Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan – A Complete Guide

Best things to do in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan – a quick overview:

  • Sun Moon Ropeway
  • Formosa Aboriginal Village
  • Ita Thao Pier
  • Shuishe Village and Pier
  • Qinglong Mountain to Cien Pagoda Hiking Trail (1.5 km)
  • Ita Thao Lakeside Hiking Trail (.9 km)
  • Sun Moon Lake Bikeway (30 km)
  • Jiji Bikeway (22 km)
  • Shuishe to Xiangshan Bikeway Above Water (3.4 km)
  • Sum Moon Lake Shuttle Boat
  • Round the Lake Bus Tour

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Xuanzang Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Xuanzang Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

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Should You Visit Sun Moon Lake?

Sun Moon Lake is a resort area, mostly frequented by Taiwanese. One big appeal of Sun Moon Lake is that it is authentic, and you will not see many westerners here. On the other hand, like many resort towns, some attractions in Sun Moon Lake can feel tourist trappy. Later in the article, I discuss some attractions you can safely skip.

In addition to “locals only” feel, Sun Moon Lake is a good place to visit if you enjoy hiking and biking. Perhaps the top reason to visit Sun Moon Lake is for its beautiful nature. Visit here if you love nature, hiking or biking. Skip this area is you are looking for big-city feel, shopping, or luxurious hotels.

Taiwan Tour Packages:

Ita Thao Pier - Things to do in Sun Moon Lake
Ita Thao Pier, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

How To Get To Sun Moon Lake?

You can get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei or Taichung via a direct bus. Busses from Taichung take about 1.5 hours and leave every hour. These are run by a private company and leave from an area close to Taichung Station, but not from the station itself. Ask your hotel for the bus schedule, but leave a little early. Give yourself extra time to find the company that operates the busses.

The most flexible option to get to Sun Moon Lake is by rental car. These car rental companies offer the best rates in Taiwan:

  • Skyscanner – Car rentals in Taichung
  • Hotwire – Car rentals in Taichung
  • Expedia – Car rentals in Taiwan
  • Zipcar – A car share service, often a one-month membership is much cheaper than renting a car
Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan - Xuanzang Temple
Xuanzang Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Getting Around Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.

There are three main ways to get around Sun Moon Lake. The first is by rental car. This is easily the most flexible option. Although more expensive, rental cars can save you hours of waiting.

The second way to get around Sun Moon Lake is by boat. This is fun, and pleasant, especially in good weather. Buy a day pass for the boat shuttle service for about 9 USD. The boats stop in 3 areas around the lake. From each stop, you can access some of the biggest attractions in Sun Moon Lake. The disadvantage of the shuttle boat is that you’ll need to wait for a boat and that some major attractions are not easy to access from boat docks.

The third way to get around Sun Moon Lake is by shuttle bus. The bus is inexpensive but sometimes it takes more than an hour to show up. The bus is an easy way to access many more attractions than the boat. The disadvantage of getting around Sun Moon Lake by bus is that you’ll often need to wait.

Shuishe Pier, boats parked overnight - Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
The shuttle boats parked overnight in Shuishe Pier

How Many Days Do You Need in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan?

You can easily see all the major attractions in 2-3 days. This also gives you plenty of time for hiking or biking around the area. Ideally, try to spend two nights at Sun Moon Lake, but one night is ok too.

Where To Stay in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

If you are getting to Sun Moon Lake by public transport, the best area to stay in Sun Moon Lake is Shuishe Village. This is the area where all the out of town buses to arrive. If you stay in the village, you can get around Sun Moon Lake easily by boat, bus, and bike. Additionally, when you are ready to leave you won’t need to schlep your suitcases around town but walk straight to the bus stop a few blocks from your hotel. Compare Sun Moon Lake Hotel Prices here:

Hotels.Com – Sun Moon Lake Hotels – Sun Moon Lake Hotels

Terrace/look out point in Sun Moon Lake Taiwan.
An open-air terrace as seen on a hike in Sun Moon Lake Taiwan.

History of Sun Moon Lake

For thousands of years, the lake was home to the Thao people, an aboriginal tribe. Legend says that Thao hunters discovered the lake while chasing a white deer. The deer led them here and then disappeared. The small island you’ll notice in the middle of the lake is a place the Thao people used for worship. During the Qing Dynasty, the original Thao settlers were joined by a large number of Han Chinese and the Pingpu tribe. As you travel around the lake you’ll encounter musical performances and stores run by the Thao descendants.

Sun Moon Lake became a popular tourist destination during the Japanese rule in the early 20th century. An ideal location for a getaway from Taichung, Sun Moon Lake remains a high-end resort town. The lake is famous around many parts of Asia for its constantly changing appearance, ranging from misty to blue sky and back again in a matter of minutes.

Hazy forest as seen on the way to Cien Pagoda in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.
A dreamy walk up to the Cien Temple in Sun Moon Lake

Things To Do in Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan – Hiking Trails

Sun moon lake is famous for its nature. Hiking is, perhaps, one of the best things to do in this area. All around the lake, you’ll find dozens of well-maintained trails. And the best part is that since only a few people hike here, the trails are virtually empty. Some of the most popular sun moon lake trails include:

  1. Hanbil Trail – 1.5 km – This trail passes through several historical sites, including Meihe Park, Christian Church, Yule Pavilion and Sentries.
  2. Neihu Mountain Trail 1.5 km – Trailhead is behind the Wenwu Temple. Hike through an ancient Chinese fir and bamboo forest.
  3. Songbolun Hiking Trail 1.2 km – An ancient trail Thao people used to transport salt.
  4. Shuishe Great Mountain Trail 5.6 km – Hike up to 2,059 meters above the sea level. 8-hour trail ideal for advanced hikers.
  5. Tutingzai Hiking Trail .6 km – Trailhead is at the old resident site of the Thao tribe. At the end of the trail, you’ll find a mini lighthouse.
  6. Qinglong Mountain to Cien Pagoda Trail – 1.5 km – Hike past two temples to the pagoda at the top of Sun Moon Lake. A more detailed description later in this article.
  7. Ita Thao Lakeside Trail .9 km – An easy trail that starts at Ita Thao Pier and takes you over a biologically diverse environment. A more detailed description later in this article.
Hiking train, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.
A hiking trail with shallow stairs in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.

Biking Trails in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Biking is a popular activity in Sun Moon Lake. Dozens of bike rental stores line the main street in every major village. If you enjoy biking, Sun Moon Lake is a paradise.

  1. Lake Road Path 30 km – Start at Shuishe Village and proceed to the Ita Thao along the lake. This path will take you half away around the lake. Afterward, take a ferry back to Shuishe.
  2. Shuishe to Xiangshan 3.4 km – Take the “Bikeway above water” as you pass by the Shuishe Dam and the “One Heart Forever” (Yongjietongxin) bridge.
  3. Xiangshan to New Moon Bay (3.4 km) – Starting at Xiangshan Administration, cycle past the Toushe Dam and the New Moon bay.
  4. Shuishe to Wenwu Temple – a mix of lake and forest scenery with brilliant views.
  5. Toushe Bikeway (.8 km) – Checheng Visitor Center to Shuli River, this path is mostly forested.
  6. Jiji Around the Town Bikeway 20.9 k – takes you out of the immediate Sun Moon Lake into Jiji, the nearby township. Passes by the Jiji Green Tunnel, Rail Station and Endemic Species Research Institute.

Qinglong Mountain to Cien Pagoda Trail

This spectacular hiking trail is one of the most rewarding experiences Sun Moon Lake – and is almost entirely empty.

Start the journey at the Xuanguang harbor. Here, walk about 10 minutes up to the small Xuanguang temple. A lot of tourists make this part of the journey, so it’s likely to be very crowded here. After the small temple, continue on the path up the mountain. Within just a few minutes you are likely to see no one at all. This path is mostly uphill and is almost entirely shallow stairs.

Xuanzang Temple, Sun Moon Lake

Eventually, you will reach the spectacular Xuanzang Temple, much bigger than the temple below. After you explore the area, proceed further up the mountain. Here, after another 20 minutes, you will finally reach the Ci-En Pagoda, the symbol of Sun Moon Lake. From the top, you can see the entire lake and the temples below.

Sun Moon Lake Travel Tip: On the Quinglong Mountain Trail, you will hike the total length of 1.5 km, mostly stairs. Knee supports may be helpful.

The views from the top of the Cien Pagoda

Sun Moon Lake Ropeway and Aboriginal Village

The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is probably the most well-promoted attractions in the region. Fun? Yes. But also not unique. After a rather long wait, you enter a cable car that allows you to travel over the mountains. There is no observation deck here, so you actually land back in a valley next to the entry to the Aboriginal Village. Because I got here late I did not have a chance to enter the village. However, from speaking with other travelers, the village is very touristy and inauthentic. Of course, it was created especially for tourists – so that makes sense. If I had to do it all over again, I would have skipped the ropeway all together in favor of an extra few hours on a biking or a hiking trail.

Sun Moon Lake Travel Tip:
Consider skipping the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway in favor of an extra few hours hiking or biking around the lake.

Lakeside Trail

Even if you are not a big fan of hiking, be sure to take a few hours to explore the easy and fun Lakeside Trail. The trail starts at Ita Thao Pier, continues towards the ropeway center and past it, along the lake. The trail is flat and accessible virtually to all. As you explore this area you’ll notice dozens of species of butterflies, hundreds of birds and, if you are lucky, monkeys. This easy walk is an absolute must-do on your list of things to do in Sun Moon Lake.

Ita Thao Pier

One of the three stops on the Sun Moon Lake shuttle boat, Ita Thao Pier is both beautiful and fun to explore. From this pier, you can easily access a few important Sun Moon Lake Locations. Here you’ll find the ropeway, the lakeside trail, and the visitors center. The village surrounding the pier hosts an excellent night market and an endless variety of restaurants. Ita Thao Gazebo is one of the most famous symbols of Sun Moon Lake.

Shuishe Pier

The most central part of Sun Moon Lake, Shuishe Pier, is an area that boasts the most hotels, restaurants, and activities. Many of the bicycling paths originate at Shuishe but there is little hiking in the immediate area. However, the night market here is fantastic and offers a lot of variety. On a clear day the Pagoda is clearly visible across the lake from Shuishe Pier, and all the boats dock here for the night. Finally, the out of town buses stop in close proximity to the pier. As I mentioned before, if you are travelling to Sun Moon Lake by public transport, you can find no better place to stay than by Shuishe Pier.

Evening views from Shuishe Pier.

Common Questions About Sun Moon Lake

How to Get to Sun Moon Lake From Taipei?

Busses directly from Taipei leave every few hours from the main bus station. Without traffic, it takes a little over 4 hours to get from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake via bus. You can not travel between Sun Moon Lake and Taipei via the train, as there are no stations in Sun Moon Lake.

How Far is Taipei From Sun Moon Lake?

Sun Moon Lake is located approximately 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Taipei. By private car, you can drive from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake in about 3 hours. By bus, the ride is closer to four hours.

Packing List for Sun Moon Lake

Other Places to Visit Near Sun Moon Lake

It is easy to access both Taipei and Taichung from Sun Moon Lake. For Taipei, hop on a direct bus from Sun Moon Lake, and you will arrive in the capital in about 3 hours. Taichung is closer, and the bus takes only about one and a half hours. Jiji township is located only a few minutes from Sun Moon Lake and offers a variety of nature-related activities.

Also Read: Things to do in Taichung

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