Sun Moon Lake is a beautiful scenic area in Taiwan and a popular tourist destination. Besides the lakeside scenery, one can also enjoy boat rides, Taiwanese street food, gift shops, temples, a gondola, aborigine theme park, and more. It is for sure a must-see destination for anyone coming to vacation in Taiwan.
We have visited Sun Moon Lake a total of 6 times over 7 years, using 3 different cameras and 3 cell phone cameras, in luckily mostly good weather. In the blog below I will stitch together all of these trips in a way that hopefully makes sense. It may not be the most ultimate guide ever but it has most of the major sites in it.
Sun Moon Lake (aka Zintun in local Thao language) is the largest natural lake in Taiwan and home of the aboriginal Thao tribe. According to legend, a white deer led the tribe to the lake, and is now trapped in a marble stone on Lalu Island, which is sacred ground to them.
The name "Sun Moon Lake" comes from the different colors of the water in the lake, some of it being murky and on other parts of the lake, clear. Another account says that the name comes from parts of the lake being round like the sun, and other parts of the lake being curved like the moon.
The first hydroelectric plant was built on the lake in 1919 by the Japanese, which was later taken over by the ROC government. The hydroelectric power is part of a system of hdro power plants running from Wushe to Sun Moon Lake down to Shuili Township, and includes at least 8 plants.
Sun Moon Lake Scenic area was created in 2000. The lake attracts visitors from around the world from year round for its beauty and surrounding sights, and is also known for the annual Sun Moon Lake Swimming Carnival which thousands of people attend each year.
How to Get There:
Bus: There are buses (Ubus/Kbus/etc) that leave all day from Taichung Station.
By Car: Take National Highway 6 from Taichung up to Puli, and then follow the signs on highway 21 down to Sun Moon Lake. You can also take a car/scooter up highway 21 up from Shuili Township further south.
Boat: You can circle the lake via three spots: Shuise Pier, Xuanguang Pier, and Ita Thao Pier.
Scenic Area Entrance: Free
Parking: Around 100 NT per day for cars
Boat Ride: 300 NT per person
Gondola Ride (Ropeway): 300 NT per person
Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village: 850 NT per person
Scenic Area: 24/7
Boat Ride: roughly 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM every day
Gondola Ride: 10:30 AM - 4:00 PM every day
Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village: 9:30 AM- 5 PM every day
Map: Please see below:
Baishawan is one of the nicest beaches in northern Taiwan. The sand is white, the water shallow (and warm in the summer), and it is relatively well kept and clean. Due to its proximity to Taipei, it sees lots of visitors especially from foreigners. Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and kite surfing are all popular activities at this beach.
Baishawan (literally White Sand Bay) was formed roughly 800,000 years ago by volcanoes spewing lava into the ocean creating Fuigui Cape. Later coral grew near the shoreline, which makes up for most of the white sand seen on the beach today. The white sandy beach extends about one kilometer along the coast. Now it is one of the most popular destinations on the north coast of Taiwan. Because of its proximity to Taipei, there are sure to be many visitors, and because Taipei has the highest concentration of foreigners, be prepared to see a lot of other foreigners as well.
How to Get There:
By Bus: Take Keelung bus from either Danshui MRT station or Keelung TRA station.
You can also take the yellow and white North Coast Shuttle Bus to Baishawan station.
By Car: Drive on provincial highway 2 out of Danshui to the northeast, or out of Keelung to the northwest. The beach area is near Sanzhi District 三芝區.
Parking: Free. There is a parking lot in front of the main entrance. If this is full, you can park along the road next to it.
Cold Shower: 20 NT
Hot Shower: 40 NT
Foot Wash: 10 NT
If the main showers next to the visitors center are closed, there are other paid showers to the north and south, but without hot water.
May, June, and October 9AM - 5PM
July, August, and September 9AM - 6PM
Map: Please see below:
Alishan National Scenic Area is one of the most famous mountain areas in Taiwan (aka Mount Ali, or Ali Mountain). Formerly a timber harvesting area during the Japanese Era, it still has a working rail system for park visitors to ride around the mountain. The mountain villages, ancient forests, waterfalls, hiking destinations, and tea plantations have made it a popular destination for tourists. It is also a popular destination to see the sunrise over a sea of clouds. Overall, it is one of the most iconic and well known mountain destinations in Taiwan.
Alishan is a high mountain area over 2,000 meters above sea level in central Taiwan. The first settlers in the Alishan region were the Tsuo aboriginal tribe. Chinese settlers did not move into the area until the 1900s. After the Japanese took over Taiwan in the late 1800s, they discovered large quantities of cypress trees in the area and sought to harvest them. They built railways in order to transport lumber down the mountains, part of which stands today as the Alishan Forest Railway.
By 1970 logging resources had been depleted and the area began to rely on tourism as the major economic driver in the area. High mountain tea and wasabi are also major industries in there. The Alishan highway was completed in 1980, which made the surrounding area more accessible for tourism. In 2001, the Alishan National Scenic Area was officially established.
The railway was damaged in 2009 by typhoon Morakat but was reopened again in 2014, and is currently running as of 2018.
How to get There:
The best way to get to Alishan is from Chiayi. There are a number of transportation options.
By Train: You have to book the tickets the day before and they have been known to sell out. For more information on how to book train tickets up the mountain check out this blog by Travel Taiwan.
By Bus: King Bus goes directly to Alishan from Taipei Main Station but this bus leaves early and is expensive. You can also take a bus from Chiayi Main Bus station.
By Car/Scooter: Take provincial Highway 18 east out of Chiayi City, then make your way up the mountain for about over an hour until you reach Alishan Scenic Area.
If your GPS tells you to go up the one lane roads to Alishan, do not. For safety, stay on the two lane Highway 18.
The road to Alishan is known to often have thick fog. You do not want to be stuck on a super steep one lane road with thick fog, so stay on the main two-lane highway.
You can rent a scooter for cheap in front of the Chiayi Train Station. I would suggest getting at least a large 125 cc scooter that can make it up the mountain. Some rental shops do not even require to see a license. Also be aware there is a gas stations in the first town up the mountain road, so make sure you fill up there if you are getting low. Getting to Alishan could take most of your gas tank.
Hours: Open 24-hours a day all year round (so you can go to see the sunrise at 3 AM).
Recreation Area Price: 300 NT for foreigners, 200 NT for Taiwan nationals. Parking is 100 NT for cars and 20 NT for scooters.
Map: please see below
Guishan Island (literally Turtle Mountain Island) is a turtle shaped island off the coast of Yilan in Eastern Taiwan. Once inhabited by fisherman, it is now a coast guard base, but is open for day tours. The island tour includes beautiful sea cliffs, hiking, a lake, abandoned village, military tunnels, and whale watching just offshore.
Turtle Island has been inhabited since at least the Qing Dyansty. When the ROC took over Taiwan, the island had one elementary school and no hospital. Many people relied simply on religion to cure their sicknesses. During typhoons, the dock would sometimes be destroyed, leaving the island without food for days or weeks. Also, there was way more men on the island than women, and it was hard to convince prospective wives from Taiwan to go live an such a remote island with harsh conditions. As a result, the government relocated everyone living on Turtle Island to the main island of Taiwan in Toucheng township of Yilan in 1977. The people could have chose to stay, but they went without protest. The ROC then made the island into a restricted military base. In 2000, the Island was opened for tourism, the military aspects of the island were phased down, and it was made into an ecological reserve. Now the island allows for Tourists to come during the day, but no one is allowed to stay overnight.
How to get there:
The only way to get there is by boat from Wushih Harbor in Yilan.
To get to Wushih Harbor from Taipei, you can take the TRA train to Toucheng station, and then take a taxi from there. Otherwise you can drive on National Highway 5 to Toucheng; there is free parking at the harbor (drive to the very end of the harbor).
You can purchase a ticket at the harbor or book online in advance via KK Day or a similar website.
Whale watching on a boat around the island: 800-1000 NT per person.
Once around the island on a boat and 2 hour tour of the island: 800-1000 NT per person.
Whale watching and island tour: 1200+ NT
Island tour including hiking to the top of the island: 1200+ NT
For more information, look at KK Day or other tour/ferry sties or book a personalized tour with My Taiwan Tour.
Hours: 2-4 hour tours start from 8:00 AM or later and end in the afternoon until about 4:00 PM.
When to go: March-November. These tours are generally closed from December to February due to rough seas and cold weather.
Map of Guishan Island:
Sixty Stone mountain (aka Liushidan Mountain) is a beautiful flower and mountain landscape on the eastern flank of the eastern rift valley in Hualien County. The annual Daylily flower blooms and amazing views of the Eastern Rift Valley attract thousands of tourists each summer. Some of the picturesque and beautiful views anywhere in Taiwan can be seen from this mountain.
The main crop on Sixty Stone Mountain is the Orange Daylily (aka tawny dayliliy, hemerocallis, golden needle flower, etc.). Orange Daylily is a nutrient and iron-rich plant, and is traditionally used as a garnish, spice, and preservative. In addition it is also added as raw materiel for rice paper and Chines medicine. You can buy dried bags of the stuff all over the mountain and surrounding areas.
According to some of the locals, Sixty Stone Mountain gets its name from the fact that instead of producing 50 stones (or dan, measure of flowers) per field, the fields on this mountain can produce 60 stones. Other people say that it is because during the Japanese Era, all the trees were cut down and there were 60 large boulders left on the mountain.
Nowadays the Mountain is a major tourist attraction, and has been highly marketed by the Taiwan tourism bureau. You can find pictures from this mountain on almost any Taiwan tourism brochure.
How to get there:
BY Car/Scooter: Take highway 9 south from Hualien. When you reach Dongzhu, there will be a sign to Sixty Stone Mountain just after the police station. The road up the mountain is small and closes after 6:00 PM. Only cars, small vans, and scooters are allowed up the road.
There are many tour groups that offer van rides up the mountain.
Hours: Technically open 24/7.
When to go: We suggest going during the Orange Daylily flowering season, which is from about July to September. If you go from 3-5 PM you should see an awesome view of the sunset if the weather is good.
Map: Please see below:
Sanxiantai is one of the most beautiful spots on the East Coast, an area full of beautiful geology and natural scenery. It is known for its iconic arching footbridge that leads to the island of the three immortals (Sanxiantai, literally three immortals platform). The ocean views and unique rock formations make it an ideal place to take a stroll and enjoy nature's beauty.
Sanxiantai island is mostly made of coral and volcanic rocks. The wind and waves over time have turned the rocks into unique shapes, including tunnels, holes, and crevasses. According to Amis tribal legend, a sea dragon once lived here. According to Han Chinese legend, three of the eight immortals (Toaist Deities having power over life and evil) rested on the island, leaving three pairs of footprints.
How to get there: From Taipei, take national highway 5 down to Yilan, then travel from Highway 9 to Hualien, then take highway 11 south along the coast. It will be on the left.
Also available by bus from Hualien or Taitung, though this may take a few hours.
Price: Free, but parking is 50-60 NT for cars and around 15-20 NT for scooters.
Hours: 24 hours a day.
Map: Please see below:
Water Running Up is a gravity defying stream that appears to run uphill in Donghe Township near Dulan, Taitung County. As one of the stranger sights in Taiwan that seems to defy nature and the laws of physics, it attracts people year round. Does the water really run uphill? Let's find out.
Water Running up was originally built as an irrigation ditch by the Amis Aboriginal Tribe in 1870. The area around the trench was an important ritual training ground, but also a storage hub for food and water. Later on (I'm guessing in the past decade or two) people noticed that the water in the irrigation ditch appeared to run uphill when seen against a sloping background, and the Taitung County government quickly pounced on it, making it into a full fledged tourist trap. I mean tourist site.
How to get There:
By Car: From Taitung, take provincial highway 11 north to Dulan. Just before you enter Dulan it will be on the left.
By Train: Take the TRA to Taitung station, then take scooter or taxi via provincial highway 11 to Dulan.
By Bus: Take bus 8101 from Taitung Station to Yu Bridge. From there you will have to walk about 300 meters north, and up hill to the left. The bus ride takes just under 2 hours according to Google Maps.
âMap: Please see below:
Little Yehliu (aka Xiaoyeliu) Geopark is a unique geological area on the coast of Taitung City. It bears the same name as Yeliu Geopark (famous for the Queen's Head Rock), because the rocks look similar to its more famous namesake. However Little Yehliu is much smaller as the name suggests, and its rock formations less spectacular. Despite this, it is still a beautiful and unique stretch of coastline.
Similar to Yehliu, the geology of Little Yehliu is made up of volcanic rock placed over sandstone. This makes for a unique structures and shapes, with large sturdy volcanic rock sitting upon easily weathered sandstone below, worn away by wind and water. Taitung County has become masterful at creating major tourist destinations out of what would normally go unnoticed, and this is no exception (for instance there are tons of this kind of coastline in northern Taiwan).
How to get there: Take highway 11 from Taitung City about 6km north and it will be on your left. If you do not have a scooter or car, buses also stop along this route.
Price: Parking is 50-60 NT for cars, and 15-20 NT for scooters. Otherwise entrance to the park is free.
Hours: 24 hours a day
Map: Please see below:
Liji Moon World (aka Liji Badlands) is a rare geological formation right next to Taitung City in eastern Taiwan (not to be confused with the larger and better Tianliao Moon World). It is composed of easily eroding clay deposits, that erode faster than plants can grow on them, creating a unique moon-like landscape. If you are in Taitung, you should take the short trip across the Beinan River and enjoy these beautiful eroding masses of clay and dirt.
Typical badlands are found in dryer climates, are composed of sedimentary rocks, typically have very little vegetation, and have deep valleys or ravines. The badlands in Taiwan are unique in that they are in a tropical rain forest. How is this possible?
The soil at Liji Badlands formed under the ocean millions of years ago, forming a layer of sediment called a melagne. Over millions of years, the land was lifted up due to plate tectonics until it became dry land. The rocks are composed of mudstone, sandstone, shale, and chalk. Because of high alkaline levels due to chalk in the soil, trees and grass cannot grow, and basically the only plant that can grow in the soil is spiny bamboo. The lack of vegetation as well as high rainfall gives way to quick eroding hills, or badlands. The Beinan River (卑南溪) also helped to carve out the landscape and bare hills.
Because of the white greyish color, the hills seem to glow when in moonlight, hence the name "Moon World." However to the casual observer, the landscape looks like the surface of the moon as well. The name "Liji" comes from the name of the village where the formations are located.
How to get there:
By car: From Taitung City, take the East 45 highway out of the city, across Beinan River and the badlands will be on your right.
By train: Get off at Taitung Station, and from there you can literally walk to the badlands; its only 2KM away. Alternatively you can rent a scooter or take a taxi.
By plane: From Taitung Airport, hire a scooter or taxi and then take highway 11 then the East 45 Highway to the badlands.
Hours: 24 hours a day!
Map: Please see below:
Are you a fan of rice fields, biandang, and rice in general? Chishang is the place for you! As the unofficial rice capital of Taiwan, its unspoiled views of rice fields with a backdrop of the eastern rift valley is one of the most unique and unspoiled scenic areas in Taiwan.
The name Chishang comes from the town being located near Dapo Pond (or Daopochi 大坡池). The area was first settled by aboriginal tribes relocated from Pingtung. Qing dynasty Chinese farmers started settling there in 1875, as a reaction to Mudan Incident of 1871 (in which a crew of shipwrecked Japanese were beheaded by Taiwan aborigines) and the Japanese punitive expedition to Taiwan in 1874. After the Japanese took control of Taiwan, Chishang's main industries were growing sugar cane and rice. A train station was completed in Chishang in 1926 as part of the eastern railway line.
Because of its flat land and and abundant water, Chishang naturally became a great place for growing rice. It's rice fields and biandang (lunchbox) have generally been accepted as the best quality in Taiwan. Many of the rice varieties grown here can trace their roots to Japanese rule. Besides its unadulterated rice fields, the area also became famous due to a Mr. Brown coffee commercial shot here (at what is now know as Brown boulevard) as well an ad for EVA Air featuring Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武）a Taiwan born Japanese actor (famous for many movies, the one which I remember him best in is the male protagonist in House of Flying Daggers), in which he drinks tea next to a tree. The tree is still there and is growing strong, although it was damaged in 2014 by typhoon Matmo.
I'm not sure if this is the original Mr. Brown Coffee commercial, but its at least pretty close:
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living and working in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.