After an extremely hectic few years of work and travel, I decided that I wanted a quiet birthday last year and decided to spend a few days recharging and immersing myself in nature, food and sleep in Hualien and the Sun Moon Lake. I was born in Taipei, and though I grew up in Hong Kong I still make it back to Taiwan a few times a year to visit family; it was time to step outside of my comfort zone and city of Taipei to explore more of what Taiwan had to offer – and why not start at one of the most picturesque places on the island?
Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan is a large body of water surrounded by mountain ranges and draws millions of visitors every year. It is one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan, and was named after its physical resemblance to a sun and a crescent moon. Though several ferries operate on the lake, it has remained relatively pristine and swimming is not allowed in the lake (bar one annual swimming competition). While there are a number of popular tourist attractions around Sun Moon Lake, it’s one of the best places to unwind and throw your itinerary out of the window.
3 nights at Sun Moon Lake rejuvenated my spirit – the crowds are minimal, the air is clean and fresh and the views are breathtaking. What’s not to love? If you’re visiting Taiwan, make sure you stop over at Sun Moon Lake! But first, a few basics.
The best time to visit Sun Moon Lake
In general, the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area tends to be a few degrees warmer than Taipei and Hualien on the east coast. However, the island experiences 4 seasons throughout the year, so the coldest months tend to be from December to February (approximately 17-20 degrees Celsius). The summer months from June to August hover at around 25-28 degrees Celsius and rainfall also tends to be highest during this season.
We visited in May and it drizzled slightly, but there was also a layer of mist around the lake which made it look even more spectacular. If you are headed to Sun Moon Lake, you may want to consider timing your visit for the annual cherry blossom festival in February, or visiting during spring and autumn.
As it is a popular destination for visitors from Mainland China, Sun Moon Lake can get very busy and crowded during the Chinese national holidays – Chinese New Year (follows the lunar calendar but typically in early February) and Golden Week (first week of October). You’ll want to book your Sun Moon Lake accommodation in advance during these periods.
How to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei
Taichung has its own airport (airport code: RMQ), but if you are flying from the U.S., Australia or Europe then chances are you will need to fly into Taipei first. Here’s where it gets a little bit overwhelming, because there are a number of different ways to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei. We actually drove from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake and it took nearly 7 hours because of the terrifying mountain highway that takes you high up into the clouds. Unless you are a skilled driver, I really wouldn’t recommend driving from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake – the highway is also routinely shut due to rockslides. Here are a few other options for getting to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei:
Taipei to Sun Moon Lake by car: Driving from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake will take you just over 3 hours. In my opinion, renting a car to get around Taiwan offers the most flexibility and ability to see what you want when you want, all at your own pace. You’ll want to make sure, however, that you have a valid international driving permit and that your hotel offers parking.
Looking for the best prices for rental car companies around the world? Click here to book your rental car ahead of your trip. Bookings can be cancelled or amended if your plans change!
SIM cards can be purchased easily from Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, and you can hop onto Google Maps for driving directions. You can buy a 3-day Taipei tourist SIM card at the airport for about US$10.
Taipei to Sun Moon Lake by private transfer: Alternatively, you can also book a private one-way transfer from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake via Klook here. The transfer will cost just over US$100. If you are traveling around Taiwan, I also recommend that you check out DingTaxi, a website that offers private transfers and tours around the country.
Taipei to Sun Moon Lake by train: Taking the train is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei. You can either take a normal train to Taichung which will take approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes (NTD375 or US$12) or the high speed rail (HSR) which will take approximately 1 hour (NTD700 or US$22). You can book your one way HSR ticket to or from Taichung here to get 20% off!
Once you’ve arrived in Taichung, transfer to the “Sun Moon Lake Route” bus for NTD195 (US$6) one way, or NTD360 (US$12) round trip. Check the Sun Moon Lake Route timetable here. Alternatively, you can book a private one-way transfer from Taichung airport, high speed rail station or city to Sun Moon Lake here – prices vary from NTD1100 (US$35) to about NTD1300 (US$42).
How to get around the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area
You have several options of getting around Sun Moon Lake, the easiest of which being self-driving. There are a number of paid parking lots with plenty of spaces around the lake, and parking fees are cheap.
Alternatively, rent a bicycle or take the hop on/off Sun Moon Lake Round-the-Lake bus for NTD80/day.
It’s also possible to charter a private car for the day to take you around Sun Moon Lake as well as a few neighboring attractions in Central Taiwan, or join a guided tour from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake if you’re short on time.
Where to Stay in Sun Moon Lake
There are plenty of Sun Moon Lake accommodation options to suit every budget, but I highly recommend booking into the family-run Secret Garden Design Villa. The cute eco-luxury property was built by the owner and his family pretty much from scratch, and is just a short drive away from the lake itself. As the name suggests, the property resembles a “secret garden” with plenty of greenery. The rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable, and feature some of the owner’s daughter’s artwork. Click here to check current rates at the Secret Garden Design Villa, or head on over here to see some other highly rated hotel options in the Sun Moon Lake area!
What to do in Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area
There are a number of things to do in Sun Moon Lake to keep you busy, but I would recommend taking it easy and only visiting a few Sun Moon Lake attractions rather than planning a packed itinerary. You should aim to spend a minimum of 2 to 3 days in Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area. Read on for some incredible things to do at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan!
1. Check out the lake view from the top of Ci’en Pagoda
There are a number of lookout points around the lake but in my opinion the best view of Sun Moon Lake is from Ci’en Pagoda. To get there, you’ll have to walk 10-15 minutes uphill (don’t worry, it’s a gentle walk), and then up a few storeys for an outrageous view of the turquoise Sun Moon Lake.
Ci’en Pagoda was built by the late President Chiang Kai Shek in memory of his mother. The pagoda is 46 meters tall and is divided into nine tiers. There is no fee to enter.
2. Take the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
This cable car offers stunning views of the lake from above. The journey is 7 minutes long and costs 300 NTD, and also includes entry to the Ita Thao and Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village amusement park. In my opinion, you should either hop on the cable car or visit Ci’en Pagoda – not both.
3. Hop on a ferry
There are a number of small passenger ferries that travel between the three piers around the Sun Moon Lake. You can hop on and off for NTD300 per person, and check out one of the smallest islands in the world from the ferry as you can’t actually step foot on it. Lalu Island is located in the middle of the Sun Moon Lake and is considered to be the home of the Thao people’s ancestral spirits.
4. Visit a tea farm
The conditions around the Sun Moon Lake area make it perfect for growing tea. This is Taiwan’s main base for the cultivation of Assam black tea, which was brought in from India during the period of Japanese occupation for a trial production. There are a number of tea plantations around Sun Moon Lake, the most famous of which being Antique Assam Tea Farm. The plantation is free to visit but you’ll have to book in advance if you want to go on a guided tour. As the booking form and website is entirely in Chinese, your best bet is to ask your hotel to call and book for you.
5. Surround yourself with lilies
If you love beautiful flower fields, then you will love the local lily farms around Sun Moon Lake. The farm that we went to was just a stone’s throw away and full of golden orange lilies. The private farm is operated by local farmers who charge a small fee of NTD100 (US$3) to wander around their fields of lilies.
The best time to visit is in August and September, but there are blooms from May onwards. Input 頭社盆地 into Google Maps and follow the road signs for 金針花海, or ask locals for directions to “jin zhen hua hai”. Check out this article for more beautiful flower fields around the world to you have to visit.
Ready to book your trip to Sun Moon Lake? Click here to check out current rates and availability at Secret Garden Design Villa or head on over here for some hotel options around Sun Moon Lake.
Check out more of my Taiwan travel tips and guides over here!
Sun Moon Lake is a wonderful slow travel destination in Taiwan, and a great place to clear your head and immerse yourself in what nature has to offer. Have you been to Central Taiwan before? Leave a comment with your favorite Taiwan destinations!
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