Friday, December 15, 2017
Day 2 - Sun Moon Lake
we could make a distant shorter
let's go, let's go
go directly from the sky to the sea
If We Want To - M.I.L.K.
Day 2 was spent in Sun Moon Lake. The lake which supposedly shapes like a sun in one side and a crescent moon on the other side. Before I left I happened to have a chat with Casryn about my trip to Taiwan and her very exciting trip next year. She told me she did a day trip to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung and for her it's already quite a tiring day so hearing me making that day trip from Taipei, she said it would be even more tiring. It's doable though, totally doable, you just need to plan well. By well, I mean the OCD me pored not just the train schedule, but the bus schedule between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake, the boat schedule, and also the round the lake bus. There's many information online about the boat schedule and this is the difficult one for me because I don't know which boat is valid with the Sun Moon Lake pass that I was going to get. The direction and timing of the boat played a big role in me succeeding my plan and I could only confirm it when we arrived. Eventually we did alright, but let's recap from the the top.
First step on getting to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei is to take the train to Taichung. There's normal train and there's high speed rail train. I didn't even bother to look up for the normal train. I booked the high speed rail train which will get us to Taichung in around 1 hour. As mentioned in the last post the booking system only opens 2-week in advanced. So I booked as soon as it opened. It's not difficult to get tickets for this train, but do book early because there's early bird discount on some of the trains. The to and from trains that I took were chosen because there's some discount on them when I booked them. It seems you can also use the MRT easy card to just go and take the train on the day, but you're not guaranteed a seat. I like things to be controlled and planned so making sure I get the train ticket is imperative. As mentioned in the previous post, I collected the ticket at Taipei Main station using the machine. It seems you can also collect it in places like 711, but I'm not sure if they charge you any handling fee. So anyway, arriving in Taipei Main Station, I found the gate, but I did ask the staff again to confirm. The ticket card is important to keep. There's no staff on the train who will check it, but that ticket card is needed to pass the entry and exit gate, so remember to keep it. Our train was at 07:11 AM and my car was quite full that morning. I wonder if people took this train to commute to work. It seems likely.
Arriving in Taichung station, I straight away went to exit 5 where there's a counter that sells Sun Moon Lake Pass. This is very convenient for me for the main reason that it provides transport to and from Sun Moon Lake. It also provides other things depending on what you choose. I chose the one with the bicycle pass, it costs 620 NTD / person. In addition to the bus transport, it also provides unlimited boat ride, unlimited ride on the round the lake bus, free bicycle rental, and 1 bus ride to Xiangshan. We didn't use the bus ride to Xiangshan. As for the bicycle rental, there are specific places where you can rent them from and these different places provide different free duration for the ride. The pass is worth getting because even if you only use the transport from and to Taichung, the boat, and the round the lake bus, the cost of the pass would have exceeded the cost if you buy all these tickets separately. Luckily there's not a long queue when I was getting the pass. I even had time to go to the toilet before queuing for the bus. I was a bit afraid that all of us would not be able to get on the bus and had to wait for the next one because there were already some people queuing. Taking the next bus would put my plan in disarray and I'm bad at improvising. Well maybe I'm good, but usually I don't snap out of a hiccup in a plan quickly. The good thing is that we all made it to the bus, I even got to sit on my own. The ride to the lake took around 1.5 hours. It made a stop at Puli station where I think there's tourist attraction nearby like the paper dome, but it's not visible from the road. I think one may need to take a taxi to get there from Puli station.
In Sun Moon Lake, the bus stops just opposite Shuishe visitor center. There's staff waiting by the bus stop to collect the boat coupon from the pass and exchange it with the paper ticket. She also pointed out the direction to the pier which was near, but not that near from the visitor center that I got uncertain and asked a person in a shop to confirm. We were going in the right direction alright. We arrived after 10 AM and needed to wait until 10:30 for the next boat. The staff at the pier collected the paper ticket and stamped our hands. Mom bought fruits to eat while we wait. She opted for papaya and I wanted persimmons. We finished those fruits quite quickly. Then it was on to the boat. It was actually a very short ride to the first stop, Xuanguang pier. I opted to sit outside and mom and dad inside. I took pictures of the lake and saw the small Lalu island which I thought is really interesting with its tree and grass, but it cannot be visited anymore.
I have read that there's a small temple in Xuanguang and a famous stall selling tea eggs. We went to the temple first which involved climbing up some stairs which I wondered if my parents could do. They did alright. One point during this trip mom did make a remark about how it seemed I underestimate their physical ability. I guess since we don't see each other often, we do have a hole in our knowledge about each other and fill them with assumption. Like that day, mom seemed to have forgotten (like she often does with many things) that I could ride a bicycle and was amazed when she saw me doing that. So anyway, the temple was small, but there were many tourists around. At the courtyard of the temple we have a view of the lake. We didn't explore much of the area and just quickly went down again. I wanted to buy the tea egg. Honestly I never had any good experience with tea egg here in Singapore which by the way is where I found out such things exist. I think I only ever had it 1 or 2 times in my life and they tasted weird for me. So I wasn't a fan and was not excited. Even after Casryn told me it was really good, I was still sceptical that I would like it. I bought it simply because I was curious. I just got 2 for 25 NTD from the auntie that started it all. Maybe she's nice, but she wasn't all smile when I bought the eggs. It's okay, old people have lived long enough to not have to be friendly and accomodating when they don't want too. At least that's how I reason with myself when I don't want to do stuff. Anyways, the eggs, they were really really good!!! So good that now I am actually curious to try more tea eggs, but I still understand that perhaps more often than not, I will be disappointed. I had 1 egg and mom and dad shared the other one. So good it was that I wanted to get more, but I realized I couldn't on account of too much eggs is bad. So anyways, we waited by the pier awhile before getting on the boat to the next / last stop, Itashao. Since the boat ride is short, we all decided to sit outside.
Itashao felt like a bigger village, maybe more comparable to Shuishe. With a lot of shops and such, it also feels like the most touristy. This is where there's also the Sun Moon Lake ropeway which I opted not to take. The ropeway brings you to some sort of a theme park. I just wasn't interested. I was also planning to take the Maokong gondola later on in Taipei, so I thought we skip this cable car ride. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I've just taken quite a number of cable cars ride in my life in many different places and so I've just lost interest on them now. Anyways it was some walk from the pier to the streets where there are many shops that sell snacks and such. The OCD me had a schedule and I was more concerned on getting lunch and I got rather annoyed when mom hesitated because any delay might screw up my schedule. She relented to my tantrum I guess and we chose a place to eat. Food wasn't great. Then we walked around the street a bit. The plan was then to take round the lake bus to Wenwu temple. Thinking that the bus stop was near the visitor center, we made our way back there only to find out from the staff that it's not. The bus stop is some distance away from the touristy streets. So we had to walk back again. We were in the right direction, but it still took me to ask 3 people before finding out where the bus stop really is. It's not well marked seriously. We confirmed it's correct after asking some tourists (I think they're Thais) who were waiting too. Bus was a bit late, but it's all good.
Wenwu temple is big and there were many tourists around. I had time allocated for this, but since it's so big, I wasn't sure we could complete exploring it within the time I allocated, so I was ready to just let my plan go if we were to take more time. The temple complex is built in a very interesting way. There are like levels in the complex and by levels don't imagine levels in a building. I'm having a hard time explaining this. There's stairs that you need to take to each level and the stairs go to an open area where there's a hall that houuse the Gods / Deities. At the very top, there's a big arching gate (again, not a very good description but picture below) with a sweeping view of the lake. There's also a lot of interesting stone carving at the the temples. The carving on the walls reminded me of the carving in Borobudur.
I have read about the Stairway to Heaven staircase near this temple, but I couldn't find it. I thought it would be easy enough to find so I didn't bother to research it, but there were no sign of it in the temple. After googling it just now, it seemed it's actually across the street from this temple. So we didn't do that and amazingly we made it within my planned time. My parents didn't feel rushed and they're okay about moving on. As mom said, if they took a tour, they'd most probably be given the same timing too. So we went back to the bus stop. It also helped that the bus came later than scheduled. This is really a good thing. The plan was to take the bus back to Shuishe instead of going back down to Itashao and taking the boat to Shuishe. Why I chose to do it this way is because it would be faster and would give me time to make use of that bicycle coupons.
In Shuishe we went to the Giant bicycle rental which has a big store. The coupons only entitled you to a certain kind of bicycle and in Giant bicycle rental the free time is 1 hour. Honestly I was ready to do this on my own. I wasn't sure that my parents would go for it. Upon looking at the bicycle, mom said she didn't want to do it, but surprisingly dad was game. So we did the paper work. They gave free water and 1 bicycle chain and lock just in case we wanted to park. The plan was to just to go to Xiangshan Visitor Center which is around 30 minutes one-way which means it's doable to go back in 1 hour. The internet told me that the distance is about 3.4 km one-way. You could also really circle the lake if you want to, I think Casryn cycled a longer distance than what I did. She mentioned that the path is a dedicated cycling lane, but when she was there there were many cyclist in both directions so it made her feel bad if she's slow. Lucky for me and dad, there's not many people that day. In fact most of the time, it's just us on the lane and I LOVE it that way. There's some places by the lane where you can stop and sit awhile. We stopped, but didn't sit. I just took picture. There's also a boardwalk in this route in which you have to walk your bicycle instead of riding it. There were many people in this section and we saw 2 couples doing pre-wedding photo shoot.
At Xiangshan Visitor Center we parked and explored the area a bit and used the toilet. There were more people here. There's an infinity pool and a cafe. The roof open area on the top reminded me of Marina Barrage here in Singapore.
Then we cycled a bit more to a look out point. I almost fell here because there were many people and somehow my bicycle didn't have a bell (or it did and I couldn't find it). So I had to say excuse me excuse me, but perhaps they didn't hear me or didn't understand English so there's a part where I had to really brake quite fast before hitting some older tourists. Didn't fall though, just scratched my finger and knocked my camera a bit. After this look out, we made our way back and I took some more pictures along the way. One thing I realized on this ride back is that there's no ducks or swans in this lake, which is quite weird when I think about it. By the way there's also no water sport in the lake and I don't think people can fish in there. It does make the lake seem more tranquil though.
We made it within the 1 hour so no extra cost incurred and mom was surprised that we're quite fast. I thought we were quite fast. It was really fun cycling and I'm glad I got to do this. After that I asked my parents if they still wanted to explore the area or just go back to Taichung station. Parents said, let's just go back. By the time we finished cycling, we didn't have to wait too long for the bus back to Taichung. It's good to plan your going back early especially if you already have train tickets at a certain timing. By the time we queued, there were already many people queuing and Casryn did mention that when she was there, many people were going back at the same time so the queue can be very long. If we couldn't make it on that bus, we still had enough time to take the next bus. So I wasn't worried. We made it though, but the bus was full and we had to sit separately. Mom and dad got to sit together so that's okay. By the time we arrived in Taichung, we actually still had time to squeeze a visit to Rainbow village by taxi if we wanted to. However being that it's winter in Taiwan and the sun set at around 5 PM, it was already getting darker so I thought it's not worth it. Instead we went for a leisurely early dinner at a Japanese restaurant and then walked around the station which has more things than Hualien airport and talked more about the family and stuff. Our train was at 06:36 PM and we arrived in Taipei at 07:39 PM. So a day trip to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei is totally possible :) For pictures, please go here
:) eKa @ 9:47:00 PM •