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The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Taiwan, has the vista of rolling hills and mountains with the beautiful calm lake before it while containing pockets of rich indigenous culture all waiting for you to explore.
From the beautiful pagoda of Ci'en overlooking the lake to the stunning bike path around it, below you will find all the information you need to explore Sun Moon Lake and all it has to offer in one day.
Without further ado, here is a complete backpacking guide to Sun Moon Lake and as usual, let's begin with an overview of Sun Moon Lake Things to Do in an itinerary map below:Table of Contents
- Sun Moon Lake Things to Do Itinerary Map
- Taiwan Travel Video
- When to Visit Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- Where to Stay at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- How to Get to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- How to Get Around Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- How Many Days to Spend at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- How Much Money Do I Need for Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
- Is it Safe at Sun Moon Lake?
- Internet at Sun Moon Lake
- Travel Insurance
10 Best Things to Do at Sun Moon Lake: One-Day Itinerary
- Walk Along Hanbi Trail at Sunset
- Stroll Along Shuishe Wharf and Meihe Park at Sunrise
- Cycle Around Sun Moon Lake Circular Bike Path
- Drop by Longfeng Temple
- Absorb the View at Xiangshan Scenic Outlook
- Ride Your Bike all the Way to Sun Moon Lake Northwest Observation Platform and Back
- Admire the Beauty of Wenwu Temple and Its Gigantic Marble Pillar
- Have Lunch at Ita Thao Shopping District
- Visit Xuanzang Temple
- Hike Up Ci'en Pagoda for a Stunning View of the Lake
- Watch Sunset at Shuishe Dam
- Where to Eat and Drink at Sun Moon Lake
- Further Reading for Taiwan
Sun Moon Lake Things to Do Itinerary Map
Taiwan Travel Video
When to Visit Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
The best time to visit Sun Moon Lake is from November to March where the temperature hovers around 13°C at night and 25°C during the day. It can get a little colder during the winter months of January until March but that comes with the benefit of a drier less cloudy weather, allowing you to enjoy the outdoor activities around Sun Moon Lake.
The worst time to visit Sun Moon Lake is from June to August which is considered to be a typhoon season where the weather can get quite violent with rain and thunderstorms. The sky will often remain cloudy during this time making it no ideal if you wish to explore the outdoors around Sun Moon Lake.
Where to Stay at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Budget - Yue Lake Backpackers - 16 USD/Night (Dorm) - Excellent facilities, super clean, modern, and lovely staff. You will also get a discount if you rent a bike through their recommended places.
Mid-Range - Timing House B&B - 79 USD/Night for 2 (Standard Double Room with no Window)
How to Get to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
In order to get to Sun Moon Lake from abroad, you will first have to travel to Taipei and to do that you will have to fly into Taoyuan International Airport. Thankfully, there are several airlines you can fly to Taipei:
From the US, there are several direct flights from big cities like New York and LA via United Airlines, or you can also fly direct to Taipei via EVA Airlines, its national carrier.
From within Europe, you can also fly direct via EVA Airlines or popular carriers like KLM or AirFrance to Taipei. You can also fly via Asian Airlines like Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways but you will have to transit in their respective home country.
From Asia, traveling to Taiwan gets a lot easier and cheaper with several low-cost airlines operating this route from hub cities like Bangkok and Singapore. Lion Air, as well as AirAsia, have many flights flying from Bangkok/KL to Taipei every day so you should have no problem finding one if you are planning to fly from Asia.
How to Get from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake
From Taipei, the best way to travel to Sun Moon Lake is to take the direct bus #1833 from Taipei Main Station that goes to Sun Moon Lake at 7:00, 7:30 (Saturday Only), 8:00, 10:00, 14:00, and the last bus at 17:00. The journey should take you about 4 hours and cost 420 NTD per person.
If the direct bus schedule doesn't work for you, you can also travel to Taichung by train and from there, catch the Nantou Bus #6670 to Sun Moon Lake. There are several trains per day starting at 5:27 all the way to 21:00. The journey from Taipei to Taichung takes about 2.5 hours and costs 241 NTD per person.
After you arrive in Taichung, you can then catch the Nantou Bus #6670 from Taichung Station Bus Stop. The bus leaves every 30 minutes starting at 7:45 AM until 19:45, takes 1.5 hours, and cost 193 NTD. The bus will drop you off at the Sun Moon Lake Bus Stop in Shuishe north of Sun Moon Lake.
How to Get from Alishan/Chiayi to Sun Moon Lake
If you are currently staying overnight in Alishan and you are planning to travel to Sun Moon Lake, there are 2 direct buses at 1 PM and 2 PM operated by Yuanlin Bus（6739) that you can take. Unfortunately, these buses are few and you would have to stay overnight in Alishan to catch it.
If you are staying in Chiayi instead of Alishan as I did, you can take the normal train (TRA) from Chiayi Station to Taichung Station. The train from Chiayi to Taichung takes about one hour and costs 240 TND.
After you arrive in Taichung, you can again catch the Nantou Bus #6670 from Taichung Station Bus Stop and you should be at Sun Moon Lake in 1.5 hours.
To book the train from Chiayi to Taichung, be sure to check out: The Official TRA Booking and Timetable.
How to Get Around Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
By Bicycle: The best way to get around Sun Moon Lake is by bicycle. Sun Moon Lake has built an amazing bike path that goes almost half the lake without having to climb too many hills. The bike paths hug along the lake and there is no better way to see the lake than from this bike path.
You will be able to see many tourist attractions around the park along the way from all the scenic viewpoints to Longfeng Temple. You can rent a bike from one of the many bike stores in Shuishe for about 100 - 150 NTD per day.
By Round-the-Lake Bus: That said, there are certain areas where you will need to bike up and down hills and I'll be honest with you, I am not good at going up. I would prefer my bike paths to be flat or going down, hence why I would also recommend the Round-The-Lake bus.
The Round-the-Lake Bus #6669 goes from Shuishe all the way to Xuanzang Temple on the other side of the lake. The bus stops at many tourist attractions like Wenwu Temple, Ita Thao, and Xuanzang Temple, making it a great way to see all the attractions in a short time.
The bus runs around the lake starting from Shuishe at 06:40 and then you can expect the bus to come every 30 - 60 minutes until the last bus leaving from Shuishe at 17:30. The journey from Shuishe to Xuanzang Temple should take about 30 minutes and the ticket costs 80 NTD per trip per person. You can also use EasyCard here.
On Foot: You can certainly walk, especially along the bike path if you have the time but in order to see everything in one day, I would recommend you use a combination of bicycles and round-the-lake buses instead.
How Many Days to Spend at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
For this itinerary, I would recommend you spend at least one full day (2 nights) at Sun Moon Lake starting as early as possible so that you will have the time to see everything the place has to offer.
Day 0:Walk along Hanbi Trail at Sunset on the day you arrive and relax by Shuishe Pier before ending the day.
Day 1: Watch the Sunrise at Meihe Park before renting a bike and ride along the bike path west of the lake. Come back to Shuishe, leave your bike, and take the bus to Wenwu Temple, Ita Thao, have lunch, and then visit Xuanzang temple before hiking up Ci'en Pagoda for the evening. End your day back in Shuishe.
How Much Money Do I Need for Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
From the itinerary above, we can calculate the minimum amount of money you can expect to be spending at Sun Moon Lake with this itinerary. Here's a rough calculation of how much you will be spending:
Accommodation: With a total of 2 nights, you will be paying around 32 USD (972 NTD)
Food: The food at Sun Moon Lake should cost about 100 NTD per meal so you can expect to spend 300 NTD per day.
Transportation: The bike rental will cost you 150 NTD for a day and together with 4 trips on the round-the-lake buses, you can expect to spend around 470 NTD for transportation during this trip.
Activities: For this itinerary, I didn't spend a dime for activities so 0 NTD.
Total Budget for one day in Alishan: 1,742 NTD (57.4 USD)
Is it Safe at Sun Moon Lake?
Sun Moon Lake is very safe but keeps the weather in mind as Taiwan is prone to typhoons and if you are visiting the lake during monsoon season, some trails and bike paths may be closed off due to hazardous conditions so please do keep that in mind when exploring Sun Moon Lake.
Internet at Sun Moon Lake
Taiwan has one of the fastest public WIFI out there. Most of the hostels and restaurants I visited in Taiwan have fast reliable WIFI and you could go by without having a local sim card but if you wish to navigate the city by bus, I recommend getting a local sim card at the airport on your arrival.
I recommend Chungwa Telecom, one of the leading telecommunication carriers in Taiwan that offers several 4G unlimited unthrottled data package with a price range from 300 NTD - 1,000 NTD.
You can find their kiosk among other carriers at the arrival hall at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei. Simply approach them and they will show you the list of packages available that you can pick from. They will ask for your passport, pop the sim card in for you, and within 2 minutes, you will have unlimited 4G data for your Taiwan trip.
I had 15 days in Taiwan and so I bought their 15 days unlimited data sim card for 700 NTD (they also accept credit cards) and I was able to get 4G connection everywhere I went in the country and so if you are looking for a reliable way to stay connected throughout your stay in Taiwan, be sure to get a local sim card at the airport.
For more information about Taiwan's local sim card: Taiwan Prepaid Data Sim Card.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Taiwan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
10 Best Things to Do at Sun Moon Lake: One-Day Itinerary
Walk Along Hanbi Trail at Sunset
On the day of your arrival, after settling into your accommodation, I would recommend you go for a little walk along Hanbi trail, a small trail off Shuishe Pier that hugs along the lakeside and ends at Yule Pavilion.
The trail takes less than 10 minutes to walk but the view from Yule Pavilion will allow you to get a nice idea of what you can expect when you have the time to explore the next day.
Stroll Along Shuishe Wharf and Meihe Park at Sunrise
Fun fact: I actually chose Sun Moon Lake as a place I celebrated my 31st birthday in 2019 and this is the exact itinerary I chose to do on that day. The itinerary begins as early as 6 AM as I walked from my hostel to Shuishe Pier to watch the sunrise, and boy was it worth it.
If you don't mind waking up early, I highly recommend you wake up early and watch the sunrise at Shuishe Pier. The sunrise at Sun Moon Lake is quite a sight to behold.
Another great viewpoint, which I recommend you drop by right before sunrise is from a platform at Meihe Park. From there, you will be able to get the view of the lake as well as the pier and the mountains behind it.
Depending on the time of the year, the sunrise time will range from 6 - 8 AM. Since the lake is also surrounded by tall mountains, you will also have to consider that the sun will likely be behind the mountain when it rises so do not come too early. It can get quite cold in the morning so prepare a light jacket with you.
Cycle Around Sun Moon Lake Circular Bike Path
After watching the sunrise, it is time to explore Sun Moon Lake on a 2-wheeler! I would recommend you rent a bike for the day and travel along the western lakeside bike path to see some of the beautiful tourist attractions around Sun Moon Lake.
I rented a bike from this bicycle rental place off the main road for 100 NTD for a day with the Yue Lake Backpackers discount. Usually, you would have to pay 200 NTD for it so be sure to ask your accommodation if they can provide any discount somewhere.
The bike path goes along the lakeside on a well-maintained sturdy concrete platform, which is one of the most delightful bike paths I have ever experienced. The scenery along the bike path was amazing and with a bike, you can stop and take a picture anytime you like.
The bike path goes all the way to the Northwest Observation Platform but before we go all the way down there, let's stop by and see some of the tourist attractions along the way.
Drop by Longfeng Temple
Not too far from Shuishe, you will find a beautiful temple called Longfeng Temple. Longfeng temple is a small but colorful temple located on the side of a mountain with a scenic view of the lake. It's not very big but it should give you a glimpse of what you can expect from temples around Sun Moon Lake.
Absorb the View at Xiangshan Scenic Outlook
With your bike, continue west until the bike path goes south hugging along the western lakeside of Sun Moon Lake passing the beautiful Shuishe Dam, which we will be back later for sunset, and ride towards Xiangshan Scenic Outlook.
Xiangshan Scenic Outlook is an elevated observation deck that goes above the lake giving you the feeling of floating above the water. It is a great place to take photos or simply rest from the bike ride and enjoy the amazing view of Sun Moon Lake.
Ride Your Bike all the Way to Sun Moon Lake Northwest Observation Platform and Back
After Xiangshan Scenic Outlook, it is only a few minutes ride towards Northwest Observation Platform which signifies the end of the easy bike path. From there on, the path goes up and up into the mountain which if you are not a strong cycler, I would not recommend you go beyond this point.
The park is a great place to rest, enjoy the view of the lake before heading back to Shuishe where we will leave our bikes for now and hop on the round-the-lake bus instead, in order to save some time.
Admire the Beauty of Wenwu Temple and Its Gigantic Marble Pillar
After leaving your bike at Shuishe, hop on the #6669 bus from Sun Moon Lake Bus Stop and get off at Wenwu Temple Bus Stop and you will be right in front of our next destination, the massive Wenwu Temple.
Wenwu Temple is a grand Chinese-style temple located atop a hill with a stunning vista of Sun Moon Lake and all its mountains. The temple consisted of 3 halls dedicated to 3 different gods. There is also a large marble pillar built atop the park above Wenwu Temple which you should not miss.
You can spend an hour or 2 just exploring all the halls and looking at all the intricate detail of the temple's interior but be sure that you give yourself enough time to catch the bus to our next destination which is located on the other side of the lake.
Have Lunch at Ita Thao Shopping District
After Wenwu Temple, take the round-the-lake bus all the way to Ita Thao, an indigenous village turned into the bustling port town with a ton of street food waiting for you to devour.
By the time you arrive here, it should be lunchtime or later so you can relax here for an hour or two and stroll around Ita Thao Shopping District looking for food.
You can also stroll along the lakeside of Ita Thao and enjoy the scenery of Sun Moon Lake from the other side. After you have eaten all the street food you can eat, go back to where the bus drops you off and get on a bus that goes to Xuanzang Temple.
Keep in mind that not all 6669 bus goes to Xuanzang Temple. Only the ones at 9:18, 10:08, 10:58, 12:08, 14:18, 15:18, 16:08, and 17:23 would go all the way to Xuanzang Temple so please do time yourself carefully.
Visit Xuanzang Temple
Xuanzang Temple is another beautiful Chinese temple with a stunning view of the lake but with a much smaller crowd. The temple is quite nice but our main focus for coming all the way here is to get to our next destination on the list, the Ci'en Pagoda.
Hike Up Ci'en Pagoda for a Stunning View of the Lake
Ci'en Pagoda is a 48 meters tall Chinese-style pagoda located atop a mountain where one can climb and be rewarded with the best view you will ever get of Sun Moon Lake from above.
From Xuanzang Temple, you will have to walk along the road south towards the small uphill road that leads up to the trailhead of Ci'en Pagoda where you can then climb the ~400 steps and then climb up the stairs that circles the pagoda all the way to the top.
From the top of Ci'en Temple, you will see Sun Moon Lake from a perspective you have yet seen. You can walk around the pagoda to get a panoramic view of the lake together with all the mountains around it. It is probably one of the best views you can get from Sun Moon Lake.
The Pagoda closes at 16:30 so be sure you calculate your arrival time as well as the time it takes for you to hike 400 steps, which should take about 10 - 20 minutes depending on your fitness so that you will arrive before it closes.
Watch Sunset at Shuishe Dam
After enjoying your time hiking up Ci'en Pagoda, you will have to take the bus back to Shuishe where you can then ride your bike to Shuishe Dam where you passed in the morning and sit by the lakeside and watch the sunset before ending your day at Sun Moon Lake.
The last bus you can take that leaves from Ci'en Temple back to Shuishe in time for the sunset is at 16:30 so be sure to get on that one or earlier so that you have some time to ride back to Shuishe Dam.
Where to Eat and Drink at Sun Moon Lake
Eat at Ita Thao Shopping District
Ita Thao is by far a better option when it comes to food than Shuishe. The entire district turned into a food market where you can find many street food trucks along both sides of the pedestrian path.
You will find all kinds of street food from my favorite, Gao Bao, the Taiwanese Pork Belly Buns to the sweet sweet mochi on a stick dessert. You can either take the round-the-lake bus to Ita Thao or you can take the boat from Shuishe Pier to Ita Thao Pier.
For more information on traveling by boats around Sun Moon Lake, visit Transportation Options Around Sun Moon Lake.
And there you have it, a complete backpacking guide on things to do at Sun Moon Lake. If you have any questions regarding the Sun Moon Lake itinerary, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below.
Further Reading for Taiwan
Looking for more information for your trip to Taiwan? Here is a collection of articles about Taiwan that you might find useful:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to Taiwan? Check out: 2 Weeks Backpacking Itinerary for Taiwan.
- In order to engage all your senses in Taipei, the hypermodern capital of Taiwan, be sure to check out: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Taipei
- Looking to visit Taroko Gorge, one of the most pristine travel destinations in Taiwan? Check out: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide For Taroko Gorge
- Getting border of mountains and cities? How about you take a break at the beach-side town of Kenting? 9 Best Things to Do in Kenting
- If Taroko is known of its gorges and rivers, Alishan is known for its forest and gigantic trees as old as Christendom. Here’s a complete guide to Alisha: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Alishan
- Taiwan is known for its unmatched deliciousness of its street food. Here are Top 12 Street Food To Try In Taiwan
- Looking for something more visual to convince you about visiting Taiwan? How about you watch a Taiwan travel video? Turbo Taiwan
- Wondering where to go after Taiwan? How about you drop continue on to Japan and after, visit China?
- For all articles about Taiwan, visit Taiwan Travel Guide page.
- Looking to travel to East Asia? Check out all my articles about East Asia here: East Asia Travel Guide page.
- You can see all my Asia related articles here: Asia Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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