Dear reader: This article contains links to products and services that I may be compensated for, at no extra cost to you.
What is Sun Moon Lake famous for? Sun Moon Lake attractions such as the views from Wenwu Temple and Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, cherry blossom viewing in March at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, local aboriginal culture, and locally grown black tea are the big draws. Sun Moon Lake can feel crowded and touristy in spots, but it’s also very easy to get away from that.
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 it. Several of these visits were with my kids!
There is so much information that I want to share here that I’ve written separate articles for Sun Moon Lake’s famous teas, the best Sun Moon Lake tours, and how to decide whether you should get the Sun Moon Lake pass.
Taichung City is the main access point to Sun Moon Lake, and people often associate Taichung with Sun Moon Lake, although SML is actually located in neighboring Nantou County.
Many people visit Sun Moon Lake as a day trip from Taichung, but to really appreciate Sun Moon Lake, I strongly recommend spending at least one, of not two nights there. The lake is especially beautiful in the early morning, and in the evening the local night market comes alive.
Although it is possible to do Sun Moon Lake as a super long day trip from Taipei, I wouldn’t personally recommend doing this.
Is Sun Moon Lake Worth Visiting?
I know people in Taipei who detest Sun Moon Lake or write it off as an overtouristed attraction.
However, my answer to the above question is that yes, Sun Moon Lake is incredibly beautiful and worth visiting, whether you visit during winter or summer in Taiwan. 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.
True, a few of the main sites at Sun Moon Lake can be crowded with tour buses, and if you are not a big fan of touristy places, you may want to steer clear of Sun Moon Lake, but I think that even for people like that, it is still easy to avoid the crowds at SML and have an enjoyable trip there.
The Aboriginal People of Sun Moon Lake
Like saving money? Try using Klook while planning your trip to Taiwan. The website offers all kinds of activities, train passes, entrance tickets and more at discount prices. If you register with my referral link, you’ll get NT$100 off your first activity booking.
The Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim
The easiest and cheapest way to get around Sun Moon Lake is the round-the-lake bus, which actually doesn’t travel all the way around the lake, but from Shuishe to Xuanguang Temple. For other ways to get around the lake, including boats and cycling, see below.
Shuishe: The Main Tourist Village
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. For vegetarians, there’s a great, quiet vegetarian restaurant a few minutes drive from Shuishe in the direction of Puli called White Deer Cafe and Pizzeria (日月潭白鹿窯木燒麵包).
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 (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) near the Shuishe Pier, but the reviews for it are pretty bad. I’m not aware of any hostels in Shuishe. There are better budget choices in Ita Thao.
In the mid-range, Shaoguang 188 (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is a very popular, highly rated choice with stone tubs in the rooms, while Doris Home (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) nearby offers artfully decorated, cat-themed rooms in a lovely house. Yue Lake Backpackers (see on Booking/ Agoda /TripAdvisor) west of town offers reasonably priced rooms considering they have good lake views.
Sun Moon Lake Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) just west of town, is a moderately priced upscale choice offering incredible lake views, while Fleur de Chine (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) east of town is one of the most opulent properties on Sun Moon Lake.
Ita Thao: My Personal Favorite
The best part about Itathao is its great food stalls and day/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).
Related: See my guide to the best night markets in Taipei.
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).
Food lovers: There are also some great cooking classes in Taiwan!
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).
If you love traditional Taiwanese snacks, then also check out my introduction to Jiufen Old Street in New Taipei City.
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 these cabins on Sun Moon Lake (see on Agoda / Booking) located five minutes’ walk up a small road from the Ita Thao bus stop.
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.
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
Below are some of the essential things to consider doing during your Sun Moon Lake visit, including the most popular attractions and a few lesser known ones.
1. Take a Boat Across Sun Moon Lake
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)
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 vermilion 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.
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)
5. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村)
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.
If you’re looking for a better theme park experience in Taiwan, here are the best and worst amusement parks in taiwan.
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.
The one reason I would recommend coming to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, though, is to see the beautiful cherry blossom festival there in March; they are said to be a variety that is pinker than elsewhere.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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
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).
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.
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. Chung Tai Chan is one of Taiwan’s four major Buddhist orders. See here to read about another one of them, Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung.
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.
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 more information about Wuchang Temple here.
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.
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. If you want to travel from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake, you’ll have to go via Taipei.
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.
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 bus is #6739, run by Yunlin bus company (bus info here).
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
Sun Moon Lake is 1.5 hours from Cingjing Farm, one of Taiwan’s most popular farm theme parks.
Well, thanks for making 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!