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Sun Moon Lake, Nantou is Taiwan’s largest lake and, with 6 million visitors a year, also one of Taiwan’s most popular scenic attractions, along with Alishan and Taroko Gorge.
What is Sun Moon Lake famous for? Sun Moon Lake attractions such as the views from Wenwu Temple and Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, cherry blossom viewing in March at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, local aboriginal culture, and locally grown black tea are the big draws. Sun Moon Lake can feel crowded and touristy, but it’s also easy enough to avoid that with a bit of planning.
Below I’ll tell you my favorite places to stay and things to do at Sun Moon Lake, and help you plan your Sun Moon Lake itinerary. I’ve been to Sun Moon Lake six times in my 10 years in Taiwan, so apparently I have a soft spot for it. Several of these visits were with my kids!
There is so much information that I want to share here that I’ve written separate articles for Sun Moon Lake’s famous teas, the best Sun Moon Lake tours, and how to decide whether you should get the Sun Moon Lake pass.
Taichung City is the main access point to Sun Moon Lake, and people often associate Taichung with Sun Moon Lake, although SML is actually located in neighboring Nantou County.
Many people visit Sun Moon Lake as a day trip from Taichung, but to really appreciate Sun Moon Lake, I strongly recommend spending at least one, of not two nights there. The lake is especially beautiful in the early morning, and in the evening the local night market comes alive.
If you plan to stay in Taichung, make sure to check out my articles on the top Taichung attractions, the best Taichung itinerary, and other day trip ideas from Taichung.
Although it is possible to do Sun Moon Lake as a long day trip from Taipei, I wouldn’t personally recommend doing this.
Sun Moon Lake is also included on this 2-day tour from Taipei, this best of Taiwan 5-day tour, or you can visit Sun Moon Lake on a day tour from Taichung.
Is Sun Moon Lake Worth Visiting?
I know people in Taipei who detest Sun Moon Lake or write it off as an overtouristed attraction.
However, my answer to the above question is that yes, Sun Moon Lake is incredibly beautiful and worth visiting, whether you visit during winter or summer in Taiwan. Surrounded by the western foothills of the Central Mountain Range, the 748 m lake is like a gem on the side of Taiwan’s mountainous crown.
The first time I stood on the shore of the lake, I didn’t quite see what the hype was all about. It wasn’t until I admired the lake from higher vantage points, like Wenwu Temple, Ci En Pagoda, and the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, that I finally got it.
True, a few of the main sites at Sun Moon Lake can be crowded with tour buses, and if you are not a big fan of touristy places, you may want to steer clear of Sun Moon Lake, but I think that even for people like that, it is still easy to avoid the crowds at SML and have an enjoyable trip there.
The Aboriginal People of Sun Moon Lake
The Sun Moon Lake shore has been inhabited by the Thao aboriginal tribe (邵族) since the Qing Dynasty. Today, the Thao, who mostly live in the lakeside village of Ita Thao, number less than 1000 (only 828 according to Wikipedia in 2020), making them one of the smallest of Taiwan’s officially recognized aboriginal tribes.
According to Thao mythology, Thao hunters spotted a white deer in the mountains and chased it to the shore of Sun Moon Lake. They were so impressed by the lake that they decided to settle there.
As a visitor, you can observe authentic Thao dance performances and make donations at Kalapaw鹿臺教室, an aboriginal performance center in Ita Thao, one of the two main villages on Sun Moon Lake. However, you shouldn’t expect authenticity at the more famous Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village Theme Park. I’ll cover both locations in detail below.
Like saving money? Try using Klook while planning your trip to Taiwan. The website offers all kinds of activities, train passes, entrance tickets and more at discount prices. If you register with my referral link, you’ll get NT$100 off your first activity booking.
The Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim
There are no beaches, and swimming is not allowed in Sun Moon Lake, except at the annual Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim (泳渡日月潭) in September in Taiwan, one of the largest in the world.
To participate in the mass swim, you need a group of at least five people before you register here. Then you pay NT1000/person at 7-11. Registration usually opens in July.
The 3km swim takes a few hours, and a flotation device is required. There are safety rest stations along the way. You will also definitely need waterproof sunscreen. In recent years, 3km and 5km competitive races have also been added the day before.
On a personal note, I actually joined a busload of expats to do the swim many years ago, but couldn’t swim in the end, embarrassingly, because I got diarrhea that day. Also, I once snuck a swim at Sun Moon Lake on another trip by jumping off a boat dock when nobody was looking : )
Sun Moon Lake is (sort of…) shaped like a sun on the eastern side and moon on the western side, hence the name. Shuishe, on the northwest shore of the lake, is the main tourist village where most people arrive, and location of the Sun Moon Lake visitor center.
The eastern and southern sides of the “sun” part of the lake are where most of the popular Sun Moon Lake attractions and best views are found. Much of this shoreline is also lined with wooden walkways, and cycling Sun Moon Lake along the main road around the lake is a popular activity.
The lake’s second tourist village, Ita Thao, is located on the southeast shore. I’ll explain below why I think it is the best place to stay at Sun Moon Lake.
The western, or “moon” side of the lake sees less tourists, and much of the road is not right along the lake until meets up with the spread of resorts on the north shore. You can cycle around the lake in a full day, or ride a scooter around it in about one hour (with no stops).
The easiest and cheapest way to get around Sun Moon Lake is the round-the-lake bus, which actually doesn’t travel all the way around the lake, but from Shuishe to Xuanguang Temple. For other ways to get around the lake, including boats and cycling, see below.
See how to fit Sun Moon Lake into your Taiwan trip itinerary, and here’s my article covering general Taiwan travel information.
Shuishe: The Main Tourist Village
Shuishe (水社) is collection of tourist oriented restaurants, resorts and other facilities. Personally, I consider it a transportation hub and place to rent your bike, scooter or hop on a bus to get out of.
On the plus side, you may choose to stay in Shuishe due to its convenience and some of the great mid-range and high-end hotels in town. To be fair, it’s not a terrible place to stay, with nice paths and lake views on the shore.
Most buses arrive at and depart from just in front of the Shuishe Visitor’s Center. Last time I visited, there was no ticket window there; you just show up and get in line at the right time. The bus around Sun Moon Lake also begins here.
The Starbucks in Shuishe offers decent lake views from its patio, and you can also appreciate the lake from Meihe Park or the Shuishe Pier. There are many restaurants in town, especially on the main road and near the Shuishe Pier, with an emphasis on Taiwanese and seafood. For vegetarians, there’s a great, quiet vegetarian restaurant a few minutes drive from Shuishe in the direction of Puli called White Deer Cafe and Pizzeria (日月潭白鹿窯木燒麵包).
If you feel like going for a private hot spring soak, check out this Spa package with buffet lunch or dinner set meal at Fuli Resort in Shuishe.
Shuishe is also the starting point of the annual Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim.
Where to Stay in Shuishe
Unfortunately, there isn’t much on the budget end here. Some of the cheapest deals can be found at Tanxiang Resort Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) near the Shuishe Pier, but the reviews for it are pretty bad. I’m not aware of any hostels in Shuishe. There are better budget choices in Ita Thao.
In the mid-range, Shaoguang 188 (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is a very popular, highly rated choice with stone tubs in the rooms, while Doris Home (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) nearby offers artfully decorated, cat-themed rooms in a lovely house. Yue Lake Backpackers (see on Booking/ Agoda /TripAdvisor) west of town offers reasonably priced rooms considering they have good lake views.
The classiest options right in Shuishe include Wenwan Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) and Lalu Sun Moon Lake (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).
Sun Moon Lake Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) just west of town, is a moderately priced upscale choice offering incredible lake views, while Fleur de Chine (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) east of town is one of the most opulent properties on Sun Moon Lake.
Ita Thao: My Personal Favorite
Ita Thao (Yida Shao or 伊達邵) is the other main tourist village on Sun Moon Lake and located on the southeast shore of the “sun”. The actual aboriginal village, which you probably won’t even see or notice, is located just above the tourist village, on the other side of the highway.
Personally, I prefer the vibe at Ita Thao to Shuishe, even though it is still entirely tourist oriented. There are more guesthouses than resorts, the feeling is more local and aboriginal, and there is greater access to the waterfront, with a nice collections of boat docks that you can walk on.
Oh, and the best part: the chance to taste all kinds of aboriginal and local Taiwanese street foods in the Ita Thao streey food market!
Other great places to experience aboriginal culture in Taiwan are in Wulai, New Taipei City, in Hualien County on the east coast, and on remote Orchid Island in Taitung County.
The best place to experience Thao culture is at the Kalapaw鹿臺教室 Thao Tribe Performance Center (see #6 on my list of things to do at Sun Moon Lake below). The performances here are the real deal, as opposed to some of the shows put in big hotels, on the Shuishe pier, or other tourist centers in Taiwan, which often have a fake feel to them.
Ita Thao is the end point of the Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim, and it is within walking distance of the Sun Moon Lake ropeway (#4 below).
What to Eat in Ita Thao
The best part about Itathao is its great food stalls and day/night market. From the bus stop, follow the main street all the way down to the pier. The street is packed with shops and restaurants and becomes an atmospheric night market in the evening. This is one of the most accessible places in Taiwan to try aboriginal specialties like boar meat (山豬肉), bamboo tubes of sticky rice (竹筒飯), and millet wine (小米酒).
Related: See my guide to the best night markets in Taipei.
Something I’ve never seen elsewhere in Taiwan is millet wine slushy drinks, though the alcohol concentration was disappointingly low (0.4% according to the vendor).
Food lovers: There are also some great cooking classes in Taiwan!
Besides aboriginal fare, there are lots of other great Taiwanese snacks to find on the Ita Thao night market. Some personal favorites were grilled mochi, deep fried oyster & egg balls (a Chiayi specialty), Sun Moon Lake black tea flavored ice cream and beer, and marinated dou gan (tofu cubes).
If you love traditional Taiwanese snacks, then also check out my introduction to Jiufen Old Street in New Taipei City.
Where to Stay in Ita Thao
As we usually stay in Ita Thao, I can speak from personal experience here. My absolute favorite place to stay in Ita Thao is these cabins on Sun Moon Lake (see on Agoda / Booking) located five minutes’ walk up a small road from the Ita Thao bus stop.
I brought my kids here on a father-daughter-son trip and we loved it. It’s in a quiet, totally natural setting, so you completely forget you are right by one of the most popular tourist centers in Taiwan, but it’s only a five-minute walk to Ita Thao, where you can enjoy the night market, restaurants, or walk to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
On our most recent visit, we were looking for the cheapest possible (but family friendly) room to crash in Ita Thao for the night, and chose at Itathao Vacation Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvsior) on the main road around the lake. Our expectations were low, but we were pleasantly surprised! The room seemed very new (not normal in Taiwan for this price range), beds were comfy, and our 5th floor balcony had a view of the lake. Not the best view, but better than nothing!
Unlike Shuishe, Ita Thao also has an actual hostel, perBed hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).
There are several properties right on or directly facing the pier in Ita Thao that have incredible views of the lake through full-wall windows. We almost considered staying in one of these as they are quite reasonably priced for what you get.
I also almost booked ShuiYang Boatel Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / rTripAdvisor), with full wall lake views from a very quiet end of town, while Shuian Lakeside Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), Hu Yue Lakeside Hotel (read reviews / see prices), Ming Yue Hu (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), and Crystal Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) are all enticing options.
Planning Your Sun Moon Lake Itinerary
When planning your Sun Moon Lake itinerary, I feel that one night is sufficient, two tops, to experience the best of the lake. If you hire a scooter, ride a bike, or use the bus, you could see most of the sites below in one full day. Taking boats only, you won’t be able to see everything of course. Make sure to buy a Sun Moon Lake Pass to save some money.
The best way would probably be to arrive as early as possible on your first day, do some exploring that afternoon, visit the night market in Ita Thao that evening, and then see anything else you missed the next day.
The sights below are roughly in clockwise order around the lake, starting in Shuishe.
Things to Do at Sun Moon Lake
Below are some of the essential things to consider doing during your Sun Moon Lake visit, including the most popular attractions and a few lesser known ones.
1. Take a Boat Across Sun Moon Lake
Riding a boat across the lake is one of the most popular things to do at Sun Moon Lake. The boats conveniently start at Shuishe village, where most people arrive at Sun Moon Lake. They cross the lake to Xuanguang Temple and Ita Thao, the two places you probably want to go.
I recommend taking the boat from Shuishe to Xuanguang Temple, then from Xuanguang Temple to Ita Thao village (from where you can also walk to Sun Moon Lake Cable Car and/or take the bus to Wenwu Temple), and finally, from Ita Thao back to Shuishe.
Boat rides are included in most Sun Moon Lake passes and only this one-day Sun Moon Lake tour from Taichung.
Alternatively, can buy an all-day boat pass on Klook for NT300 that gives you unlimited rides between the three main piers (Shuishe, Ita Thao, Xuanguan) on an eco-friendly electric boat. There is also an option to include a bike rental in the deal.
2. Wenwu Temple (日月潭文武廟)
The view from just above Wenwu temple, with the temple’s orange roofs in the foreground and lake in the background, is the most iconic view of Sun Moon Lake. I would say that this is easily one of the prettiest temples in Taiwan.
This large, imposing structure is built in the palace style of northern China and is guarded by two enormous vermilion lions. In Chinese culture, Wenwu temples house gods related to both civil and marital affairs.
Originally two temples stood at the side of Sun Moon Lake but were torn down when dam projects caused the lake level to rise in 1919. The new temple was built in its present location in 1938, and then rebuilt and expanded in 1969.
Come early for a better chance of clear lake views and to beat tour bus crowds. Also, make sure to go up the rows of stairs outside the back of the temple for the classic view.
Across the road from the front of the temple, you can also walk down 366 steps (one for each day of the year plus one for leap year) to the shore of the lake, once the only way to access the temple.
See more incredible temples at Lion’s Head Mountain in Miaoli, central Taiwan, or read my introduction to the top Taiwanese temples in Northern Taiwan.
3. Nine Frogs Stack (九蛙疊像)
Halfway between Wenwu Temple and Ita Thao, there’s a pullover on the lake side of the road for Water Frog Head Trail (水蛙頭步道), an easy boarded trail through bamboo forests to a dock on the lake where you can spot Nine Frogs Stack (九蛙疊像), a statue in the water that is used to measure the lake’s level.
Tour buses don’t stop here, so it’s a good place on Sun Moon Lake for a quiet, scenic stroll with no crowds.
4. Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (日月潭纜車)
The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is probably the most popular Sun Moon Lake attraction, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it. Even with a large number of visitors, the Sun Moon Lake cable car lines move quickly. When we visited on a weekday, arriving the moment they opened, and there was hardly a line.
The views over Sun Moon Lake during the ride are nothing short of breathtaking. There’s no view once you arrive at the top, so you can either head right back down, or continue on another ropeway down into the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (see below).
A round trip on the Sun Moon Lake gondola costs NT300, and rides are included if you buy an entrance ticket to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Operating times are 10:30-4 (weekdays) and 10:00-4:30 (weekends and holidays). The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is included on some Sun Moon Lake passes.
Here’s a great deal on Klook that includes a bike, boat rides, and Sun Moon Lake ropeway ticket. This deal covers the cable car and Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (see next entry).
You can walk from the pier in Ita Thao to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway along a pretty lakeside path in about 15 minutes. The round-the-lake-bus has a dedicated stop for the Cable Car Station.
5. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村)
I’m not going to lie here…the combination of aboriginal culture center and theme/amusement park (complete with ”European garden & Mansion”, a popular theme at many of Taiwan’s theme parks built in the 80s) at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village unsettling. This is cultural appropriation at its finest.
The Chinese name “9 Tribes Culture Village” (九族文化村) harks back to a time when only nine aboriginal tribes were officially recognized in Taiwan (today there are 16).
I honestly wouldn’t really recommend coming here. We went because I though it might be fun for my kids. The amusement park section is nothing special. We saw one crazy looking waterslide (picture below), but overall the park is really spread out and requires tons of walking, but doesn’t have many facilities. If you do decide to go, though, this deal on entrance tickets includes a ride on the cable car, which I do recommend.
If you’re looking for a better theme park experience in Taiwan, here are the best and worst amusement parks in taiwan.
The aboriginal section covers a large hill and also takes quite some time to walk through. It does however offer a chance to photograph aboriginals dressed in traditional costumes and watch song and dance performances.
If you really want to experience aboriginal culture, I’d suggest the more humble (and legitimate) Thao Tribe Performance Center (see #6), and if you want rides, there are many better amusement parks in Taiwan.
The one reason I would recommend coming to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, though, is to see the beautiful cherry blossom festival there in March; they are said to be a variety that is pinker than elsewhere.
If you still want to visit, this Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village day trip deal includes transportation to and from Taichung, ropeway tickets, park admission, and a guide. Regular admission to the park also includes ropeway tickets.
The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is included on one of the Sun Moon Lake pass.
6. Kalapaw鹿臺教室 Thao Tribe Performance Center
A small center in Ita Thao village is trying hard to preserve and promote the customs of the Thao people (邵族), one of Taiwan’s smallest tribes. Only a few elders still speak the Thao language, and their customs are in danger of dying out. What’s more, this small center is in danger of dying out due to the total lack of foreign tourists for 2.5 years during COVID.
One of the special features of Thao culture is a kind of music called chu yin (杵音) or ’pestle sounds’, made by pounding large pestles into mortars. The Thao discovered it in past times when they found that pounding different materials produced different sounds.
You can watch performances of the music at the center today. The center also features songs and dance from the Bunun tribe (布農族), another tribe which lives in the greater Sun Moon Lake area.
Performances take place daily on the wooden docks outside (good weather) or inside the center at 11, 3 and 5 pm (weekends) or 11 and 5 pm (weekdays, but closed on Mondays/Tuesdays). Donations are appreciated.
The center is sometimes poorly translated as the “Sun Moon Lake Chasing Deer Market” on Sun Moon Lake and Taiwan tourism websites, without any explanation provided of where or what it is.
7. Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔)
Continuing past Ita Thao village, the next point of interest, and another of Sun Moon Lake’s most iconic sights, is towering Ci En Pagoda, visible from many points on the lake.
The 43-meter pagoda was commissioned by former president Chiang Kai-shek for his late mother in 1971. It’s a 570-meter walk up stairs to reach the pagoda. It’s definitely worth coming for the incredible, panoramic view of Sun Moon Lake from the top of the pagoda.
Just before reaching the temple, there’s another one called Xuan Zang Temple (日月潭玄奘寺) on the main road around the lake, which you may want to stop and take a look at.
8. Xuanguan Temple (玄光寺) & Wharf (玄光碼頭)
The furthest you’ll likely get from Shuishe (unless you cycle or ride all the way around the lake) is Xuanguan Temple & Wharf. It’s one of three piers you can take a boat to, but I found it the least appealing. The temple is nothing special, and there’s less space here so it felt crowded.
The highlight for me was seeing Lalu Island, which is just off shore. There is also a famous tea egg vendor called 金盆阿嬤的香菇茶葉蛋 by the pier. Sun Moon Lake is known for having really good tea eggs, which are stewed with giant mushrooms, local Sun Moon Lake tea leaves, and spices, and this stall apparently has the best ones.
You can get here by bus or boat from Shuishe.
9. Try SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)
To make up for not being able to swim at Sun Moon Lake (unless you come for the annual mass swim), perhaps you can try stand up paddleboarding on Sun Moon Lake!
No experience is required, kids can even do it, and there are morning or afternoon options. But for the most serene experience, go for the dawn paddleboarding option, when the lake is at its calmest and no tourists are out yet.
10. Scootering or Cycling around Sun Moon Lake
The road around Sun Moon Lake has been called one of the top 10 most beautiful cycling routes in the world.
There are multiple places in Shuishe town where you can rent bicycles (expect to pay about NT200 for two hours, or double that for a high quality Giant bike), e-bikes, or scooters (around NT400 per day, IDP or Taiwanese scooter license needed).
You can also arrange a bike rental and all day boat combination pass in advance, or get the Sun Moon Lake Bike pass.
Other Things to Do Near Sun Moon Lake
The greater Sun Moon Lake region, known for its tea farms, is great for exploring, especially by bicycle, scooter, or car. Puli is the main transportation hub but also has a few sights.
South of Sun Moon Lake, there are a few more unique attractions. Some people combine their Sun Moon Lake visit with an overnight or day-trip to Cingjing Farm in the high mountains.
Things to Do in Puli
Puli, a city 30 minutes north of Sun Moon Lake, is a transportation hub for Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing Farm, as all buses to these two famous destinations pass through town. Puli itself has a few places worth seeing, so some travelers even base themselves here for visiting Cingjing and Sun Moon Lake.
The enormous Chung Tai Chan Monastery is the world’s tallest Buddhist Monastery and Puli’s most famous attraction. The monastery is fascinating to visit, and you can see that a lot of money has been spent on the many statues and other decorations in and around the temple.
Chung Tai Chan is one of Taiwan’s four major Buddhist orders (see here to read about another one of them, Fo Guang Shan Monastery, one of the most famous places to visit in Kaohsiung).
Just outside of Puli, Paper Dome, a church made out of paper, is another popular attraction. You can stop here with the Sun Moon Lake pass.
Another fun thing to do in Puli is this paragliding experience.
Sun Moon Lake is famous for its black teas, which are mostly produced north of the lake in Yuchi township. The best place to visit is Antique Assam Tea Farm (日月老茶廠). There you can explore an old tea processing facility, see a working tea farm, and taste the region’s rare and very delicious black teas.
See my full article on Sun Moon Lake Tea for other tea-related places to visit around Sun Moon Lake.
Shuanglong Rainbow Bridge
Going south from Sun Moon Lake, the Shuanglong Rainbow Suspension Bridge (雙龍七彩吊橋), also called Shuiyuan Suspension Bridge, has been a hot new attraction since it opened in 2020 and was subsequently painted in rainbow colors. This is Taiwan’s longest (342 m) and tallest (110 m) suspension bridge. By crossing it, you can get to a viewpoint of Shuangong Waterfall (雙龍瀑布).
You need to budget a full hour for walking down to and crossing the bridge, seeing the waterfall, and coming back. Getting there from Sun Moon Lake is also not easy. It’s a 30-40 minute drive from Sun Moon Lake and there are no direct buses. You can try asking your hotel in Sun Moon Lake to arrange a driver for you.
Jiji Wuchang Temple
A 40-minute drive west of Sun Moon Lake, Wuchang Temple in Jiji is an interesting, if unusual, local attraction. The temple here completely caved in during the disastrous 921 Earthquake in 1999, in which 2415 people died, and has been left that way since. A lavish new temple commemorating the incident has been built right in front of it.
See more information about Wuchang Temple here.
Other attractions in the Jiji area, including the Hotanjing Sky Bridge, can be visited on this day tour from Taichung.
Xitou Monster Village
Another 45 minutes’ drive past Jiji, you can reach the Xitou Monster Village, a popular Japanese-themed village. Click the above link for information on getting there by bus from Sun Moon Lake.
Getting to Sun Moon Lake
Generally, you can budget about three hours to get from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake, 1.5 hours from Taichung to Sun Moon lake, and three hours from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake. If you want to travel from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake, you’ll have to go via Taipei.
Taipei to Sun Moon Lake
The simplest way is to take the bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. Buses in Taipei depart from the Taipei Bus Station, located at exit Z5 of Taipei Main Station. A one-way adult ticket costs NT470. You can find the complete timetable here for bus 1833 from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. The bus usually takes 3-3.5 hours and includes a stop in Puli.
Buying your return ticket is a good idea, to avoid uncertainty about getting a seat on the way back. It’s also smart to buy your ticket a day or two in advance, especially for weekend or holiday departures, but it’s often possible to just show up a little early and get a ticket.
If you don’t want to take a three-hour bus ride, you can take the HSR from Taipei to Taichung and then the shuttle bus from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake (see below). This costs more and you might only save 30 minutes, but I’ve done this before because a three hour bus ride is difficult for my kids.
If you buy a discounted HSR ticket from Taipei to Taichung in advance on Klook, the cost of going by HSR and shuttle bus is almost the same as taking the bus all the way from Taipei.
It is also possible to arrange a private car from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake.
If you’re coming from Taipei, check out my Taipei 4-day itinerary and guide to where to stay in Taipei!
Taichung to Sun Moon Lake
Tourist Shuttle Bus A runs from Central Taichung to Sun Moon Lake in about 90 minutes. You can board at Gancheng Station (a bus stop a few blocks north of Taichung Station), Taichung Station (the main regular TRA station), Daqing Station, Taichung Airport, or Taichung HSR Station. The bus also stops in Puli and at Paper Dome. Here are the bus times. Bus tickets are included in most Sun Moon Lake passes.
The bus costs NT190 or less (depending where you get on), and runs roughly every 30 minutes. The first bus is at 7:45am from Taichung Gancheng station and 7:25 am from Sun Moon Lake. EasyCard is accepted.
It is also possible to arrange a private car from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake.
Here is a complete map of all the bus routes to and from the greater Sun Moon Lake area.
If you are in Taichung, make sure to check out the Rainbow Village!
Alishan to Sun Moon Lake
There is only minibus per day from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake and from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan. The bus from Alishan departs at 1 pm, and the one from Sun Moon Lake departs at 8 am, costing NT$336 each way. The bus is #6739, run by Yuanlin bus company (bus info here).
The trip from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake should take less than three hours, but going uphill from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan might take a little more than three hours. To save money on bus tickets for Taichung-Sun Moon Lake-Alishan, you can get the Sun Moon Lake Alishan pass.
Here’s my complete guide to getting to Alishan.
Alishan to Cingjing Farm
Sun Moon Lake is 1.5 hours from Cingjing Farm, a famous high mountain resort and European style farm.
There is a shared shuttle from Sun Moon Lake to Cingjing Farm or you can charter a private vehicle. You can also visit Sun Moon Lake, Alishan, and Cingjing Farm on this 3-day tour!
By public transportation, you can take a bus from Sun Moon Lake to Puli, where you can transfer onto a Cingjing-bound bus
Well, thanks for making it this far! I hope that you’ve found some useful information here. Please let me know below if you have any comments or questions, and how your trip to Sun Moon Lake goes!
43 thoughts on “Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan: Your Essential 2023 Guide”
I’m a sucker for a cable car with a good view. Sun Moon Lake looks so tranquil and scenic. it also seems like something straight out of a Kung Foo movie!
While Sun Moon Lake looks gorgeous and quiet, I would think that 6 million visitors per year would make it quite a busy place. It would be difficult for me to resist going in the lake if it were warm outside. Water and swimming always draw me. Ita Thao with its greater Aboriginal influence sounds more appealing to me. I love how lush everything is.
Wow what a guide Nick. This lake looks freaking stunning. The view from the temple is iconic, with those blue waters inviting me in. Rocking post buddy.
I love how peaceful and clear the waters are at Sun Moon Lake. It’s easy to see why it is so popular. I’m quite intrigued by the Aboriginal culture. I’m curious to learn more about it, but I get your caution about the touristic nature of Ita Thao. Any good museums you’d recommend instead? The area is very green and pretty. Can’t wait to visit Taiwan!!
Actually the aboriginal culture center right in Ita Thao is the best place to learn about their culture, but it’s not really a museum. Hope you make it to Taiwan!
Really great article. It’s quiet hard to find some accurate and up-to-date information about Taiwan in general. Hopefully i found your blog ! Just to let you know, all your booking.com links doesn’t works on this post.
Glad you found it useful, Julien!
And thank you so much for letting me know about the links! They should be all fixed now!
I’ve been reading information about Sun Moon Lake and Alishan here that I wasn’t able to find in other blogs. Thank you!
Would you know what options I have to reach Sun Moon Lake directly from Taoyuan Airport (using public transportation)? I arrive around 2:00 am so I find it impractical to check in a hotel. Thanks!
As far as I know, there is no 24-hour public transportation options from the airport. You will need to wait until about 6am, then you can do either of the following:
1. Take the shuttle bus to the Taoyuan HSR station, HSR to Taichung, then bus to Sun Moon Lake (more expensive, faster)
2. Take a bus from the airport to Taichung then take the bus to Sun Moon Lake (slower but cheaper).
The only other option would be to take a taxi from the airport to a Taipei bus station, but you should check first if they have any buses in the middle of the night from Taipei to Taichung.
Thank you! Just double checked my flight schedule and I arrive around 1:10am. I saw that there is a Kuo Kuang 1860 bus going to Taichung at 1:40 am. Supposing I take that bus, where should I get off if I want to check in somewhere near the Taichung Railway Station? The railway station is not included in the route (https://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=4639). I read that most visitors alight at Chaoma Station then take a cab when they want to stay near Fengjia Night Market.
Considering that I am going to Sun Moon Lake and other attractions in Taichung such as Xinshe Castle, Fengjia Market, Rainbow Village and Houli Flower Farm for two days, would it be advisable to stay near the train station or near the night market? OR, should I stay one night in Sun Moon Lake then another night near train station/night market?
You will have to be lucky to catch that bus. In my experience, it takes 30 minutes to 1 hour (usually closer to 1 hour) from the landing time to the moment you exit the arrivals door, then you still need to get to the bus area. If I were you, I would have a back up plan in case you don’t catch that bus.
I’m sorry that I’m not so familiar with Taichung City, so I don’t know where the best place to stay there is. It sounds like you are planning to see a lot in two days. Going to Sun Moon Lake is a full day trip. So it will be up to you if you want to spend the night there, and which sights you want to see in Taichung on your second day (I’m not sure if you can squeeze in all the ones that you mentioned). Keep in mind that Taichung “city” is not really a city, it’s a whole county, and Sun Moon Lake is actually in a different county (Nantou).
For you hotel, it makes sense to stay somewhere that is your transportation hub for getting to Sun Moon Lake.
Thanks a lot for your feedback! I’ll just catch some sleep and wait for the 6am bus to Taichung, then go straight to Sun Moon Lake via the Nantou Bus. I’m not going inside the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village so hopefully, I’ll be able to cover the highlights of Sun Moon Lake and take the last bus bound for Taichung. Best to stay near the railway station so that I can start my 2nd day early.
Thanks again! 🙂
sounds like a good plan. enjoy your trip!
Hi Sir Nick. This is a very helpful blog. Please allow me to ask some questions 🙂 We’ll be going to Taichung on April 18 to 19. First, what is the best hotel to stay that you will get the best view of the lake and very near to the best locations/amenities to visit as well?
We are from the Philippines, and our first time to go to taiwan. We are 8 adults and we are planning to take the HST going to Taichung. Is it a good idea if we will hire a tourist taxi from HST station Taichung and go somewhere first before staying overnight to Sun Moon Lake? We just wanted to maximize our time in taichung and travel the next day on kaohshiung…Thank you in advance….Hope i hear from you the soonest 🙂
Please be away that Taichung city is not near Sun Moon Lake. It takes 1.5 hours from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake! If you only have 1 night for Taichung + Sun Moon Lake, that is very rushed. Please send me an email at [email protected] and we can discuss further. What is your expected arrival time at Taichung HSR?
Thank you very much for these very detailed information about SML. I can not find any better source for me to plan my trip
Just want to ask you for some advices about experience the cable car at SML. How long does it take to experience the cable car?
I will travel to SML from Alishan, by the time I get to SML (maybe around 4pm as I take the soonest bus at 1pm and the trip will take 3hrs) the cable is closed already. So if I plan to try it, I have to wait until the next day at 10:30, but I have to catch the bus from SML to TaiChung Airport at 12:40 so I don’t know if I can make it.
Looking forward to your advices. Thank you!
That seems tight for time, but I think you can do it! I’m not sure the exact time of the cable car ride, but my guess is that it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to the top, maximum, and the same to come back down. (Don’t bother to take the second cable car, which goes down to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village). So even if you take 30 minutes to go up and 30 minutes to go down, you will be at the bottom at 11:30, which is lots of time to get to Shuishe for the 12:40 bus. Just make sure to have your luggage ready (I’m sure you can leave it at the cable car station), and check the bus times if you are taking the bus from the cable car to Shuishe!
Thank you for the very detailed and informative article.
How do we get to Wenwu Temple from the entrance?
For a 1 day visit to SML, would you suggest going to Puli? When best to fit it? At the start or at the end of the trip?
Thank you very much.
If you are coming to SML by public transportation, you will arrive in Shuishe Village on the lake. From the same bus stop, you can hop on the round-the-lake bus and get off at the Wenwu Temple stop. Another way would be to rent a bicycle and ride there.
If you are only going to SML for one day, I don’t think going to Puli is worth your time, unless you really want to see one of the specific sights there. If I were you, I would just spend the whole day at the lake.
1) do the NanTou Buses follow the route as posted on their website? if they do, does that mean that it’ll be better to get on the bus at Gancheng (for seats) as oppose like say getting on the bus from the Taichung HSR Station.
2) does the Nantou stop at Ita Thao? (Am booked for accommodation at Ita Thao). If not, I assume the bus will stop at Shuishe. How do I make my way to Ita Thao from Shuishe?
Hi Simon, thanks for reading.
1. I don’t see why they wouldn’t follow the route, and your logic makes sense for having the best chance to get a seat. In my experience, all the times I took the bus between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake it wasn’t full so there was no issue about people not getting seats, but of course I can’t guarantee it’s always like that. Maybe try your plan if you’re going on a weekend or busy day.
2. No, the Nantou bus doesn’t stop at Ita Thao. Once it reaches the lake shore, it turns right and drives a few minutes to Shuishe (You’d have to go left and frive about 20 minutes to get to Ita Thao. From Shuishe, you can catch a boat across the lake, or catch the bus to Ita Thao, which I have always done. The bus stop to catch it is pretty much the spot where you’ll be dropped off. You could also consider cycling or renting a scooter in Shuishe to get to Ita Thao! Having a scooter at Sun Moon Lake is very convenient.
Thanks for your advice. Awesome page you have going. Lovely read and informative. Keep up the fantastic work. 🙂
Thanks a lot, Simon. Much appreciated!
Hi Nick, your blog is VERY informative in helping me to plan my upcoming trip to taiwan! its my second time there but will be my first time travelling to Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. I saw that you have written that there is a mini bus from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake for NT$328, may I know how can I go about booking the bus or where can I get tickets from? I am trying to book accommodations in Sun Moon Lake and currently find it a challenge as I am unsure if we can make it from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake in 1 day without having the need to stop over in Taichung for the night. Thanks!
I have just called the Alishan tourist center, and I can confirm there are two daily buses from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake, departing at 1pm and 2pm. They suggested buying the ticket at the Alishan bus station one day before, but you may be able to get it the same morning as well. If you want to go in the other direction (SML to Alishan, the bus departs at 8am and 9am. The bus is #6739, run by Yunlin bus company. I think it’s a minibus. Best of luck!
Hi Nick! I would like to ask, what is the best way to travel to Sun Moon Lake from Shanlinxi? (:
Hi Aibee, bus 6871 goes from Shanlinxi (衫林溪) to Xitou (溪頭) (see my article about Xitou Monster Village).
From Xitou, bus 6801 goes to Sun Moon Lake 5 times per day, and should take about 1.5 hours.
Thank you for your great resource! Could you help me with the itinerary, please?
On November 5th we are arriving in Chaiyi from Hualian and staying overnight there.
Then we would like to do Alishan and Sun moon lake and come back to Taipei by the evening of November 9th. So, we have only three nights and four days.
Is it possible? What could be your suggestions?
That seems like enough time. On November 7 you can travel from Chiayi to Alishan, stay there for one night, and see the sunrise the next morning. On November 8, catch the bus from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake (you can find the bus times on my “how to get to Alishan” article) Stay at Sun Moon Lake that night, and tour around the lake the next day before heading to Taipei. Let me know if you have any further questions!
Thank you Nick!
Seems the following plan is also feasible:
Day 1. Chiayi – Fenqihu. A night at Fenqihu.
Day 2. Fenqihu – Alishan. A night at Alishan.
Day 3. Alishan – Sun Moon Lake. A night at Sun Moon lake.
Day 4. Trekking in Sun Moon Lake and heading for Taipei.
So the question would be:
Is it a problem
1.To get from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake, say, after checking out at 12?
2. To get to Taipei from Sun Moon Lake in the evening?
Thank you very much!
That sounds very doable!
1. There are only 2 buses per day from Alishan to SML, leaving at 1 and 2 pm, so you are good! Just get to the bus stop at the 7-11 a little early to buy a ticket.
2. Yes, also no problem. You can see the full schedule of buses from SML to Taichung here, last one departing SML at 7:25 p.m., then you can easily transfer to Taipei.
We just got to Sun Moon Lake this evening! We are staying at the Thao tribe village at the moment. Our plan is to explore the lake early in the morning. Then after that we don’t know what to do is best! We have a car and will need to return it in Kaohsiung on Sunday night.
I reckon the drive from here to Alishan is too hard! Do you know any hot spring place on the way from Sun Moon to Alishan?
We don’t mind to drive within the mountains!
Thanks so much!
Hi Carrie, I guess one day has passed, so you have probably made a plan by now. The road from Sun Moon Lake is fine but it is very winding. I’m not familiar with any major hot springs in that area, but there are definitely some remote ones, like Dong Bu Wenquan Scenic Area, which is a little ways off the SML-Alishan highway down another road. You could also considering going to Lugu area, Xitou Monster Village and Shanlinxi. The roads to those are not too bad. The temple destroyed by an earthquake described in this article is also pretty cool! One really cool hot spring that could be on your way to Kaohsiung is Guanziling mud hot spring. King’s Garden Resort has a great facility, where you can bathe in various pools or even rub some mud on your face! Another cool place to check out is Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields. Enjoy your trip!
Hi Nick – my partner and I are planning 2 days on Sun Moon Lake in December as part of our Taiwan travels. We’re travelling with our daughter who will be 14 months old. We’d like to hire bikes and cycle around the whole lake, do you know if it is easy enough to hire bikes with a child seat or trailer? Thanks a lot for all the great Taiwan resources!
I don’t know from personal experience, but after checking some Mandarin language blogs like this one:
I can see that the writer rented a bike with a young kids’ seat from 美利達愛騎自行車租賃店 (Merida bike rental shop) in Shuishe, the main village of Sun Moon Lake. Probably you can find something similar at other shops too, I would guess. I have used this kind of bike before in Taiwan; they aren’t super comfortable for the parent; you kind of have to ride with your legs open wide…But they are good enough for the kid. Good luck, and let me know if you find anything better!
Thanks for the informative guide! I’ve relied on your site heavily to plan my trip!
Just want to check if you know the closing hours of Ita Thao shopping street? Cant seem to find any information online
Thanks for your comments!
Ita Thao shopping street is like a day and night market. Some things are open all day, but dinner time and early evening is the busiest. There’s no set closing time, but I would guess that around 10 some things start closing, and probably it’s totally closed by around 11 or midnight.
Hope that helps!
We are traveling to Taiwan in October, a group of 6. is there Do you know is there a way to get from Sun Moon Lake to taroko park directly? To take a train you have to go back to Taipei and down again. We are wondering if we could hire a driver? Or is there another way to get there more directly that you know of?
Yes, highway 12 travels from Sun Moon Lake to Taroko Gorge, taking about 4 hours to reach the top of the gorge, and five hours to reach Taiwan.
Travelers don’t often take the route because it is an extremely winding, high mountain route, including the highest pass in all of Taiwan. If you have any passengers prone to car sickness, I wouldn’t recommend it. I don’t know of any transfer service that covers the whole drive, but you could consider this one from SML to Qingjing Farm, and stay at Qingjing for a night to break up your journey. Just copy past this link: https://bit.ly/2vBw331
Then from Qingjing to Taroko Gorge, there’s this transfer service: https://bit.ly/39mZ8Or
Another option is that you could simply rent a vehicle in Taichung and do it all yourself: https://bit.ly/2PJRUfF
One problem is that these cars all seem to be not large enough for your group, so in the end, going back via Taipei may be your only reasonable option.
To do it in the fastest way possible:
– bus from SML to Taichung HSR station (90 min)
– HSR Taichung to Taipei (1 hour)
– Taroko Express train to Hualien (2 hours), need to reserve 2 weeks in advance because it always sells out.
Hope this helps!
Hi Nick – really enjoying all your Taiwan trips. Using it to plan our trip in April/May (hopefully, depending on COVID restrictions!) with our baby and toddler 🙂 I was wondering if you knew of any company in Taiwan where we could rent baby equipment? I have read that travel cots aren’t super common in hotels/airbnbs and we would need 2…I wouldn’t really want to bring this from the UK so thinking of trying to rent 2 in Taipei where we will pick up a car or whether it’s not really possible. Thanks!
Hi Natasha, there aren’t really any covid restrictions left, so that shouldn’t stop you. Currently the only rule is your family needs to stay in private room with private bathroom (i.e. no hostel dorms or rooms with shared bathroom in hallway) for first 8 nights. Also, masks need to be worn in public indoors places, with exceptions made for babies. The mask rule is supposed to change soon, too. That’s it! As for the cot, I’m afraid I’ve never heard of a place that rents them out in Taiwan. I’ve done something interesting DIY setups in hotels before though when my kids were babies, like blankets or small mattress on the floor that move furniture around to create barriers. Not ideal, but I did do it LOL We also used to sometimes just bring our cot from home, but it was so heavy. Some higher end hotels should provide them, but unfortunately mid range and low budget hotels mostly not. Sorry I can’t help more on that!
Was Sun Moon Lake permanently affected by the drought in 2021? Have water levels recovered, and is it still worth going in 2023?
It varies by year/season and amount of rain. Currently, it is a little low, but not as bad as the drought in 2021. For example, the Nine Frogs Stack is usually surrounded by water. But if you look at the most recent reviews and pictures on GoogleMaps, you will see that it is mud around it right now. It’s still worth visiting the lake though because there are many things to see and do around the lake. It’s very popular and busy though, especially weekends and holidays.