Sun Moon Lake

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March 21st 2011
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 24.15, 120.68

Awoke before 7am, up and showered, breakfasted, checked out, and were ready to go by our 8:20am pick up. It was overcast and looked like rain – hot again. Our transport is a van, which we share with two other people. Our sightseeing began with a long, and, I have to admit, boring drive down Highway 3. It probably could be scenic, but, first, it's on a motorway, so there's not much to see beyond the walls of the road, and, second, it is so hazy today that we could barely make out the buildings in the foreground, much less the mountains in the background.

Our first stop was a rest area, where we managed to get some coffee. It was fairly elaborate – with a bandstand and lots of picnic tables. Must be ready to receive weekend travelers, but it was nearly empty when we were there. We didn't have long, but it was nice to stretch and have coffee.

Wine. In Puli, we stopped at the "brewery" for a tour of the rice-wine making facilities … or, rather, of the memory of the rice-wine making facilities. The entire factory was destroyed in the 1999 earthquake, but the government paid to build a museum and shop to attract tourists. The museum had bottles used by the brewery from across the ages, diagrams of the history and processes of wine-making, and completely unintelligible English signs. Most moving were the photographs from the earthquake, especially in light of recent events in Japan. Less moving, but more amusing, was the “room of feeling drunkenness”, which was basically a sloped floor, tilted perpendicular to your axis of movement. It didn't feel remotely like being drunk but just like walking sideways across a ramp. Maybe rice wine provides a different style of tipsiness.

All around the area, locals grow betel nut. The government is trying to eliminate betel nut chewing, but it is so much a part of indigenous culture that, even though few truly indigenous people remain, it has become integrated into the mainstream and so is hard to eradicate. Apparently, the main concern with the betel palm isn't so much its affects on humans but rather that it has shallow roots, and so does not hold back the topsoil in case of landslip. Since so much of the damage to the region, after the 1999 earthquake, was caused by landslide., replacing betel palm with a more tractable crop would be a good idea.

Lunch. Our guide had a place in mind for lunch. He told us that we were not required to eat here, but, clearly, he got a cut (which is fine). The Presidential Fish was the specialty, but it was sold by the ounce, and we weren't really interested in a fish full of tiny bones … but our guide could not quite understand that. I think he assumed we were going to order a menu, instead of a la carte … especially as the Presidential Fish was about $2 a bite. But the food we ordered was quite tasty, so we were perfectly happy with our selections. The art in the place was fun, too: half was indigenous tribal art (coconut husks turned into masks with beards) half was garden-gnome (a plump fairy in bee costume with a strawberry for a hat).

Temple. Our first stop on the road around the lake was Wenwu temple. The funniest thing about the temple was the fact that they had erected a cardboard temple false-front in the courtyard, thus covering the façade of the true temple. Apparently, there is some sort of celebration going on, and this established the platform. But it was very bizarre. We spent only about 30 minutes wandering around the temple, which was actually plenty of time. The temple is built in honor of two dudes; one had been a general but is now the patron saint of good business. From the top is a great view of the lake and surrounding countryside; behind the temple, they're building a new retaining wall, with lots of carved murals.

Monk's shrine. We stopped at the shrine of Xuanzang, a monk from the 7th Century Tang Dynasty, who traveled from China all through India; relic bones – left over from his cremation – are on display in golden stupa. The building itself wasn't much, but I loved the setting: black stone paths through white rock, planted with pine trees, all of which gave the shrine a very serene feel. There were also lovely views of the lake and the gondola to nowhere in the distance.

Pagoda. Our last stop around the lake was the pagoda, built in honor of Chiang Kai-Shek's mother. We had to climb 570 steps up to the base of the pagoda, then we climbed the nine stories to the very top. The view was fabulous from up there, but even better was the breeze.

Tea. So, of course, we had to go to the tea tasting room. We were given the usual 10 minute orientation to the production of the very finest quality tea (which is, naturally, what we were going to taste), then shuttled into a room where we were offered three different teas … or rather two teas, but one in hot and cold state. I was actually not that impressed with the tea … it was fine but not spectacular … and certainly not worth, to me, the very high price.

Long drive to hotel. It was actually just over an hour, but it felt longer. The city was lit beautifully from the distance … once into town, we drove down a couple of very long, wide boulevards, with hotels resembling casinos. Our hotel is as the end of the main happening area; we were given our room keys and gratefully went upstairs to rest briefly. Around 8pm, we finally decided we needed to go out to at least see the night market. The night market was fine … but most of the stalls were selling steamboat … and the road wasn't closed off, so it felt very dangerous to walk beside the stalls while scooters were barreling down. We wandered up and down a few times before deciding that we were exhausted, not terribly hungry, and just wanted a snack. So we had a snack at the snack bar at the hotel. Not very exotic, but we're barely awake.

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