WHAT TO SEE + HOW TO GET TO SUN MOON LAKE: GUIDE&TIPS

Sun Moon Lake guide
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Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan. Counting about 6 million visitors per year, it’s one of the most famous sightseeing attractions in Formosa, together with Alishan and Taroko Gorge.


WHY SUN MOON LAKE IS WORTH A VISIT

Sun Moon Lake is loved for its temples and pagodas, nature and forests, the local aboriginal culture and black tea plantations. All combined with the gorgeous background created by the lake, which offers endless beautiful views from its many panoramic points.

The area surrounding Sun Moon Lake (SML) is very touristy and often busy. But it’s quite easy to escape the crowds if planning your trip with care. Follow this Sun Moon Lake itinerary for a pleasant and independent experience.

We were here in 2023 during our 2-week-long trip to Taiwan. Having planned to spend two nights, we had two full days at Sun Moon Lake, more than enough to see most of the attractions.

Sun Moon Lake panoramic view
The view over Sun Moon Lake from Wenmu temple


HOW TO GET TO SUN MOON LAKE

Taichung is the nearest city to Sun Moon Lake. From there it’s a 1.5-hr drive to the lake, the Taichung-Sun Moon Lake shuttle bus is the most preferred way of transport.

A large chunk of tourists comes from the capital Taipei, 3 hours from the lake, getting here by train, bus, taxi, or a combination of these.

Generally speaking, allow 3 hours to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei, 1.5-hrs from Taichung, 3 hours from Alishan or from Kaohsiung.

Further below in this post we talk in details about which means of transport to use to get to Sun Moon Lake from any part of Taiwan.


HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY IN SUN MOON LAKE?

Many tourists visit the lake on a day-trip from Taichung or Taipei, however this would be way too rushed in our opinion.
It’s worth taking time to appreciate Sun Moon Lake, we recommend at least two days and one night, if not two nights.

We were arriving from Kaohsiung by train and stayed for two nights. Riding around on our own by motorcycle we had time for all main sights, including taking boats and visiting a tea cultivation around the area.
Furthermore, it’s particularly nice to walk by the lake early in the morning or at sundown, which are the best times to avoid tourist crowds which get to SML by bus tours.

Some visitors are disappointed by Sun Moon Lake, of course this depends on each one’s expectations. Clearly we are not talking about Lake Garda or one of the big five American lakes, Sun Moon Lake is a smaller lake in dimensions. Just as Taiwan is a tiny nation, and for this reason what is a national symbol for the Taiwanese, might be overrated for others.

Nevertheless we definitely suggest to include Sun Moon Lake in every travel itinerary to Formosa, being it a little jewel, essential to see in order to better understand and appreciate life and culture in Taiwan.

A thorough visit of Sun Moon Lake is included in this 2-day-trip from Taipei.

best views in Taiwan
A glimpse of the lake


FIRST IMPRESSIONS AT SML

There’s a good chance you’ll be dropped off in Shuishe town on the north-western shore of the lake. At first here you’ll barely notice the lake among the various hotels and restaurants. Don’t worry though, only once you get to elevated viewpoints like Wenwu Temple, Ci’En Pagoda, or the Sun Moon Lake cable car, you’ll be able to catch its absolute beauty.

For centuries, the aboriginal tribe of the Thao have lived on the shores of Sun Moon Lake. Today, less than one thousand individuals are left, who live mostly around the village of Ita Thao to the south of SML.

From a tourist’s perspective, it’s hard to tell the authentic aboriginals from the “fake” ones who work for economic reasons. Around the piers where boats come and go, you’ll meet some aboriginals playing local music instruments and dancing. Many restaurants have aboriginal food on their menu, of course not all employees are Thao natives. By the way we recommend tasting wild boar stew and gua bao (filled steamed buns), special recipes found in Ita Thao.

As for the much advertised Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, judging from blogs and online reviews, it looks more like a tourist trap that we decided to skip entirely. On the other hand, the Kalapaw Performance Centre, which we talk about later, seemed more authentic and enjoyable to us.

Always ask at your hotel reception or at info points fore more information.

Sun Moon Lake boat ticket
The lakeside at Shuishe


CAN YOU SWIM AT SUN MOON LAKE?

It’s officially not allowed to swim at Sun Moon Lake, for safety and logistic reasons. There are no beaches nor lifeguards around the lake, the water can be very cold due to the lake’s altitude (750m above sea level).

The only exception is the Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim, an annual event taking place in September consisting in the lake crossing, under the supervision and support of the organisation.

Registration is required for the event (info here).


WHY IS IT CALLED SUN MOON LAKE?

This is a fair question we asked ourselves too, the reason is not immediately obvious.

Checking the map, adding in a bit of fantasy, Sun Moon Lake is shaped like a sun on its central and eastern part, and like a half moon clinging on its western side, hence the name.

The eastern and southern areas are where most of the lake attractions are located. The coastline (not all of it) is flanked by nice wooden walkways, which allow people to take hikes and cycle around the lake, popular activities at SML.

Instead, the western side (of the Moon) is less enjoyable on foot, since the road doesn’t line with the lake but continues inland.

Lago del sole e della luna taiwan
The central part, or of the Sun, at Sun Moon Lake


HOW TO GET AROUND SUN MOON LAKE

For that reason we decided to rent a scooter in Sun Moon Lake, alternating riding with quiet walks by the lake. A whole lap of the lake takes one hour by motorcycle with no stops (30km). If you aren’t used to riding scooters, both bicycles and e-bikes are available as well (more info here).

Renting a motorcycle in Shuishe costs 250-300NT (7-8€) per day. Be mindful that you might be asked for an International Driving Permit (IDP) for rentals. It didn’t happen to us, perhaps because during low season the demand for scooters was lower, but we’ve been told about this often in Taiwan.

At this link you can apply online and get your physical IDP delivered, a useful service we recommend when driving abroad. Remember that travel insurance companies won’t cover you for accidents occurred when road laws aren’t followed, i.e. when driving abroad without IDP.

Besides getting around on foot, the cheapest way to move at Sun Moon Lake is using the bus travelling between Shuishe and Xuanguang Temple. Updated timetables are available at Shuishe’s info point.

Make sure not to miss the ferry boats connecting Shuishe, Xuanguang and Ita Thao. Consider this day-pass (hop-on hop-off) for unlimited trips.

Renting private electric boats is an option too, for a romantic moment on the lake.

rent a scooter sun moon lake
Riding a motorcycle at Sun Moon Lake


WHERE TO STAY IN SUN MOON LAKE

As said, Shuishe is the main hub by the lake. Buses coming from Taipei or Taichung stop in front of the ever-present 7-Eleven.
Being there more choice in town, you’ll find the most competitive prices for hotels and rentals in Shuishe, together with many restaurants.

Boats to Ita Thao leave from the pier behind the main street, plus a couple of nice lakeside walks head both to the north and to the south. The waterfront bars, restaurants and piers offer nice views over SML.

If you’re up for a private hot spring bath, check out these Spa deals including buffet lunch or à la carte dinner at beautiful Fuli Resort in Shuishe.

where to stay in Sun Moon Lake
Our room at Yue Lake Backpackers in Shuishe


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN SHUISHE?

The choice is mostly between hostels or mid to high range hotels. Since SML is very popular among locals and Asian tourists travelling during weekends, we suggest booking well in advance.

HOSTELS

  • Deer Traveller Hostel: one of the best rated hostels in Sun Moon Lake, great location and cleanliness.
  • Yue Lake Backpackers: this is where we stayed. They have dorm rooms and private double rooms, set in a nice guesthouse with a lush garden and lake views.

MID TO HIGH RANGE

  • Shaoguang 188: comfort and quality in an excellent position.
  • Blue Sky Bay B&B: a gorgeous Bed&Breakfast run by kind owners.
  • Doris Home: a 5-min-walk from Shuishe, cat lovers will like this place.
  • Fuli Hot Spring Resort: the hot spring resort mentioned above. It has common pools and private rooms with hot spring bathtub.


ITA THAO

Ita Thao is the other village at Sun Moon Lake, by the southern side. The lakeside area here is a small tourist centre, with lodging and restaurants. Whilst the aboriginal part is inland, on the other side of the main road.

We liked it better at Ita Thao for its warm atmosphere, we came back three times to eat and hang out, both by boat and scooter.

Many guesthouses and small eateries can be found, there’s a good street food scene to explore.
You can try wild boar meat, sticky rice in bamboo, gua bao, grilled mochi. Very local specialties are tea-flavoured ice cream and beer, and low alcohol drink millet wine, made with the organic millet from around the lake.

Remember that food places shut early at night, some before 7.30pm. Don’t leave it too late!

The pier area has plenty of space to relax after an excursion, there’s also a pleasant walk starting from here to the east, the renovation works were almost complete. The cable car climbs up from above the boardwalk, and is open regularly now after some maintenance work done at the time of our visit.

  • Ita Taho street food market
  • best food in Ita Thao Taiwan
  • Mochi in Taiwan


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN ITA THAO?

Most accommodation options in Ita Thao are family run, however we saw a few (too) high rise hotels under construction. Among the guesthouses we wanted to book but were sold out, were:

GUESTHOUSES

MID TO HIGH RANGE


WHAT TO SEE&DO AT SUN MOON LAKE

If you’re arriving early to SML, one night could be enough to see the main sights, especially if riding around by motorcycle. But if you can stop for two nights you’ll enjoy a more relaxing stay in this nice area, things to do are numerous.

Following under we list the main places to see at Sun Moon Lake, starting clockwise from Shuishe.


FERRY BOAT TOUR ON THE LAKE

As for any decent lake, a nice crossing on a boat is a must-do at Sun Moon Lake. Boats leave from Shuishe village, a ticket is 80-100$NT depending on where you buy it (hotels do take a commission).
The other two stops are Xuanguang Temple and Ita Thao.

The most common route is going from Suishe to Xuanguang, visiting the temple. Next is from Xuanguang to Ita Thao. Once there you can either take the cable car to enjoy the views from above, or a bus towards Wenmu Temple; or eventually go back by boat from Ita Thao to Shuishe.

Boat rides are included in most guided tours, such as these day-tours to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei or from Taichung.

Day passes (hop on/hop off) cost 300NT for unlimited ferry rides. ‬

best places to see in Taiwan
Cruising at Sun Moon Lake


VISITING WENMU TEMPLE

Some of the most iconic photos at Sun Moon Lake are taken from above Wenwu Temple, recognisable for its orange roofs with the lake on the background.

The imposing temple is a multi level structure climbing up the hill. Built in typical Chinese style, with two big red lions guarding the entrance, the temple hosts the deities of the Chinese and Taiwanese culture.

Wenmu Temple gets quite busy during the day, try and come in the morning or for sunset to avoid crowds. Entrance is free, as for all the other religious places by the lake.

For the fittest hikers, a steep stairway connects the front of the temple to the lake edge. It counts 366 steps, and used to be the original only access from the lake to the temple.

  • wenmu temple sun moon lake
  • Wenmu temple Taiwan
  • Sun Moon Lake come arrivare
  • wenmu temple how to go


NINE FROGS STACK

Halfway between Wenwu Temple and Ita Thao, a detour leads to Water Frog Head Trail, a short path in the bamboo forest ending at a pier. From there you can see the Nine Frogs Stack, a quirky statue that is used to measure the lake’s level. ‬

Larger buses don’t stop here, so it’s normally a good spot for a quiet walk.


SUN MOON LAKE CABLE CAR

The Sun Moon Lake cable car is one of the most popular attractions. As we saw often in Taiwan, in China, and all around Asia (mostly when we were living in Vietnam), many Asian tourists would hop on a cable car even to go grocery shopping!

We wouldn’t have taken the cable car in SML anyway, it was a bit cloudy and rainy. Then we later found out it was close for maintenance works. After experiencing the panoramic Maokong Gondola in Taipei, we suggest avoiding weekends and peak hours if possible, since it must be quite busy up here too.

Judging from the photos, the views over Sun Moon Lake from the cable car are amazing on a sunny day! However, once at the top there’s nothing to do, as the cable-car continues over the hill towards the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (the not so authentic one we talked about earlier).

A return trip on the Sun Moon Lake cable car is NT$300, opening times vary between 10am and 4.30pm depending on seasons. Tickets for the cable car can be bought here, with an option to combine a boat trip or rent a bicycle.

Sun Moon Lake cable car
Sun Moon Lake cable car. Ph.Klook, tickets info here


KALAPAW PERFORMANCE CENTRE

This small organization in Ita Thao village is trying to preserve and mantain the traditional costumes of the Thao aboriginal people. We learned that there are only a few elders left who speak the Thao language, and their customs risk to go lost.

One of their special features is a type of percussion music called chu yin, which you can hear at Kalapaw.

The Thao music shows are performed daily and free to attend, please consider leaving a donation. The shows are at 11am and 5pm on weekdays, with an extra 3pm show on weekends.


CI’EN PAGODA

Carrying on past Ita Thao, the next point of interest is Ci’En Pagoda, visible from around the lake. ‬

The pagoda stands at 43m from the ground, dominating SML from a hill achievable via a 500-m-long stairway path. Once up here, you still need to climb 7 flights to get to the top of the pagoda!
But the effort is well worth it, you can enjoy the wonderful views over Sun Moon Lake from the top. Ci’En is great for sunrises and sunsets over the lake.

Just before the turnout for Ci’En Pagoda is another temple, Xuan Zang, on the main road.

  • Ci En pagoda sun moon lake view
  • Ci En Pagoda steps


XUANGUANG TEMPLE

If you haven’t been here by boat, Xuanguang Temple is reachable by land too.
This temple is smaller compared to the previous ones, but still nice for a quick look.

From here you’ll notice tiny Lalu island in the middle of the lake. Also, you’ll be able to taste the famous tea eggs, boiled in a large tea pot. These are considered a delicacy in Taiwan, which we also saw in other mountain areas like Taroko Gorge and Alishan.

Sun Moon Lake what to see
View from Xuanguang Temple


XIANGSHAN SCENIC LOOKOUT

The last spot before returning to Shuishe is the Xiangshan Scenic Lookout. The lookout is at the end of a short boardwalk, and is suspended over the lake. Perfect for a memorable photo.

The starting point is Xiangshan Visitor Centre, a meeting place for groups and guided tours. If you are not doing the whole lap around the lake, you could easily reach this place from Shuishe another time, since it’s closer to town.

  • Xiangshan lookout
  • Camminate al lago Sun Moon Lake Taiwan


SUN MOON LAKE BY BIKE, SCOOTER, SUP

As you may have learned, we recommend getting around the lake on foot, by scooter or by bicycle to enjoy the nice panoramic paths and roads around SML. As usual, be careful when riding, there are lots of cars, buses and mini vans during peak hours.

We paid 250$NT per day for a motorcycle in low-mid season. Prices for modern e-bikes are similar, push bikes are cheaper. You’ll see many rental shops in Shuishe, or you can book online here.

For water sports lovers, Stand Up Paddle (SUP) is a popular activity at Sun Moon Lake, as is canoeing. Here’s photos and info about SUP at the lake.

Walking at Sun Moon Lake Taiwan
A nice pedestrian/bicycle bridge at SML



THINGS TO DO AROUND SUN MOON LAKE

If you have some spare time during your stay at SML, here are some additional ideas. These areas are some 20-30km further away, you’ll need a car, motorbike or guided tour to visit them.


PULI

Puli is a small town about 30 minutes north to Sun Moon Lake. All buses coming from Taipei and Taichung drive through Puli, that has thus become a small tourist spot.

Among sights is the huge Chung Tai Chan monastery, the tallest Buddhist monastery in the world with its 136 metres. Recently renovated with a touch of splurge, the temple is known for its numerous statues and golden decorations both inside and outside.

Chung Tai Chan is one of the four main Buddhist orders in Taiwan. Close to Kaohsiung city, in the south of the country, we visited the monastery of Fo Guang Shan, one of the four orders, which we talk about here.

This 2-day tour from Taipei includes both Sun Moon Lake and Puli.

Puli Chung Tai Chan
Chung Tai Chan, Puli. ph. sunmoonlake.gov.tw


TEA CULTIVATIONS AND FACTORIES

The region around Sun Moon Lake is known for its black tea and oolong quality. Among the best places to see for tea lovers, we suggest Hohocha farm.

This plantation has been modernised with a proper visitor centre. The entry fee is only 50$NT, and includes tea tasting, a tea egg or other snacks, while admiring the surrounding cultivations from the large windows.

Alternatively we also mention the Antique Assam Tea Farm, an old factory still in working order today, where you’ll learn (and taste) about the production of regional black tea.

  • hococha tea farm Taiwan
  • best tea in Taiwan Hohocha


SHUANGLONG RAINBOW BRIDGE

To the south of Sun Moon Lake is the Shuanglong Rainbow Bridge. This new attraction was opened in 2020 and painted with the rainbow colours.

Among the many suspension bridges we’ve seen in Taiwan, mostly in Taroko Gorge, this one beats them all, owning the record for longest (342m) and tallest (110m) suspension bridge in Taiwan.
After crossing it you’ll reach a panoramic point overlooking Shuanglong Waterfall.

Allow one hour and a half to head down to the bridge (take courage!), cross it, see the waterfall and return. A private transportation is necessary to get there. Ticket info here.

Shuanglong Rainbow Bridge
Shuanglong Rainbow Bridge, ph. Klook tickets


FROM TAIPEI TO SUN MOON LAKE

Let’s end with explaining ways of transport to get to SML.

Direct bus n.1833 from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake takes 3.5 hours and costs 465NT (14€) one way. Here is the timetable. If you do have a planned trip, it’s better to buy a return ticket as they may sell out.

If you have just one day from Taipei, then it makes sense joining a day-trip to Sun Moon Lake like this one or this one to save time and money on transfers.

To avoid the long bus ride, you can opt for the high speed railway HSR from Taipei to Taichung, that only takes 30-40 minutes. Then, take the shuttle bus to the lake, a 1.5-hr drive. Overall you’ll save just an hour, but the train trip is definitely more comfy.

If you get a discounted HSR ticket in advance online here, the resulting cost of the HSR + shuttle bus is basically the same as the direct bus from Taipei.

Elephant peak hike Taipei
Taipei night skyline


SUN MOON LAKE FROM TAICHUNG

If you’re already in Taichung, you’re halfway there. The shuttle bus connects Taichung centre to Sun Moon Lake in 90 minutes. The bus calls in Taichung at the main train station, at the HSR station, or at Taichung airport. The bus schedule is pictured below.

There may be a long queue for the bus, you can prebook online to secure your bus tickets from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake. The EasyCard is accepted on the bus too.

The bus ticket is NT$190 and leaves every 30 minutes. The first bus leaves at 7.45am from Taichung and 7.25am from SML. ‬

Alternatively, you can book a private car from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake.

  • Bus to Sun Moon Lake timetable
  • Taichung HSR station


BUS FROM ALISHAN TO SUN MOON LAKE

There’s only one bus a day linking the other well known mountain area of Alishan to Sun Moon Lake, and viceversa. This is because the road connecting them is a long and windy one.
The bus from Alishan is at 1pm, whereas it leaves Sun Moon Lake at 8am, the fee was NT$336 one way. Look for bus n.6739 (info here). ‬

The trip from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake is about 3 hours, but it may take over 3.5 hours from SML to Alishan, due to the latter’s elevation at over 2,000mt a.s.l..

If you’re visiting Alishan but staying in Chiayi, it’s faster to travel from Chiayi to Sun Moon Lake via Taichung (see below).

Shenmu line Alishan
The famous Alishan red train


FROM KAOHSIUNG, CHIAYI, TO SUN MOON LAKE

Even if you’re coming from farther away, it’s doable to reach Sun Moon Lake in the morning thanks to the High Speed Train. We left from Zuoying station in Kaohsiung, a cool city in the south of Taiwan we recommend visiting. Leaving at 6.50am, it took us just over an hour to cover the 200km to Taichung. From there we hopped on the shuttle bus and got to Sun Moon Lake by 10.30am.

The same goes for intermediate cities like Tainan and Chiayi, linked to the rapid HSR. The railway, built by the Japanese, is a proper engineering masterpiece, and we loved using it to get around quickly all over Taiwan.

At this link you’ll find the amazing Buy 1 Get 1 Free Ticket deal. The offer is valid once per foreign passport, afterwards you can use the same link to browse discounted tickets up to 20% or 30% off when booking one or two weeks in advance.

Find more train tips here in our Guide to trains in Taiwan.

High Speed Rail HSR Taiwan treno alta velocità
The HSR in Taiwan

Here ends our guide to Sun Moon Lake. If you have any questions please let us know in the comment section. For more Taiwan travel guides, find more useful links below.

Enjoy your trip to Sun Moon Lake!

ALSO READ:
Alishan train, sunrise and best trails
Taroko Gorge day trip from Taipei
Shifen and Jiufen by train or bus
A trip to Kaohsiung, Taiwan


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