Sun Moon Lake: A Cultural Rollercoaster
Though the border was still closed in Taiwan, a national holiday was quickly approaching, and I’d be damned if I missed an opportunity to travel! There were still plenty of places in Taiwan itself that I was yet to see. The question was, where should we go? Jess and I ran through our options until we landed on the nation’s all-time favourite holiday hotspot and one of the country’s biggest highlights, Sun Moon Lake.
Running to the Mountains
First things first, we had to head out of Taipei and travel right to the center of the country in the middle of the pristine untouched mountains. We caught a high-speed train to Taichung before transferring onto a bus that led through the forest covered hills of central Taiwan. Before too long we were welcomed with the site of the lake’s shimmering surface before we were dropped off at the main port. Our hotel was on the other side of the monstrous lake. We could have taken a bus, but there were a few things along the lakes edge that we wanted to see, so we had some walking to do.
We May Have Made a Mistake
Seeing as we only had a limited amount of time, we had to make the most of it and thus we wanted to see a large portion of it on foot. We started off in high spirits looking back across the lake in wonderment and taking photos every 10 feet as we went along. With every inch the scenery and awe-inspiring aspect of the lake kept evolving.
A well-built walkway that led around the lake made it a very easy trek, until it suddenly stopped. It seemed to be under construction, though we couldn’t see any going on. Well fuck, what now? We had no choice but to head back onto the road as it ascended steeply up the hillsides. At this point Jess was pissed that I’d insisted on not taking the bus, maybe we should have…
Another Day, Another Temple
Most of the attractions in the area are gathered around the edge of Sun Moon Lake. Arguably one of the best is Wenwu Temple, which can be seen from almost anywhere along the water. Placed on the peak of a hill, it makes for a spectacular view across the entire area.
The temple itself was an extraordinary illusion. Though it looked big from a distance, once within its halls it kept expanding the deeper you delved into it. One shrine led to another, to an area more grandly decorated than the next. A series of elaborately designed steps led to each of the halls and higher up the mountain it was placed upon.
I’ve been to a countless number of temples, yet this one had some incredibly unique features! Some things I’d never seen in a temple before, one of which was a new way of receiving fortunes. It was a small machine which clearly had some age to it, with a figure of a girl with her arms out as if she’s presenting something. When you inserted a coin, the girl would turn around and disappear through a doorway, only to return with a fortune paper in her hands which she would drop at the end.
That wasn’t even the weirdest part! One hall dedicated to the god of love also came with a touch screen fortune teller. Just pray, press the button and your fortune got printed out for you. I guess prayers come in digital now.
Back on the Road
It was getting late, and we still had another 4kms to go, so time to shift gears. Our progress was suddenly halted when a family on their bikes came past and said a group of aggressive monkeys were blocking the way. I was curious to get a closer look, Jess was not. So reluctantly, we re-joined the highway and detoured off the path.
We had hopes of hitting another famous attraction but by that time the sun was setting faster than we thought and the long trek had worn us out. I finally caved and admitted that taking a bus would be the best choice. Lucky we chose to at that time, as it was the last one of the day.
Reaching Ita Thao
We arrived at Thao Village, the most popular tourist spot around Sun Moon Lake and where our hotel was for the night. By now we were drained and had nothing else planned apart from wandering through the local night market to sample some local dishes. One of the benefits of my having a Taiwanese girlfriend is having an incredibly well-informed guide that understands every aspect of Taiwanese life. This becomes particularly true in a night market where she very helpfully explains what the local delicacies were, the must tries and the history of what I’m looking at.
Visiting the Taiwan Indigenous Culture Park
The next morning, we were headed to the biggest highlight in Sun Moon Lake which attracts people from all across the country. It also happens to be utterly strange in the best of ways, and as far as I know there’s nothing else like it. It was a combination of a theme park and a cultural museum. One half had your more typical roller coasters and adrenaline pumping rides, where the other half was dedicated to teaching and exhibiting the cultures of the several aboriginal cultures that call Taiwan home. Pretty unique!
The theme park section wasn’t anything too out the ordinary, with just a couple of rides across the spectrum. Having spent school trips at Alton Towers as a child back in the UK, it didn’t really compare. Despite that there was just enough to get the heart racing, though that wasn’t what I was most looking forward to. Some aspects were very peculiar, such as a section of the park named “The Spanish Coast”. This was a waterpark with some Spanish themed buildings, such as a replica of a Spanish cathedral with a rubber ride going through it.
However, that wasn’t what I was most looking forward to. I was curious how an adrenaline pumping roller coaster park could be balanced with a deeply cultural experience. Each little “village” was dedicated to one of the 12 aboriginal tribes that inhabited various regions across the country. They included tribal homes and structures which were built to resemble them as accurately as possible, as well being filled with items that would have been used. The staff members and figures that surrounded the particular tribe’s village would also be dressed in native clothing.
Each village also had a specific activity that would have been related to general tribal life. They included archery and using blowpipes, both of which I was incredibly keen to try out. There was also a lady that provided tribal tattoos. I looked forward to add to my collection. Jess on the other hand wanted to be more like me and was curious how her first one would look.
Cheesy and Cheerful
One of the park’s main attractions was park also hosted a regular show. To be honest it was never really my kind of thing. I’m not into the “How are you all doing today? Everyone clap your hands” bullshit as everyone’s singing and dancing. However, this was a little different.
The show briefly showed different aspects of each aboriginal tribes, such as traditional dances and rituals whilst they were singing traditional tribal songs. Each member would also be dressed in the particular tribe’s clothing. A helpful banner above them would also explain a bit more details to each tribes’ particular customs.
Seeing the Frogs
By the time we left the park it was already late, but there was one more site to hit. Although its not the most min-blowing or awe-inspiring attraction you’d ever see, it was one of the most notable attractions that surrounded Sun Moon Lake, so it couldn’t be missed.
We hopped on a bus and walked through more monkey infested forests down towards the edge of the lake. We finally reached what we had come to see, a stack of 9 frogs which got smaller towards the top. It was right in the middle of the lake and partly submerged, so only about 4 frogs were poking out of the smooth surface of the water. The locals believe that it was an effective indicator of the country’s water levels and whether the nation would be facing a drought throughout the winter.
Getting on the Lake
Up an early, and there was still one thing left to do. Seeing as we’d come to the nationally famous Sun Moon Lake, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to travel across it. A staggering number of tour boats would take visitors to a number of ports across the harbor. Luckily, we already had a ticket.
As we had some time to kill, we decided to see a nearby temple close to one of the ports. The site was also nationally famous for one particular treat which appears to be a favourite of Taiwanese, tea eggs. When you visit any convenience store in Taiwan, along with the usual snacks you expect to find, there is always a pot filled to the brim with eggs soaking in tea. The temple was home to a stall named “Old woman’s eggs” which was previously called “the beautiful girl’s eggs” however after a number of years in business, the girl had aged. Its so famous that the ferry driver claimed that on a busy day they’d sell 10,000 eggs.
On Last Point to Hit
Back on the ferry and one last temple to visit. As we were travelling as a couple, why not visit the temple of love. Longfeng Temple is a popular site for single people, as its where people come to pray for love. Helpful guides were there directing exactly how to pray, and informed us that if you were already in a couple, that you shouldn’t pray for anything. However, couples were encouraged to leave gifts at the shrine as a thank you for finding love.
I also had the cutest little interaction as I practiced my child-level Chinese with a little girl who took an interest to me.
“Hello little friend”
“Wow, how many earrings do you have?”
“I have four.”
“Wow, did they hurt?”
“A little bit, do you like them?
“Too much! I have a ring too!” she said as she spotted the one on my finger and showed me her heart shaped plastic ring.
“It’s so pretty, it’s prettier than mine!”
An adorable little end to my adorable little weekend.