Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan and very popular with tourists, especially those from mainland China. It is famous for its clear blue water, nice scenery and the trails around the lake which can be hiked or biked. Having said that, a lot of the descriptions in guide books and online do slightly exaggerate the lake’s beauty.

Nevertheless, I found the size and amount of activities at the lake perfect for a day trip from Taichung. It’s also very possible to do a day trip from Taipei. This will require some more travelling and potentially less time at the lake.

How to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei

Although there are some direct buses, the better option is to take the HSR (High-Speed Rail) or the TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration trains, slower than the HSR) to Taichung and then get a bus from there to Sun Moon Lake. It’s important to know that, although they both leave from Taipei’s Main Station, the HSR and TRA trains arrive at different stations in Taichung.

The HSR takes about 1 hour and arrives at the newer Taichung HSR Station which is on the outskirts of Taichung. It takes about 20 minutes (by bus or train) to get from the HSR station to the TRA station in the centre of the city. Luckily for those wanting to visit Sun Moon Lake there is no need to go to the centre of Taichung. You can catch the bus directly from Taichung HSR Station and tickets can be purchased from the Nan Tou Bus office at the first floor fifth exit.

The TRA trains from Taipei to Taichung take about 2 hours and arrive at Taichung Railway Station in the centre of the city. From there, you can follow the advice in the next section on getting to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung.

How to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung

If you are already in Taichung the easiest way to get to Sun Moon Lake is to catch the bus from Taichung Railway Station or Gancheng Bus Station. Gancheng bus station is also where tickets can be purchased from the Nan Tou Bus ticket office, located about here.

Which ticket should you get?

There are a few bus companies plying the route between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake. We went with Nan Tou Bus (timetable and stops here) and had no complaints. They offer return tickets to Sun Moon Lake either by themselves or as part of a package. The packages seem to be good value and I would recommend the NT$720 (about A$31) Sun Moon Lake pass which includes return buses from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake as well as a boat trip across the lake, a daypass for the round-the-lake bus and a round-trip ticket for the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (which offers some great views of the lake). There is a list of all of their packages available here.

It is worth noting that the packages list the bus tickets in a confusing way but all of the packages include return tickets to Taichung except for the NT$390 Pass which is for people already at the lake.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Arriving at Shuishe

Shuishe Village is where the bus from Taichung will arrive. This is also where you can catch the round-the-lake bus or a boat across the lake to either Ita Thao Pier or Xuanguang Temple. The boats travel a triangular route between the 3 stops, some going clockwise and some anti-clockwise. Shuishe has some shops and restaurants but if you are only at Sun Moon Lake for the day then it’s probably not somewhere that you want to spend much more time than arriving and leaving.

It is also possible to rent bikes in Shuishe and cycle the roughly 30km around the lake, although some parts are quite steep. We opted for the ferry across the lake to Xuanguang Pier.

Xuanguang Pier

Xuanguang Temple is a small temple at the top of some steps but worth a quick look. The other (maybe main) reason that people visit Xuanguang is to sample the famous Ah Ma tea leaf eggs sold by the same woman for about 50 years! From Xuanguang we got a ferry to Ita Thao Pier.

Ah Ma tea leaf eggs

Ita Thao

Ita Thao (sometimes written as Ita Shao) has a lot of market-type food stalls and is a good place to get some food. As well as the usual Taiwanese market foods, you can also find a lot of sausages and other meat supposedly cooked in the traditional aboriginal style. I can’t confirm that this is accurate, but I can confirm that the wild boar sausages are delicious.

From Ita Thao it is a short walk along the lakeside trail to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.

Cable Car & Formosan Village

The views over the lake and the surrounding mountains from the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway were probably the highlight of the day. The Ropeway goes to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village which, despite the name, seems to mainly be a theme park with some cultural elements thrown in. We didn’t have time to visit, but I can imagine it might be worth it just for the very strange combination of things involved.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Round-the-lake bus

After getting back to the Ropeway stop near Ita Thao, we decided to go back to Shuishe and then back to Taichung. We got the round-the-bus lake from the main road near the Ropeway. It was easy to find the bus stop as there were plenty of other people waiting as well. The bus stops back where we first arrived in Shuishe.

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