Taiwan – Sun Moon Lake Ci-En Pagoda, Xuanguang and Wenwu Temple

Xuanguang Pier at Sun Moon Lake

This was our last day in Sun Moon Lake and we had to catch the afternoon HSR back to Taipei. Our plan for this day was simple – try to explore as much of Sun Moon Lake as possible on bus. Sounds rather crazy but we did manage to visit the 3 main attractions. Using the map below as a reference, we took the first bus (9am) to the furthest end at Xuanguang temple (玄光寺) and then made our way back (slowly) to the Visitor’s Centre. The bus goes in clockwise direction from the Visitor Centre (水社遊客中心) to 玄光寺, where it will make a U-turn back. You can refer to this post for more information on the bus route and schedule.

Map of Sun Moon Lake

Have you heard / read about the famous novel “Journey to the West” (西遊記)? That novel was inspired by the real-life story of Master Xuanzang (玄奘大師), who spent an amazing seventeen year journey from China to India, with the aim of bringing back the original holy Buddhist scriptures. He accomplished his goal and successfully translated more than 600 Buddhist scriptures into Chinese; making a significant contribution to Buddhism in China. Xuanguang temple is the place where Master Xuanzang’s  bone piece was placed and enshrined.

Group photo at THE landmark

There are actually many stones with the carving “日月潭” throughout Sun Moon Lake. So why is it so “important” to take a photo at this particular one which is located right outside Xuanguang Temple? The reason, as I was told, is quite lame … Some years back, some tourists actually fought while waiting to take a photo here and thus it became famous and also a must-do when you are here. True enough, this is the only stone carving in Sun Moon Lake where you have to queue to take a photo. 😉

Stone sculpture at Xuanguang Temple

The temple itself is not very grand but even if you are not a buddhist, Xuanguang temple is still worth a visit for the bird’s eye view of the lake and also for the best tea leaves egg (茶葉蛋) in Taiwan – 阿嬤香菇茶葉蛋 (Grandma’s Tea Leaves Egg). The stall is located just off the pier, at the foot of the temple. If I were to compare the size of the crowd at the temple and this stall, I can’t help it but to wonder if people come here for pilgrimage or the eggs. 😉

Ok, jokes aside. I really like the eggs and it was definitely worth the queue. Its aroma, its taste is ***umh!!!*** … you just got to try it out yourself.


Our next stop was Ci-En Pagoda (慈恩塔) – A 46 metres tall pagoda built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother in 1971. It takes a bit of walking uphill to reach the pagoda but it’s worth it. There are 2 sections. The first section is an uphill slope which we conquered in less than 10 minutes. Easy peasy.

Xuanzang Temple. Stop here and walk in the direction of Xuanguang Temple to get to Ci-En Pagoda

Start of the path to Ci-En Pagoda

After the slope, you will come to a flight of stairs. This is the second section and it’s tougher than the first. There are some benches here by the way. My uncle and aunty decided to take a rest here while we continued with our hike.

Beginning of the 570m stairs to Ci-En Pagoda

Have a break, take a photo

Finally, we reached the top

Making our way down

Our next stop – Wenwu Temple (文武廟). In Chinese, 文武 means learned and valiant. Hence this temple is devoted to the four Gods / Saints; namely First Ancestor Kaiji and the God of Literature, Guan Gong (the God of War), Yue Fei (the warrior-god) and Confucius. Besides the various halls where followers can give their offerings to the Gods, there is also an interesting flight of stairs that lead all the way to the pier below. There are a total of 366 steps covering the 150-meter distance, and each step is engraved with information related to the 24 solar periods. Due to time constraint, we didn’t try these steps. But I believe it should be an interesting trail.

Wenwu Temple

Incense

After Wenwu temple, we had to rush back to catch the HSR back to Taipei, where we had a sumptuous dinner at Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), which is my next post. 😉

Useful Information – 阿嬤香菇茶葉蛋 (Grandma’s Tea Leaves Egg):

Opening Hours:

  • 05:00-21:00 daily (Disclaimer: I didn’t verify if it really opens at 5am … )

Directions:

  • If you are going by ferry, stop at Xuanguang Pier and there is only one stall at the entrance of the pier, foot of the stairways to Xuanguang temple.
  • If you are going by bus, stop at Xuangang bus stop and take the flight of stairs down to the pier.

Useful Information – 慈恩塔 (Ci-en Pagoda):

Opening Hours:

  • 09:00 – 18:00 hrs daily

Directions:

  • Stop at Xuanzang bus stop and walk a short distance in the direction of Xuanguang temple. You will see a sign on the left that points to a path to Ci-En Pagoda. Follow that path all the way to the pagoda.

Useful Information – 文武廟 (Wen Wu Temple):

Opening Hours:

  • 24 hours (Use the side entrance after 20:00hrs)

Directions:

  • Stop at Wenwu Temple bus stop

<< Previous | Our Itinerary | Next >>

Advertisements

Taiwan – Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村)

Ita Thao Pier

We started the day early as we knew time was not on our side; it was winter (December), days were short and public transportation was practically non-existent after 6pm. We had one day to spend at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村) and the kids were looking forward to a fun day at the amusement park. As expected, there were no complaints when we woke them up early to catch the first ferry from Shuishe Pier (水社碼頭) to Ita Thao Pier (伊達紹碼頭).

Our ferry ride

A fishing boat in Sun Moon Lake

As far as I know, there are two ways to get to the culture village. You can either drive up the mountains or take a cable car from Ita Thao. We chose the latter as we didn’t have a car. The cable car station is about 10 minutes of leisure walk from Ita Thao pier, including a scenic broadwalk that skirts around the lake.

That’s the cable car station at the far end

A closer look at the cable car station

Even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirit

Into the cloud

As you can see from the map below, the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village is really a huge place. The cable car from Ita Thao will bring you to the top half of the village, where the cultural show and artifacts are. From the entrance, you can either take a foot path to the lower half to the amusement rides, or take an internal cable car ride. The admission cost includes the internal cable car ride, but not the one from Ita Thao.

Since we were new to the place (and thus didn’t know where to start), we instinctively followed the local Taiwanese students who immediately zoomed into the internal cable car station to the lower half. I am glad we did that cos shortly after we reached the base, it started pouring and we had to take shelter in the Aladdin Plaza (an indoor amusement park). Well, at least there were enough rides / activities to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours while we waited for the rain to stop. 😉

Our first game – Whack a mole

Finally, the rain stopped and we got to explore the other places

We barely had enough time to explore the place and it was almost time to go. It’s not going to be funny if we miss the last ferry. ;(

Since we took the internal cable car when we arrived, we decided to take the footpath back to the main cable car station instead. The walk up the slope was not as bad as I had expected. I think we took about 45 minutes of strolling, with some rest stops. You will see some souvenir shops, handicraft workshops and of course the cultural show performance along the way. We were lucky to catch the last few minutes of cultural show before we bid farewell to the village.

The cultural show

Click on the Map of Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village to see a bigger map

Our original plan was to spend some time shopping at Ita Thao after Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village. But the rain caused some delay and we didn’t have much time to walk around the area as we had to catch the last ferry back to Shuishe Pier at 6pm. It was rather unfortunate that the sky had to open up on this day; a day that the kids were very much looking forward to. We didn’t really explore the park, I must say. But I am glad the kids did have some fun at the Aladdin Plaza.

Along the way back to the pier, we spotted some food stalls (what else? ) and everyone bought a wild boar (山猪) sausage each. Me? I had my favourite tea-leaves egg. 😉

The kids’ favourite taiwan sausage

Shortly after we departed Ita Thao Pier, something interesting (or rather scary) happened. The ferry that we took suddenly slowed down to a crawling speed as there was a change in weather that resulted in a transient thick fog. The visibility was barely 2 metres and according to the captain, this phenomenon happens about twice a year and it’s not predictable. So what was supposed to be a short 30 minutes ride turned out to be more than 1 hour but at least we reached our hotel safely. 😉

A sudden thick fog on our way back to Shuishe Pier

Useful Information – Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village:

Opening Hours:

  • Village 09:00-17:00 hrs daily
  • Cable car (weekdays) 10:30-16:00 hrs
  • Cable car (weekends) 10:00-16:30 hrs

Directions:

  • Take ferry to Ita Thao Pier and follow the signage to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. The general direction is towards your left once you left the pier.
  • Alternatively, you can take the Round-the-lake bus and alight at Cable Car station stop (纜車站)

<< Previous | Our Itinerary | Next >>

Taiwan – Sun Moon Lake Harbor Resort Hotel (碼頭休閒飯店水社码头)

View from my room at Harbour Resort

After two wonderful nights at Jiufen, we were ready for our next destination – Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). Again, we relied on public transportation. Public transportation in Taiwan is typically a hub-and-spoke model where the main cities / towns are connected via trains (i.e. hub) and local buses are available from the train station to bring you to your final destination (i.e. spoke). In other words, it’s usually a two-step process if you are crossing over to another town. Hence from Jiufen, we had to take a train from Ruifang to Taipei and changed onto a HSR (High Speed Rail) to Taichung, and then followed by a Nantou bus directly to Sun Moon Lake. We took an additional step of HSR, instead of train all the way, so as to cut short the traveling time. The good news is that all the inter-connecting rides are housed under the same roof, i.e, we didn’t have to leave the station in order to catch another train or bus. Even at Taichung HSR station, we just had to follow the signage and it led us to the Nantou Bus (南投客運) terminal, which is located at the basement of the HSR station.

The HSR ride was comfortable and seats were spacious. Thumbs up!

Despite the high speed, the ride was very smooth.

Bus Schedule

The Nantou bus schedule on the left is obtained from the bus company on 8 December 2011 and do note that it may have changed by the time you were reading this. (You can get the latest from the link at the end of this post.) Nevertheless, you can see that the buses depart TaiChung HSR station quite regularly and for your convenience, I have also highlighted the timing for TaiChung HSR station in yellow. 😉

Now, I can’t recall the exact fare but I believe it was about NT$180 per person per trip. At our time of travel, the ticketing office at the bus station was also selling a combo value pass, which included admission to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村), cable car ride, ferry ride, all day pass for the round-lake bus and some other stuff such as free ice-cream and postcards. Since we planned to do most of the activities anyway, buying the combo pass was a no-brainer. However, if you are not going to do everything, then do your homework (i.e. check out the prices for the various activities) and math and decide if the combo is cheaper for you. I am not sure if this combo pass is available by the time you are reading this but there’s no harm in checking with the ticketing office at the bus terminal.

The bus journey was about 1.5 hours and it was late in the evening by the time I reached Sun Moon Lake. Knowing that public transportation is a problem after 6pm, I deliberately chose a hotel that is close to the Visitor’s Centre, i.e. where the bus stops. There are quite a few choices available actually and we finally decided on Harbour Resort (碼頭休閒飯店水社码头) for its lake view and proximity to the Visitor’s Centre.

Location-wise, this hotel would have scored easily a four-out-of-five stars. It’s right besides Shui She Harbour (水社码头) and just 5 minutes walk from the Visitor’s Centre (where the bus stop is). So regardless of which transport mode (cruise or bus), it’s very convenient. It’s also useful for you to know that Sun Moon Lake area is also very quiet at night and there isn’t much that one can do. Luckily for us, there are a few shops and restaurants in the vicinity of the hotel; not a lot but good enough.

Shopping area around the Visitor Centre

Below are some photos of the shopping area around the hotel and the restaurant (below right) just beside the hotel serves very nice dinner. A boatman recommended it to us on our second day and it was indeed very good.

We also tried the restaurant below (right) on our first night but we didn’t really like the food. Sun Moon Lake is famous for “President Fish” (總統魚) and almost every restaurant would serve this dish. Try it if you haven’t cos that’s probably the last time you will (ever) order one again. LOL.

The famous President Fish – Too much bones for me

Below are some of the dishes we had at the restaurants for your reference. My advice is to avoid the “President Fish” as it has too much tiny bones. We also didn’t like the way the chicken was prepared. It was served cold and more importantly, the meat was too tough for chewing. The deep fried shrimps was nice but it was too salty for some of us. Anyway, I shall let the photos do the talking …

樹子總統魚 – Be careful of the tiny bones

油悶玉筍 – This is not bad

白斬油雞 – This is horrible; too tough and cold

鹹酥潭蝦 – This is tasty

邵族碳烤肉 – Wild boar meat. Also very tough.

靈芝養身湯 – Horrible !

View-wise, I think we got a very good room with a good view of the lake. There are different room types available and we chose the one with lake view as I was prepared to shoot sunrise from the balcony of my room. But unfortunately, the weather wasn’t kind to me and it was too foggy.

Everything else about Harbour Resort was perfect, except for its breakfast. Although we stayed in this hotel for 2 nights, the breakfast was always the same –  porridge. I suspect the menu doesn’t change at all …

Oh yes, there is also a water fountain light show at the harbour and I believe it runs twice a night, on the hour mark. Don’t expect too much from the (free) show though.

Harbour Resort from outside. It’s the leftmost building with semi-circular balcony.

Our room

The toilet. Notice that there wasn’t any shower screen? So guess what happens after each bath?

View from my room

Fog, fog, fog …

Here are the views of the harbour at night, including the water fountain light show, which is just at the pier.

The water fountain light show

Night View of the Hotel

Shui She Pier at Night

This is the only group photo for this trip, I think. 😉

My “sunrise” … turned out to be a lighthouse instead. LOL.

Useful Information – General:

<< Previous | Our Itinerary | Next >>

Taiwan – Transportation in Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake

Taxis are very limited in Sun Moon Lake area; so limited that I didn’t even see any during my two nights stay. Having said this, I don’t think that affected my mobility even though we didn’t have a car and were traveling in a big group (4 adults, 2 children and 2 seniors). There are basically 4 main transportation modes in the area; the first and probably most obvious one is to self drive. This has always been my preferred mode of transportation for my holidays. However for this trip, we relied solely on public transportation and it had served us well. Sun Moon Lake was no exception.

On our first day, we arrived late and thus we spent the night walking around the vicinity of the hotel. On the second day, our plan was to spend the whole day at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村), which is located on the opposite side of the lake. In this case, it’s faster and easier to take the cruise across the lake from our hotel (碼頭休閒飯店水社码头) to Ita Thao (伊達邵). There are four piers that you can board the ferry – Shuishe Pier (水社碼頭), Ita Thao Pier (伊達紹碼頭), Xuanguang Pier (玄光碼頭) and Chaowu Pier (朝霧碼頭). For some reasons, I don’t recall the ferry stopping by Chaowu Pier and you may want to confirm on this if you are planning to use this Pier. Ticketing booths are available at the piers.

Shuishe Pier (水社碼頭)

Xuanguang Pier (玄光碼頭)

Ita Thao Pier (伊達邵)

The ferry

On the third day, we decided to take the round-the-lake bus to visit the various attractions around the lake. Though it’s not as convenient as self-driving, I actually quite enjoyed it. Firstly, I don’t have to worry about parking. Secondly, the buses are quite frequent (see the time table below) and with proper planning, I could visit most of the key attractions in half a day. You can either buy a full day pass at NT$80 or use the easycard for single trip payment; either way, it’s convenient and affordable.

Round-the-lake bus

Round-the-lake bus schedule FROM Visitor Centre (Highlighted ones are for weekends and holidays only)

Round-the-lake bus schedule TO Visitor Centre (Highlighted ones are for weekends and holidays only)

Map of Sun Moon Lake

If you are adventurous enough, you can also try to the fourth method of transportation – cycling. Since I didn’t do this, I can’t share any personal experience. But just to set the expectations right, the route around the lake is not going to be easy. I saw some cyclists on the undulating terrain and some parts of the roads were actually quite dangerous as the bicycles and motor vehicles had to share the common narrow road. Whichever mode of transportation you choose, please be safe. 😉

Useful Information – General:

Fares:

  • Round-the-lake bus (NT$21 per stop or NT$80 per day)
  • Sun Moon Lake ferry (NT$300 per trip)

<<  Back to our Itinerary >>