Traveling Around the Island
For a country about the size of the Netherlands and Switzerland, you might have a bigger ambition of touring it in a big circle in a couple of days. I’m not sure about the situation in the above-mentioned European nations. I’m confident, however, that traveling around the island nation of Taiwan is practically possible and popular among the young and old, plus foreign visitors, on either bicycles, motorbikes, trains, or even “foot”!
I once traveled on my motor scooter with my wife for five days in 2010 and we’re still talking about it from time to time. The round-the-island trip can definitely bring lots of memories and is certainly one of the most ambitious achievements you can brag about someday in front of your grandchildren. Luckily now, with more and more luxury top-rated hotels, we are able to travel around the island in a more elegant way and in a much safer manner since the improved South-Link Highway and Suhua Highway were open to traffic just a few years ago.
5-Day Best of Taiwan Tour Package
If you plan to come to visit the “beautiful island” Formosa, a name given by Portuguese sailors more than four hundred years ago, and want to do something big, traveling around the island is only one click away from prestigious travel websites like Viator, Tripadvisor, Expedia, etc.
This tour package is in fact designed and offered by a long-standing Taiwanese travel agent Edison Travel Service, which has over thirty years of experience in the inbound travel business. The tour lasts for only five days, excluding the Greater Taipei area, and will be easier for most tourists to better organize their trips in Taiwan within a limited holiday period.
The award-winning round-the-island tour product is 5-Day Best of Taiwan: Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, Kaohsiung, Taitung, and is the longest multiday regular tour package the travel company provides. Simply from the product name, we can get a rough idea of where the tour goes and what the highlights of tourism in Taiwan are. Honestly speaking, if you often opt for in-depth tours in an exotic country, you may find this tour is not long enough to cover everything. If you have, however, never been to Taiwan before, it will be an excellent introductory tour package to know what Taiwan can offer while indulging yourself in ideally-located and star-rated hotels in major scenic spots of the island country.
The First Stop: Sun Moon Lake
Setting off to central Taiwan in the early morning on Mondays (it departs every Monday), passengers will be taken by a clean and luxurious tour bus in the capital Taipei with a bilingual tour guide. The drive in the morning might be a bit long, but you can probably take a nap from the previous night’s reveling events in Taipei.
Taiwan is a country comprised of more than 60 islands and Taiwan Proper alone has already a lot to offer with a variety of terrains and extreme altitudinal differences, ranging from tropical rainforest to alpine environments like Canada.
Due to the length of this tour, the highest point we can get to during the five days is Ci’en Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake. This iconic structure by the largest natural lake in Taiwan is undoubtedly one of my favorite tourist attractions around the lake.
Erected on top of the Green Dragon Mountain in 1971 from the order of ex-president Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother, the pagoda has a height of 46 meters above the ground on a 954-meter tall mountain right by the lake. If you get to the top of the memorial building, which has totally nine levels to denote the utmost respect for mothers, you’ll get to an elevation of exactly 1,000 meters above sea level! A gorgeous vista of the entire lake can be seen only from here and the soaring massive mountains on the other side are also breathtaking.
Local Delicacies at Ita Thao Aboriginal Village
Before the 20-minute hike to Ci’en Pagoda, guests will be first taken to Ita Thao village as soon as the tour bus arrives at the national scenic area of Sun Moon Lake. The arrival time at the lake after a long journey in the morning will be roughly midday. The very first visit to the biggest and the only indigenous village by the lake can guarantee a wide range of lunch options.
Along the main street, you’ll see both the 7-Eleven and FamilyMart, which are interestingly the best companions of foreign travelers. Most of the meal options are near these two convenience stores. For example, the highly rated one is the Rice Chicken Wing, which is a grilled chicken wing stuffed with seasoned rice. Its location is right by 7-Elenven and it’s especially delicious with a bit of chili sauce.
On the other side of 7-Eleven, there’s a vendor selling the so-called White Eel Stick, which is a flavored and roasted rice dough on a thin weed stick. This food looks just like a white eel and is mainly used to worship the ancestral spirits and pray for a good catch of fish in the lake in the tribal rituals.
Right across 7-Eleven, you can find a stall vending a type of slightly halved steamed roll stuffed with peanut powder, shredded pickled mustard cabbage, and braised pork belly garnished with some cilantro. In Taiwan, the locals call this common snack “guabao”, which is a term derived from Taiwanese Hokkien vernacular.
After sampling some of the good foods, don’t forget to go down the “old street” to the pier, which has a flight of stairs to the right into the lake water. Swimming in the lake is basically prohibited all year round except for a weekend near Mid-Autumn Festival – Swimming Carnival. Believe it or not, however, the crowdest moment in the national scenic area is related to this largest swimming event in Taiwan. If you join this event, you’ll have to swim from Morning Mist Pier to Ita Thao for three kilometers and the stairs I previously mentioned are used for the swimmers to come out of the water, not for mermaids!
Xuanzang Temple and Wenwu Temple
Also included today are two temples – one Buddhist and one related to folk religion. Known as Holy Monk Shrine in English, too, Xuanzang Temple is the second and now permanent place to house a holy relic given by the Japanese government in the 50s as a goodwill gesture.
Believed to be a piece of the skull from Master Xuanzang, who, a Tang Dynasty monk, lead his disciples to the west and brought back thousands of Buddhist scripts before translating all of them into the Chinese language. He plays a key role in the propagation of Buddhism in east Asia. For those who are not so religious, the viewing pavilion to the right of the temple court offers an excellent view over the lake and will perhaps be a good site for meditation.
Further north, a stately temple named Wenwu temple occupies a huge patch of the mountain slope and elegantly faces the longest axis of Sun Moon Lake. Unlike other temples, it has two main deities – the Warrior God and the God of Literature. What’s more, it’s especially a perfect site for sunset if you wrap up your trip here late during the day.
Xiangshan Visitor Center
Normally we go visit the western side of the lake the next morning. Right here, you’ll see a fair concrete structure resembling a pair of human arms from a bird’s eye view.
This avant-garde building is designed by a famous Japanese architect and serves as the headquarters of the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area with a small tourist center and art gallery. The addition of the infinity pool out to the edge of the structure gives you an impression that you’re right by the lake.
Lots of Instagram celebrities or Internet influencers alike make this scene as the background of their pictures after going through two pieces of the spectacular 34-meter-long prestressed ceiling in the middle of the outstanding construction.
Temples and pagodas usually have “business hours” like most shops and restaurants and we don’t normally go visit temples during the night unless there are festivals. The trail to the Ci’en Pagoda is open 24/7 like most convenience stores. Walking at night may not be practical and will be a bit spooky if there’s no moonlight. The outdoor space of the Xiangshan Visitor Center is 24/7, too, unless you want to get some brochures from the visitor center. If so, follow the “office hours”, please.
All are free of charge except for the luxurious hotels if you come alone.
How to get there?
I was talking about the packaged tour, so the tour bus and guide will take you to the above attractions with no hassle at all.
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
Sun Moon Lake is located at an elevation of around 750 meters above sea level and is surrounded by lush green hills and mountains. If you’re in Taiwan long enough, you will know that, in nature, it’s a lot easier to find shades because there are plenty of trees around you, e.g., on the trail to the Ci’en Pagoda. Temples and buildings alike offer shades, too. Sun Moon Lake is beautiful in every season, and the heat won’t kill right here in summer thanks a lot to its higher altitude.
When your visit happens to be around noon, better to go to the Ita Thao tribal village first. It has a higher level of “civilization” and various street foods and busy eateries and cafes will definitely satisfy all your needs. Besides, right across the lake, there’s another village named Shuishe, which is the transportation center of this scenic area. If your hotel happens to be in one of two villages, it won’t even be a problem to find dinner outside hotel. If your accommodation choice, however, is a high-end hotel, it’ll be very likely that the hotel is the only place you can find foods due to its isolated but beautiful location.
The first night accommodation of this tour package has a list of possible options depending on the season and availability of the hotels at Sun Moon Lake, especially so after COVID. No matter which hotel the group goes to, Edison Travel Service will certainly make sure the standards are equivalent and you can get the best out of Sun Moon Lake.