Getting To & Around Sun Moon Lake

CyclingThanks to the opening of Freeway 6, getting to Sun Moon Lake by car or bus has become much quicker. Those setting out from Taipei or Tainan can reach the lake before lunch without having to rush.

Neither conventional nor high-speed trains don’t stop anywhere near the lake, but many visitors like to do the first part of their journey by rail to save time — or for the sheer fun of it.

The nearest bullet train station is Taichung; from it, frequent buses head straight to Sun Moon Lake (travel time one and a half hours). Those who adore eccentric train journeys may prefer to take a conventional express to the little town of Ershui and there change onto the Jiji Branch Railway. This line (29.7 km or 18.5 miles in length) was built in 1920 to transport materials and machinery for hydroelectric plants into the interior, and to carry sugar and timber out to the lowlands. It’s an excellent way of enjoying bucolic views of Taiwan’s countryside, and a mode of getting around that’s in keeping with ‘slow travel’ ideals. From Shuili, the last stop but one on the branch railroad, buses cover the final leg of the journey to Shuishe at Sun Moon Lake.

If you have your own vehicle, or if you’ve arranged a private guided tour with Life of Taiwan, you of course have total flexibility. If both Sun Moon Lake and Taroko Gorge are on your itinerary, it makes sense to spend the better part of a day driving from one to the other via Taiwan’s highest road. Near Hehuanshan, where there’s occasional snowfall in winter, the highway crests at 3,275 m (10,745 ft) above sea level. If you make a stop on that stretch, be prepared for icy winds and excellent scenery.

Two wheels… or let somebody else do the navigating?

Cycling around Sun Moon Lake is an appealing option for outdoors-types. Not only is the landscape lovely at every turn, but with a total distance of around 33 km (21 miles), there’s more than enough time to explore sights along the way. Bikes of various kinds can be rented in Shuishe. Some homestays and hotels lend out bikes to their guests, or can help organise rentals.

There’s an excellent alternative to driving or riding a bike: The tourist-friendly bus no. 6669, which goes most of the way around the bus several times per day, stopping at all the major attractions. Jump on/jump off tickets valid for a whole day are a bargain (about GBP2 / US$3 per person) and before each stop a multilingual recorded announcement is made.

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