the prettiest temples in Taiwan. ‬

This large‭, ‬imposing structure is built in the palace style of northern China and‭ ‬is guarded by two enormous‭ ‬vermillion‭ ‬lions‭. ‬In Chinese culture‭, ‬Wenwu temples house gods related to both civil and marital affairs‭. ‬Originally two temples stood at the side of Sun Moon Lake but were torn down when dam projects caused the lake level to rise in 1919‭. ‬The new temple was built in its present location in 1938‭, ‬and then rebuilt and expanded in 1969‭. ‬

 

Lion in front of Wenwu Temple, Sun Moon Lake
Vermilion lion in front of Wenwu Temple

 

Wenwu Temple, Sun Moon Lake
Charms inside Wenwu Temple

 

Come early for a better chance of clear‭ ‬lake views and to beat tour bus crowds‭. ‬Also‭, ‬make sure to go up the rows of stairs outside the back of the temple for the classic view‭. ‬

Across the road from the front of the temple‭, ‬you can also walk down 366‭ ‬steps‭ (‬one for each day of the year plus one for leap year‭) ‬to the shore of the lake‭, ‬once the only way to access the temple‭. ‬‭

 

Stairs from Wenwu Temple to Sun Moon Lake
Stairs leading from Wenwu Temple to the shore of Sun Moon Lake

 

3. Nine Frogs Stack (九蛙疊像)

Halfway between Wenwu Temple and Ita Thao‭, ‬there’s a pullover on the lake side of the road for Water Frog Head Trail‭ (‬水蛙頭步道‭)‭, ‬an easy boarded trail through bamboo forests to a dock on the lake where you can spot Nine Frogs Stack‭ (‬九蛙疊像‭), ‬a statue in the water that is used to measure the lake’s level‭. ‬

Tour buses don’t stop here‭, ‬so it’s a good place on Sun Moon Lake for a quiet‭, ‬scenic stroll with no crowds‭. ‬

 

4. Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (日月潭纜車)

How to get from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan
Gorgeous Sun Moon Lake

 

The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is probably the most popular Sun Moon Lake attraction‭, ‬but that doesn’t mean you should skip it‭. ‬Even with a large number of visitors‭, ‬the Sun Moon Lake cable car lines move‭ ‬quickly‭. ‬When we visited on a weekday‭, ‬arriving the moment they opened‭, ‬and there was hardly a line‭. ‬

The views over Sun Moon Lake during‭ ‬the ride are nothing short of‭ ‬breathtaking‭. ‬There’s no view once you arrive at the top‭, ‬so you can either head right back‭ ‬down‭, ‬or continue on another ropeway down into the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (see below)‭.‬

A round trip on the Sun Moon Lake gondola costs NT300‭, ‬and rides are included if you buy an entrance ticket to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village‭. ‬Operating times are 10:30-4‭ (‬weekdays‭) ‬and 10‭:‬00-4:30‭ (‬weekends and holidays‭). ‬The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is included on some Sun Moon Lake passes. Here’s a great deal on Klook that includes a bike, boat rides, and Sun Moon Lake ropeway ticket.  

You can walk from the pier in Ita Thao to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway along a pretty lakeside path in about 15‭ ‬minutes‭.

 

The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (Sun Moon Lake cable car)
The base station of the Sun Moon Lake ropeway

 

Riding the Sun Moon Lake ropeway with kids
On the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway when my kids were 10 months and 2.5 yrs

 

5. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村)

Aboriginal performers, Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village
Aboriginal performers at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village

 

I’m not going to lie here…the combination of aboriginal culture center and theme/amusement park‭ (‬complete‭ with ‬”European garden‭ & ‬Mansion”‭, ‬a popular theme at many of Taiwan’s theme parks built in the 80s‭)‬‭ ‬at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village‭ unsettling‭. ‬This is‭ ‬cultural appropriation at its finest‭, ‬not to mention that ticket prices are pretty steep‭.‬‭ ‬

The Chinese name‭ ‬“9‭ ‬Tribes Culture Village”‭ (‬九族文化村‭) ‬harks back to a time when only nine aboriginal tribes were officially recognized in Taiwan‭ (‬today‭ ‬there are 16‭). ‬

I honestly wouldn’t really recommend coming here‭.‬‭ ‬We went because I though it might be fun for my kids‭. ‬The amusement park section is nothing special‭. ‬We saw one crazy looking waterslide‭ (‬picture below‭), ‬but overall the park is really spread out‭ ‬and requires tons of walking‭, ‬but doesn’t have many facilities‭.‬

 

Waterslide at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village
Giant water slide at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village

 

Sun Moon Lake Ropeway down to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village
Arriving at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village

 

The aboriginal section covers a large hill and also takes quite some time to walk through‭. ‬It does however offer a chance to photograph aboriginals dressed in traditional costumes and watch‭ ‬song and dance performances‭.   ‬

If you really want to experience aboriginal culture‭, ‬I’d suggest the more humble‭ (‬and legitimate‭) ‬Thao‭ ‬Tribe Performance Center‭ (‬see‭ #‬6‭), ‬and if you want rides‭, ‬there are many better amusement parks in Taiwan‭.  ‬

If you still want to visit‭, ‬this Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village day trip deal includes transportation to and from Taichung‭, ‬ropeway tickets‭, ‬park admission‭, ‬and a guide‭. ‬Regular admission to the park also includes ropeway tickets‭.  ‬

‬The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is included on the NT$1100 Sun Moon Lake pass.  

 

6. The Thao Tribe Performance Center (邵族逐鹿市集)

Aboriginal pestle dance performed by Thao people at the Thao Tribe Performance Center in Ita Thao
Traditional pestle music of the Thao, one of Taiwan’s smallest and most endangered aboriginal tribes

 

A small center in Ita Thao village is trying hard to preserve and promote the customs of the‭ ‬Thao people‭ (‬邵族‭)‬‭, ‬one of Taiwan’s smallest tribes‭. ‬Only a few elders still speak the Thao language‭, ‬and their customs are in danger of dying out‭. ‬

One of the special features of Thao culture is a kind of music called chu yin‭ (‬杵音‭) ‬or‭ ‬’pestle sounds’‭, ‬made‭ ‬by pounding large pestles into mortars‭. ‬The Thao discovered it in past times when they found that pounding different materials produced different sounds‭. ‬You can watch performances of the music at the center today‭. ‬The center also features‭ ‬songs and dance from the Bunun‭ ‬tribe‭ (‬布農族‭)‬‭, ‬another tribe which lives in the greater Sun Moon Lake area‭. ‬

Daily performances take place on weekdays from 11-11:40‭ ‬am and 3-3:40‭ ‬pm‭ (‬except Wednesdays‭) ‬and 11-11:40‭ ‬am‭, ‬3-3:40‭ ‬pm and 5-5:40‭ ‬pm on weekends and holidays‭. ‬Donations are appreciated‭. See more details here.

 

7. Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔)

Ci En Pagoda, Sun Moon Lake
Ci En Pagoda

 

Continuing past Ita Thao village‭, ‬the next point of interest‭, ‬and another of Sun Moon Lake’s most iconic sights‭, ‬is‭ ‬towering Ci En Pagoda‭, ‬visible from many points on the lake‭. ‬

The 43-meter pagoda was commissioned by former president Chiang Kai-shek for his late mother in 1971‭. ‬It’s a 570-meter walk up stairs to reach the pagoda‭. ‬It’s definitely worth coming for the incredible‭, ‬panoramic view of Sun Moon Lake from the top of the pagoda‭. ‬

Here’s a short panoramic video I shot of Sun Moon Lake from the top of Ci En Pagoda:

 

 

8. Xuanguan Temple (玄光寺) & Wharf (玄光碼頭)

Xuanguang Temple and Wharf, Sun Moon Lake, with Lalu Island visible in the center
From here you can see what’s left of Lalu Island, sacred to the Thao people

 

The furthest you’ll likely get from Shuishe‭ (‬unless you cycle or ride all the way around the lake‭) ‬is Xuanguan Temple‭ & ‬Wharf‭. ‬It’s one of three piers you can take a boat to‭, ‬but I found it the least appealing‭. ‬The temple is nothing special‭, ‬and there’s less space here so it felt crowded‭. ‬

The highlight for me was seeing Lalu Island‭, ‬which is just off shore‭. ‬There is also a famous tea egg vendor‭ ‬called‭ ‬金盆阿嬤的香菇茶葉蛋‭ ‬by the pier‭. ‬Sun Moon Lake is known for having really good tea eggs‭, ‬which are‭ ‬stewed with‭ ‬giant mushrooms, local Sun Moon Lake tea leaves, and spices‭, ‬and this stall apparently has the best ones‭.  

You can get here by bus or boat from Shuishe.

 

Tea eggs some of the best things to eat in Alishan, Taiwan
delicious tea eggs

 

9. Try SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)

To make up for not being able to swim‭ ‬at Sun Moon Lake‭ (‬unless you come for the annual mass swim‭), ‬perhaps you can try stand up paddleboarding on Sun Moon Lake‭! ‬

No experience is required‭, ‬kids can even do it‭, ‬and there are morning or afternoon options‭. ‬But for the most serene experience‭, ‬go for the dawn paddleboarding option‭, ‬when the lake is at its calmest and no tourists are out yet‭.  ‬

 

10. Scootering or Cycling around Sun Moon Lake

Gorgeous views while cycling Sun Moon Lake
Enjoy views like this from around the lake

 

The road around Sun Moon Lake has been called one of the top 10‭ ‬most beautiful cycling routes in the world‭. ‬

There are multiple places in Shuishe town where you can rent bicycles‭ (‬expect to pay about NT200‭ ‬for two hours‭, ‬or double that for a high quality Giant bike here‭), ‬e-bikes‭, ‬or scooters‭ (‬around NT400‭ ‬per day‭, ‬usually able to rent here without a proper license‭). ‬

You can also arrange a bike rental and all day boat combination pass in advance‭, or get the Sun Moon Lake Bike pass.

 

Other Things to Do Near Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is famous for its black teas‭, ‬which are mostly produced north of the lake in Yuchi township‭. ‬See my full article on Sun Moon Lake Tea and tea-related activities in the area‭ (‬coming soon‭). ‬

Puli‭, ‬a city 30‭ ‬minutes north of Sun Moon Lake‭, ‬is worth a stop for visiting enormous Chung Tai Chan Monastery‭, ‬the world’s tallest Buddhist Monastery‭. ‬Just outside of Puli‭, ‬Paper Dome‭, ‬a church made out of paper‭, ‬is another popular attraction‭. You can stop here with the Sun Moon Lake pass. ‬

 

Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli
Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli, the tallest Buddhist monastery in the world

 

The Paper Dome in Puli
A church made out of paper in Puli, near Sun Moon Lake

 

A 40-minute drive west of Sun Moon Lake‭, ‬Wuchang Temple in Jiji is an interesting‭, ‬if unusual‭, ‬local attraction‭. ‬The temple here completely caved in during the disastrous 921‭ ‬Earthquake in 1999‭, ‬in which 2415‭ ‬people died‭, ‬and has been left that way since‭. ‬A lavish new temple commemorating the incident has been built right in front of it‭.‬

See these detailed articles with beautiful photos of Wuchang Temple by Alexander Synaptic and this one on Wuchang Temple‭ ‬by Josh Ellis for more details‭. Here are some shots from my most recent trip (2018):

 

Wuchang Temple, Jiji, Nantou
Remains of Wuchang Temple in Jiji

 

Another 45 minutes’ drive past Jiji, you can reach the Xitou Monster Village, a popular Japanese-themed village. Click the above link for information on getting there by bus from Sun Moon Lake.  

 

Xitou Monster Village
The Xitou Monster Village, a 1 hour 15 min drive from Sun Moon Lake

 

Getting to Sun Moon Lake

Generally‭, ‬you can budget about three hours to get‭ ‬from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake‭,‬‭ ‬1.5‭ ‬hours ‬from Taichung to Sun Moon lake‭, ‬and three hours from‭ ‬Alishan to Sun‭ ‬Moon Lake‭. ‬

 

Taipei to Sun Moon Lake

The simplest way is to take the bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake‭. ‬Buses in Taipei depart from the Taipei Bus Station‭, ‬located at exit‭ ‬Z5‭ ‬of Taipei Main Station‭.‬‭ ‬A one-way adult ticket costs NT470‭. ‬You can find the complete timetable here for bus 1833‭ ‬from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake and Sun Moon Lake to Taipei‭. ‬The bus usually takes 3-3.5‭ ‬hours and includes a stop in‭ ‬Puli‭.  ‬

Buying your return ticket is a good idea‭, ‬to avoid uncertainty about getting a seat on the way back‭. ‬It’s also smart to buy your ticket a day or two in advance‭, ‬especially for weekend or holiday departures‭, ‬but it’s often possible to just show up‭ ‬a little early and get a ticket‭.  ‬

If you don’t want to take a three-hour bus ride‭, ‬you can take the HSR from Taipei to Taichung and then the shuttle bus from Taichung to Sun‭ ‬Moon Lake‭ (‬see below‭). ‬This‭ ‬costs more and you might only save 30‭ ‬minutes‭, ‬but I’ve done this before because a three hour bus ride is difficult for my kids‭.   ‬

If you buy a discounted HSR ticket‭ ‬from Taipei‭ ‬to Taichung in advance on Klook‭, ‬the cost of going by HSR and shuttle bus is almost the same as taking the bus all the way from Taipei‭. ‬

It is also possible to arrange a private car from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. If you’re coming from Taipei, check out my Taipei 4-day itinerary!

 

Taichung to Sun Moon Lake

Tourist Shuttle Bus A runs from Central Taichung to Sun Moon Lake in about 90‭ ‬minutes‭. ‬You can board at Gancheng Station‭, ‬Taichung Station‭, ‬Daqing Station‭, ‬Taichung Airport‭, ‬or‭ ‬Taichung HSR Station‭. ‬The bus also stops in Puli and at Paper Dome‭. ‬Here are the bus times. Bus tickets are included in most Sun Moon Lake passes.

The bus costs NT190‭ ‬or less‭ (‬depending where you get on‭), ‬and runs roughly every 30‭ ‬minutes‭. ‬The first bus is at 7:45am from Taichung Gancheng station and 7:25‭ ‬am from Sun Moon Lake‭. ‬EasyCard is accepted‭. ‬

It is also possible to arrange a private car from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake.

Here is a complete map of all the bus routes to and from the greater Sun Moon Lake area‭. ‬

If you are in Taichung, make sure to check out the Rainbow Village!

 

Alishan to Sun Moon Lake

There is a minibus two times per day from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake and Sun Moon Lake to Alishan‭. ‬The bus from Alishan‭ ‬departs at 1‭ ‬and 2‭ ‬pm‭, ‬and the‭ ‬one from Sun Moon Lake departs at 8‭ ‬am and 9‭ ‬am‭, costing NT$328. ‬

The trip from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake should take less than three hours‭, ‬but going uphill‭ ‬from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan might take a little more than three hours‭. ‬To save money on bus tickets for Taichung-Sun Moon Lake-Alishan, you can get the Sun Moon Lake Alishan pass.

Here’s my complete guide to getting to Alishan‭. ‬

Alishan to Cingjing Farm

There is a shared shuttled to Cingjing Farm or you can charter a private vehicle. You can also visit Sun Moon Lake, Alishan, and Cingjing Farm on this 3-day tour!

 

If you made it this far, I hope that you’ve found some useful information here. Please let me know below if you have any comments or questions, and how your trip to Sun Moon Lake goes!

 

Find out everything you need to know for visiting Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan #sunmoonlake #taiwan

 

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. These are products and services that I personally use and recommend. If you click on one and buy something, I get a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

 

19 thoughts on “Sun Moon Lake Taiwan: A Comprehensive Guide”

  1. While Sun Moon Lake looks gorgeous and quiet, I would think that 6 million visitors per year would make it quite a busy place. It would be difficult for me to resist going in the lake if it were warm outside. Water and swimming always draw me. Ita Thao with its greater Aboriginal influence sounds more appealing to me. I love how lush everything is.

  2. I love how peaceful and clear the waters are at Sun Moon Lake. It’s easy to see why it is so popular. I’m quite intrigued by the Aboriginal culture. I’m curious to learn more about it, but I get your caution about the touristic nature of Ita Thao. Any good museums you’d recommend instead? The area is very green and pretty. Can’t wait to visit Taiwan!!

  3. Really great article. It’s quiet hard to find some accurate and up-to-date information about Taiwan in general. Hopefully i found your blog ! Just to let you know, all your booking.com links doesn’t works on this post.

  4. I’ve been reading information about Sun Moon Lake and Alishan here that I wasn’t able to find in other blogs. Thank you!

    Would you know what options I have to reach Sun Moon Lake directly from Taoyuan Airport (using public transportation)? I arrive around 2:00 am so I find it impractical to check in a hotel. Thanks!

    • As far as I know, there is no 24-hour public transportation options from the airport. You will need to wait until about 6am, then you can do either of the following:

      1. Take the shuttle bus to the Taoyuan HSR station, HSR to Taichung, then bus to Sun Moon Lake (more expensive, faster)
      2. Take a bus from the airport to Taichung then take the bus to Sun Moon Lake (slower but cheaper).

      The only other option would be to take a taxi from the airport to a Taipei bus station, but you should check first if they have any buses in the middle of the night from Taipei to Taichung.

      • Thank you! Just double checked my flight schedule and I arrive around 1:10am. I saw that there is a Kuo Kuang 1860 bus going to Taichung at 1:40 am. Supposing I take that bus, where should I get off if I want to check in somewhere near the Taichung Railway Station? The railway station is not included in the route (https://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=4639). I read that most visitors alight at Chaoma Station then take a cab when they want to stay near Fengjia Night Market.

        Considering that I am going to Sun Moon Lake and other attractions in Taichung such as Xinshe Castle, Fengjia Market, Rainbow Village and Houli Flower Farm for two days, would it be advisable to stay near the train station or near the night market? OR, should I stay one night in Sun Moon Lake then another night near train station/night market?

        • You will have to be lucky to catch that bus. In my experience, it takes 30 minutes to 1 hour (usually closer to 1 hour) from the landing time to the moment you exit the arrivals door, then you still need to get to the bus area. If I were you, I would have a back up plan in case you don’t catch that bus.

          I’m sorry that I’m not so familiar with Taichung City, so I don’t know where the best place to stay there is. It sounds like you are planning to see a lot in two days. Going to Sun Moon Lake is a full day trip. So it will be up to you if you want to spend the night there, and which sights you want to see in Taichung on your second day (I’m not sure if you can squeeze in all the ones that you mentioned). Keep in mind that Taichung “city” is not really a city, it’s a whole county, and Sun Moon Lake is actually in a different county (Nantou).

          For you hotel, it makes sense to stay somewhere that is your transportation hub for getting to Sun Moon Lake.

          • Thanks a lot for your feedback! I’ll just catch some sleep and wait for the 6am bus to Taichung, then go straight to Sun Moon Lake via the Nantou Bus. I’m not going inside the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village so hopefully, I’ll be able to cover the highlights of Sun Moon Lake and take the last bus bound for Taichung. Best to stay near the railway station so that I can start my 2nd day early.

            Thanks again! 🙂

  5. Hi Sir Nick. This is a very helpful blog. Please allow me to ask some questions 🙂 We’ll be going to Taichung on April 18 to 19. First, what is the best hotel to stay that you will get the best view of the lake and very near to the best locations/amenities to visit as well?

    We are from the Philippines, and our first time to go to taiwan. We are 8 adults and we are planning to take the HST going to Taichung. Is it a good idea if we will hire a tourist taxi from HST station Taichung and go somewhere first before staying overnight to Sun Moon Lake? We just wanted to maximize our time in taichung and travel the next day on kaohshiung…Thank you in advance….Hope i hear from you the soonest 🙂

    • Hi Kathy,
      Please be away that Taichung city is not near Sun Moon Lake. It takes 1.5 hours from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake! If you only have 1 night for Taichung + Sun Moon Lake, that is very rushed. Please send me an email at nickkembel@gmail.com and we can discuss further. What is your expected arrival time at Taichung HSR?

  6. Thank you very much for these very detailed information about SML. I can not find any better source for me to plan my trip
    Just want to ask you for some advices about experience the cable car at SML. How long does it take to experience the cable car?
    I will travel to SML from Alishan, by the time I get to SML (maybe around 4pm as I take the soonest bus at 1pm and the trip will take 3hrs) the cable is closed already. So if I plan to try it, I have to wait until the next day at 10:30, but I have to catch the bus from SML to TaiChung Airport at 12:40 so I don’t know if I can make it.
    Looking forward to your advices. Thank you!

    • Hi Bryant,
      That seems tight for time, but I think you can do it! I’m not sure the exact time of the cable car ride, but my guess is that it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to the top, maximum, and the same to come back down. (Don’t bother to take the second cable car, which goes down to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village). So even if you take 30 minutes to go up and 30 minutes to go down, you will be at the bottom at 11:30, which is lots of time to get to Shuishe for the 12:40 bus. Just make sure to have your luggage ready (I’m sure you can leave it at the cable car station), and check the bus times if you are taking the bus from the cable car to Shuishe!

  7. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for the very detailed and informative article.

    How do we get to Wenwu Temple from the entrance?

    For a 1 day visit to SML, would you suggest going to Puli? When best to fit it? At the start or at the end of the trip?

    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Jim,
      If you are coming to SML by public transportation, you will arrive in Shuishe Village on the lake. From the same bus stop, you can hop on the round-the-lake bus and get off at the Wenwu Temple stop. Another way would be to rent a bicycle and ride there.
      If you are only going to SML for one day, I don’t think going to Puli is worth your time, unless you really want to see one of the specific sights there. If I were you, I would just spend the whole day at the lake.

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