August 29, 2008
Nantou Continued - Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is one of the premier tourist destinations in Taiwan. Situated in Nantou County it is scenic and easy to get to. In fact if you don't have your own transport, then Sun Moon Lake is one of the easier places to get to in Nantou to give you a taste of middle island scenery.
The best thing about the lake, in my opinion, is the boat rides. The trips usually include a visit to the village across the lake, a visit to the island in the middle of the lake and a tour around the lake itself. You can plan on this taking 1.5 to 2 hours.
There are some English-speaking captains and they will give you as much information on the area as you like. Our captain, Grey, informed us that the lake, which is actually man-made, is 8.3 km2 in area. Although massively effected during the quake, most of the buildings have been rebuilt to a much higher standard able to withstand a quake up to eight on the Richter scale. We have to take his word for it.
If you stop at the village across from where the boats leave, you will probably experience a touristy “try on these traditional costumes” offer. This really is optional, and it is free, but if you accept you will be “invited” for a shopping pitch. I am not sure about the benefits of bee products apart from honey, but the black tea was very nice (see below).
The small island in the middle of the lake, Lalu Island, used to hold a small temple dedicated to lovers, but as the island sunk a few feet during the quake, this temple has been moved. A series of floating pontoons have now been placed around the island and wildlife has been encouraged with water plants forming the base of the pontoons. We witnessed an abundance of fish and birds around the pontoons.
It is worth a drive or hike around the lake and the road follows it closely. It should be possible to find a nice quiet spot for a picnic so come prepared. It is not seen as advisable to swim in the lake however. One reason put forward was that the water is not clean, and another theory put forward by more than one person is that there are piranha in the lake. Considering as there is an annual swim across the lake, it seems an unlikely theory but there you go.
Interestingly in this area, black tea is grown as well as kao shan tea (high mountain tea). In Chinese, black tea is called red tea (hong cha), somewhat confusingly, but this tea is of the Assam variety brought in from India some 80 years ago to be exported to England. If you visit Tan Shui and see the shipping ledgers from the end of the 19th century you will see tea listed as an export to England. This is one of the areas where it was grown.
For my money, a bag of Sun Moon Lake Assam tea is worth it. It might be more expensive than buying it bulk in a major city, but the packaging and nutty taste provides a good souvenir.
Check back for the third chapter of Nantou soon.
•Previous article: A Word about Typhoons
•Next article: Nantou part 3 - Chi Chi and Puli