The best things to do in Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is undeniably one of the best places to experience Taiwan’s natural beauty and a great add-on to any Taiwan itinerary. This comprehensive first-timer’s guide to Sun Moon Lake highlights everything you need to know in order to maximize your time here. Get pro tips on how to get to Sun Moon Lake and where to stay. As well as, the best things to do in Sun Moon Lake here.
Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake is
Surrounded by mountains covered in lush vegetation, Sun Moon Lake’s name stems from its unique terrain – the southern part of the lake resembles a crescent moon, whereas the northern part looks like a sun.
Seeing that Sun Moon Lake is only about 1.5 hours away from Taichung (Taiwan’s art hub and second largest city), it’s pretty easy to reach – even with public transport!
Sun Moon Lake is a must on any traveler’s Taiwan itinerary and a visit here will quickly reveal why it is such a popular go-to destination among locals and travelers alike.
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Sun Moon Lake need-to-knows
Getting to and from Sun Moon Lake
Taiwan has an excellent transport network, which means getting to Sun Moon Lake is pretty easy. One of the best ways to access the area is by bus. Frequent buses run from both the Taichung HSR station and the Taichung train station. There is also the option to take a direct bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake, but if you want to maximize your time here, I highly recommend getting yourself to the Taichung HSR station first.
Only have one day to spend in Sun Moon Lake? Consider taking this Classic Sun Moon Lake Tour from Taipei.
High-speed trains run on fixed and frequent schedules along the western coast of Taiwan, and tickets are reasonably priced. Tickets can be bought on the spot, but just a word of caution – reserved seats fill up quite quickly over weekends and special holidays, so it’s best to buy
Once you’ve made your way to the Taichung HSR station, head to Exit 5. The exit is on the lower level, so don’t get lost among the crowds on the first floor of the station! There is a small ticket booth, clearly marked Nantou Bus where you can buy bus tickets to Sun Moon Lake. The staff members speak excellent English, so there is no need to worry about language barriers either.
Tickets cost NT$195 for a single trip and open-end return tickets are available at a discounted price of NT$180 each. Buses run every 20 minutes or so and the journey shouldn’t take more than 1h30. The bus will drop you right in front of the Shuishe Visitors Centre from where it is easy to travel onwards. Just a side note, this is also where you’ll grab the bus back to Taichung.
For more details on the Nantou Bus time schedules and routes, check here. Looking at the schedule might be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors to Sun Moon Lake, so to avoid any confusion you’ll arrive and depart at the Sun Moon Lake stop (which is right in front of the Shuishe Visitors Centre).
Sun Moon Lake is also easily accessed from Alishan. Direct buses from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake leave at 1 pm and 2 pm daily. Read my guide on The Best Things to do in Alishan for more travel tips and inspo on Taiwan’s best sunrise spot!
For those who cringe at the thought of traveling on a crowded bus, consider grabbing a private transfer between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake.
There is also a shared transfer between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake, and although it is much cheaper than a private transfer, keep in mind that dropping all the guests off first may take longer than expected.
Getting around Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is really geared towards tourists, so getting around couldn’t be easier! There are a number of affordable transport options that cater to all kinds of budgets too. These include transport modes such as boats, bicycles, and buses.
Sun Moon Lake Shuttle Boats
The shuttle boat is probably the easiest and fastest way to get from Shuishe VIllage to Ita Thao Village. Boats run daily and there’s one to hop on every 30 minutes or so (usually between 9 am – 5 pm). These shuttle boats travel to and from three spots namely; Shuishe, Xuanguang, and Ita Thao.
You can grab tickets at any of the ticketing offices close by the Shuishe or Ita Thao wharves. There are a bunch of different boating companies, but to keep things ordered prices are fixed and non-negotiable. A one-way trip to any of the above-mentioned piers cost NT$100. There is also an option for a single boat ride and bike rental, which only costs NT$50 more. If you’d like to spend the whole day on the lake, daily tickets go for NT$300 a pop.
Boats leaving from Shuishe Pier, first stop at Xuanguang Pier before heading to the final stop at Ita Thao. Take note though that some boats leaving from Ita Thao, only go directly to Shuishe Pier. So it’s always best to confirm details with the local staff in advance.
Shuttle Boat Schedule
|Shuishe Pier||Xuanguang Pier||Ita Thao Pier|
|17:10 (only back to Shuishe)|
|17:40 (only back to Shuishe)|
Pro tip: During winter boats do not run after 17:00, and during summer months extra boats might be available a bit later. But it’s best to always go a bit earlier and check the latest schedules on the spot. Remember to also be at the pier 5-10 minutes before your departure.
The easiest (and cheapest) way to get around the lake is by Round-the-Lake Bus. Buses run frequently and a day ticket will only set you back NT$80. You can also buy a ticket straight from the bus driver or use an Easy Card to simply tap-and-go. You can check out the complete Round-the-Lake Bus schedule here.
Pro tip: There might not be English announcements for the various stops on every single bus, so it’s best to always keep Google Maps handy to track your location. Also, remember to press the “stop” button just as you’re coming up to your stop.
Bicycle shops are cheap and plentiful in Sun Moon Lake and a great way to explore the area – especially if you are on a tight budget. Besides saving a few bucks, cycling in Taiwan, especially at Sun Moon Lake is a popular activity enjoyed by young and old. In fact, it is so famous here that CNN even dubbed it as one of the top 10 cycling routes that will take your breath away.
A Giant Bicycle shop is located on the basement level of the Shuishe Visitors Centre should you wish to grab a bike on arrival. Alternatively, a short stroll down the main street will offer more options with varying prices – from ‘everyday’ bikes and motorized bicycles, to fancy pro bikes.
Seeing that Sun Moon Lake has an excellent public transport system, you’ll quickly realize that taxis aren’t the best mode of transport here. Not only are they much more expensive compared to the rest of Taiwan, but there also aren’t that many around – making flagging down a cab nearly impossible.
A taxi ride from Ita Thao Village to Shuishe Village (and vice versa) will set you back NT$700, whilst a taxi ride back to the Taichung HSR starts at NT$2700. So, if you are traveling on a tight budget, it’s best to avoid taxis in Sun Moon Lake.
Best time to visit
Sun Moon Lake can be quite crowded over weekends and prices are generally steep here, so it’s best to visit during weekdays and book accommodation well in advance. The area is also very popular with Chinese tour groups, but in general, it is quite easy to get away from the crowds.
Central Taiwan enjoys fairly pleasant temperatures year-round. I’ve traveled to Sun Moon Lake several times during my 8 years on the island and found spring and autumn to the best time to visit here. During summer, especially May and June, the area is prone to heavy downpours and although peak season runs from July to August, prices sky-rocket and typhoons aren’t uncommon. This probably goes without saying, but if you are traveling during the typhoon season, it’s best to keep a close eye on the local weather forecast and avoid going to mountainous areas anywhere in Taiwan. As you might have guessed, winters aren’t great in Sun Moon Lake. In fact, it can be downright freezing, but you’re still likely to enjoy a few sunny days here and there!
Where to stay
There is a great selection of accommodation available in Sun Moon Lake varying in budget and style. Although there are a few budget-friendly options around the lake, they fill up quite quickly. So, the best tip I can give you – always book well in advance. Prices tend to be much higher over weekends or special festivals and holidays.
Depending on your needs and budget there are two main areas to stay at, namely Shuishe Village and Ita Thao Village. Shuishe is the main village and it’s also here where you can hop on/off the Nantou Bus. Ita Thao, on the other hand, lies across the lake from Shuishe and has a much more relaxed vibe. Here you will also find a great street food scene where you can try some of the local aboriginal treats such as wild boar sausages, millet wine, and even millet ice cream.
Ita Thao Village
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The Best Things to do in Sun Moon Lake
Wondering what not to miss on your trip? Here are the best things to do in Sun Moon Lake.
Get a bird’s-eye view of the lake
To get an iconic view of the lake from above, hop in one of the colorful baskets at the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. The 1.9km cable car ride takes less than 10 minutes to reach the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village – where you can visit the theme park or simple hop back on the cable car. Even if you don’t visit the theme park, no visit to Sun Moon Lake would be complete without getting a bird’s-eye view of the whole area!
Want to learn more about the local traditions? Consider adding the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village Day Trip to your travel plans.
The Ropeway is a short 10-minute walk from Ita Thao Pier, and it is also easily accessed by Round-the-Lake Bus. Visit the ropeway in the early morning or late afternoon if you want to skip the crowds. You might also want to consider grabbing your tickets online first to bypass the long lines.
10:30 – 16:00 on weekdays
10:00 – 16:30 weekends
Pro tip: Take note though, the ropeway is closed on the first Wednesday of every month for maintenance.
Sun Moon Lake’s serene and peaceful setting has long made it a popular spot for those wanting to unwind. Which is why the area has no shortage of incredible Chinese temples. If you fancy learning about different religions or simply strolling along the beautiful gardens to admire the unique architecture, don’t miss the opportunity to drop by some of these local temples.
Wenwu Temple, located on the northern back of Sun Moon Lake is the most visited temple in the area. This huge temple, which was built in 1938 is devoted to the God of Literature, the God of War and Confuscious. It’s very popular among students and tour groups, so it’s best to time your visit here. Even if you aren’t interested in religion, dropping by here is a must. Seeing that the temple is perched on a hill, it truly offers one of the best panoramic views of the lake and mountains. Oh and don’t forget to make a wish – wish trinkets can be bought inside the temple. There is also no entrance fee, but donations are always welcome.
Xuanzang Temple is a quiet temple not too far from the Ci’En Pagoda. Although the temple is not nearly as popular as Wenwu Temple, it is a great place for a walk about. And more
The temple is devoted to the remains of the Buddist Monk Xuanzang – the Holy Monk in the Tang dynasty. Apart from the important relics and beautiful temple architecture, the serene landscape is breathtaking. The entrance is lined with beautiful towering trees and the “wake up bell” near the main gate all make for great photo ops too.
Xuanguang Temple is a short walk away from the Xuanguang Pier and is one of the busiest temples in the area. The temple was built in 1955 and offers excellent views over the lake and Lalu Island. But, be sure to visit in the early morning before the tour groups arrive!
Visit the Ci’ En pagoda
Ci’ En Pagoda sits on the Shabalan Mountain not too far from Xuangzang Temple. The pagoda is one of the most important points of interest in the area and was built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. Seeing that the temple lies at roughly 1000 meters above sea level, you can expect nothing but spectacular views from here!
There is a 700m trial leading up to the pagoda and even though it might not seem too far – the hike along the forest stairway up to the mountain is quite intense, so expect to break a sweat.
Once you make it to the top, you will be rewarded with wide open grounds and the 46-m towering pagoda. If you still have some energy in you, definitely climb to the top where all that huffing and puffing will finally pay off with unparalleled views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Pro Tip: When hiking in Taiwan, be sure to always carry some bug spray with you. Mosquitoes are relentless in the lush jungles here!
Snack your way through Ita Thao Village
Ita Thao Village offers visitors a unique glimpse into the local’s way of life. This small aboriginal settlement is home to unique treats and a great place to shop for aboriginal trinkets.
The main snacking street is a short walk from the Ita Thao Pier and a huge must for street food lovers. Some local favorites include wild boar sausages, wild mushrooms and various millet products such as millet wine and even millet ice cream!
Just a tip though, Ita Thao turns into a ghost town quite early at night. So it’s best to visit here during the early evening hours. Also, don’t expect too many vendors to be open on rainy days! Weekends are normally a bit busier though.
For less adventurous eaters, Smokey Joe’s above the Ita Thao Visitors Center has a good selection of western style dishes. But note that they close at 7 pm daily. You can also grab sandwiches or ‘heat-up’ meals at the local 7-11 and Family Mart nearby.
Bike around the lake
A 30km-long scenic road runs around the lake where you can enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding area and mountains. There are many cycling paths off the main road for you to bike around too.
Most visitors rent bicycles at one of the main villages, but electric scooters are another great way to explore the area. However, the best way to get around the lake hassle-free is by scooter. Keep in mind though that you’ll need a valid license to do so.
Explore the Ecological sites
Given its unique terrain, Sun Moon Lake is home to diverse fauna and flora. Apart from enjoying nature along one of the many hiking trails, there are also some great ecological sites nearby, where you can learn more about the natural wonders in these parts.
During spring, be sure not to miss the Annual Formosan Aboriginal Village Cherry Blossom Festival boasting with a number of cherry-related events. During summer, numerous “Valley Firefly Appreciation” activities can also be enjoyed in the surrounding areas.
The Butterfly Garden (near the SML Ropeway station) and the Bamboo Rock Garden (near Shuishe
Do some water sports
You can rent a small boat close to Ita Thao Wharf if you want to paddle around the water or even try to make it to Lalu Island in the middle of the lake. Prices are fixed though…
Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed in the lake. But there is an annual Cross-lake Swim each year during September, where visitors from all over come to compete in the 3km race across the lake. If you do want to take part in the SML Swimming Carnival, you can read up more about it here (only in Chinese).
Pro tip: You might come across a few blogs on the web mentioning secret swimming spots around SML, but as a rule of thumb – it’s always best to stick to the rules and regulations whilst traveling in Taiwan.
What tips do you have for fellow travelers visiting Sun Moon Lake? If I’ve missed any of the best things to do in Sun Moon Lake, I’d love to add to this list! Drop your comments below.
I hope this Sun Moon Lake guide will come in handy on your trip to this beautiful part of Taiwan.
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