Monday, November 5, 2018

SUN MOON LAKE, TAIWAN: Hiking, Temples, and the Beauty of Nature

View from Longfeng Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
On our recent trip to Taiwan, our last night was spent at Sun Moon Lake, located in the mountains about two hours from the coastal city of Taichung. This beautiful alpine lake (altitude 2,545 feet) is surrounded by thick green forest and majestic mountains. It is part of a National Scenic Area and a popular vacation spot.
 Sun Moon Lake. Ci'en Pagoda, on a hill overlooking the lake, was built by late President Chiang Kai-shek in 1971 in memory of his mother.
We traveled to Sun Moon Lake by taxi from Taichung, passing through a series of long tunnels as we climbed from the level plain along Taiwan's west coast through the hills and valleys in the center of the island. (Taiwan is a long island, with a line of steep mountains down the center as its spine.)
View of the lake and bikeway from our seventh floor room at the Sun Moon Lake Hotel.

Street light along the coast road in Sun Moon Lake. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name.
After checking into our hotel, we took a walk along the bikeway/walkway.

Reflector on the walkway around the lake
The 29 km scenic bikeway goes all around the lake and we were passed by people on bikes of all sorts–electric, tandem, and 10-speed with families carrying children in baby seats.  (We could have rented bikes at our hotel, but we preferred to walk.)
This bridge is popular for wedding photos.
Our destination was the new modern Xiangshan Visitor Center, which happened to have a bonsai show that week. The low, organically designed building blends harmoniously into the landscape and provides an overlook of the lake and is surrounded by broad reflecting pools enhancing the view.
Bonsai plant in front of the Xiangshan Visitor Center
The Visitor Center also has a small museum with exhibits about the Bunun culture, the local indigenous people. Living on both sides of the Central Mountain Range, Bunun people were known to be one of the “high-mountain tribes.” Singing and dancing are an important part of the Bunun culture. Pestle music is performed by a number of people wielding wooden pestles and involves the rhythmic pounding of the pestles against stone slabs.
Traditional Bunun clothing
The next morning, before we left, we walked to LongfengTemple close to our hotel. At sunset the evening before and at sunrise we had listened to the temple bell ring and echo over the water.
Longfeng Temple
At this temple and the one we visited earlier in our visit to Taiwan in Sanxia, (near Taipei) every single surface was decorated with dragons, birds, animals, people, flowers and more. It was hard to stop taking pictures.
Bird and plant decorations at Longfeng Temple
We then took a short hike on the trail leading to Mount Maolin and the Tea Research and Extension Station.
Tea plantation. With similar latitude and growing conditions to India's Assam tea farms, the area around Sun Moon Lake has become the main base for the cultivation of Assam tea in Taiwan.
We had brought our binoculars, but we saw surprisingly few birds considering the lush forest all around the lake. However, we did see a lot of butterflies. (Taiwan is famous for its wealth of tropical butterflies, once collected and exported by the ton. Now they are protected as a natural resource.)
Junonia orithya butterfly
Then it was time to leave. A taxi took us directly to the airport in Taipei for our flight back to Los Angeles. One day wasn’t really enough to fully explore Sun Moon Lake, but it gave us a taste of Taiwan’s rich natural beauty.

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