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Taiwan: Sun Moon Lake

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Sun Moon Lake | Taiwan | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

The efficient and clean High Speed Railway train took us to Taichung in precisely an hour, and we were lucky enough to find a connecting bus right away, which left within a couple of minutes. Just before arriving at Shuishe Village, we saw reflections of lights in the darkness, and knew that the famous Sun Moon Lake was just below us - but not visible yet. We had a quick dinner and found a cosy place to stay, all curious about the looks of the lake. Despite being tired, I woke up early next morning and went out for a first exploration of Sun Moon Lake. I soon found a wooden boardwalk, which I followed along the shore of the lake that is sometimes also called Dragon Lake. Old people were taking a forbidden plunge, a small boat arrived from the other side of the lake, and the people I encountered all greeted me while I walked, stood still to enjoy the views - it was a great morning! On the other side of the lake, still in the shade: the aboriginal village of Itashao, and the Ci Hen Pagoda dominating the surrounding landscape.

Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Early morning scenery of Sun Moon Lake

After a quick breakfast in town, we went out to find bicycles, and started off towards the east, where I had already walked that morning. We stopped frequently; to circle Sun Moon Lake is some 30k, and we therefore had plenty of time. We were drawn to the small floating rafts on the lake on which farmers had planted plants and flowers - they were supposedly started when the gods in ancient times were angry with the overfishing of Sun Moon Lake and allowed the Thao people to stay provided they started to cultivate plants on the water. We followed the boardwalk even though bikes were officially not allowed on it, and parked them at a staircase which we followed to the shore of the lake. We realized that these were not normal stairs: there are 366 steps in this so-called Stairway to Heaven, each one representing one day of the year. The date is carved into each step, as well as names of famous people born that day, and additional advise on the meaning of the day for Chinese solar periods. On both sides, on metal poles and fence, thousands of red and golden wishing bells were attached, making for a decorative frame. We ended up carrying our bikes half the year up - stopping only to take pictures of our birthday steps, after which we reached Wen Wu Temple.

Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Ci Hen Pagoda seemingly reaching to the clouds on an early morning

Wen Wu Temple, beautifully situated above Sun Moon Lake and offering great views, is a relatively new temple, but nonetheless very impressive. Incense burners, carved roofs with brightly painted figures, sculpted walls, golden statues, and much more made us stay for a couple of hours. From here, we continued cycling around Sun Moon Lake, or Riyue Tan; brief stops for views, and a short walk in Itashao aboriginal village which turned out as touristy as I had imagined, followed before we had the most serious climb of the day on our bikes to Syuanzang temple, and shortly after that, we parked our bikes again for a short walk up to Ci Hen Pagoda. Constructed in such a way that the top of the tower is exactly at 1,000 metres above sea level, and some 250m above the level of Sun Moon Lake, we climbed the stairs to reach the top which offered probably the best views of the lake. Here, we could see that the eastern part of the lake resembles a sun, and the western a moon - which explains the name of the lake. The views were awesome, and made us stay a long time. We also rang the bell, and imagined how people far away would hear it, just like we had heard the bell far away from the pagoda. Following the road, the last stretch back to Shuishe village turned out to be a bikeway, with some steep climbs, and the quietest part of the entire tour of the lake - also because it was getting late, and dark. We passed modern bridges, one of which clearly marked for wedding pictures, and saw a beautiful light on the tranquil water as the sun was giving way to the moon. We reached Shuishe when it was dark, stayed in a different hotel which was as wide as the rooms in it. The next morning, a very early wake allowed us a walk westward, on the boardwalk we had cycled, while the sun was giving us yet another show of reflection on the waters of the lake. On the other side of the lake, Ci Hen Pagoda - we now knew what it looked like from the inside and imagined how it would be to be there now. A small kitten endeared us, almost tempting us to take it with us - but that did not seem a good idea after all, so we backtracked to the village before embarking on the way back to Taipei.

Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Wen Wu Temple in the foreground, with Sun Moon Lake in the background
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Early morning view of the bikeway on Sun Moon Lake
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Sun Moon Lake seen from the tall Ci Hen Pagoda on the southern side of the lake
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Boats docked in the harbour of Shuishe Village on Sun Moon Lake
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Floating rafts on which plants are being grown on Sun Moon Lake
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Lalu island, considered holy by the Thao tribe
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Early morning on the water of an inlet of Sun Moon Lake at Shuishe Village
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Red lions guarding Wen Wu Temple
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Head with purple eyes carved on the incense burner at the main entrance of Wen Wu Temple
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Relief on a wall of Wen Wu Temple
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Heads of dragons in a pool of Wen Wu Temple
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Looking up Ci Hen Pagoda, built by Chiang Kai-shek for his mother
Picture of Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan): Year-of-Steps has 366 steps, each one representing a day of the year

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