Cycling Around Taiwan's Idyllic Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake, a natural alpine lake located in central Taiwan’s Nantou County, is surrounded by high forest mountains with stunning landscapes. The lake—named because its eastern part is round like the sun and its western part is narrow and long like a crescent moon—has been voted year after year by local and foreign visitors, including those from mainland China, as one of Taiwan’s must-see tourist spots.
Statistics from the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration show that the number of visitors skyrocketed from 2.6 million in 2009 to 6.3 million in 2010, after the launch of a cable car service Dec. 28, 2009. The service became an instant hit as it offers a bird’s-eye view of the lake’s beauty in a relaxing 1.87-kilometer ride between the lake and the nearby Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village.
In 2011, the number of visitors declined slightly to 5.3 million. But the administrative office is confident that its efforts over the past few years in building a round-the-lake bikeway will soon spark another tourism boom, as hundreds and thousands of bicycle enthusiasts from around the world come flocking to the lake to indulge their passion for bicycling and soak in the beautiful local scenery.
The 30-kilometer cycling route, which winds up and down the hills along the lakeshore, was named one of the world’s 10 most breathtaking cycle paths by CNNGo, an online travel guide affiliated with U.S.-based CNN.
In a March 15 article, CNNGo noted that “the route around the largest lake in Taiwan is a three-hour ride, where visitors can enjoy lake scenery, experience Thao aboriginal culture and learn about the local ecology of Nantou County. If you arrive in early spring, you can even catch the cherry blossoms near this mirror-like lake.”
It added that the lake, with its “calm, turquoise water has inspired many ancient Chinese poets and painters, and has long been charming curious foreigners and visitors alike.”
Chang Jenn-chyan, director of the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration, told Taiwan Today April 6 that recognition by the well-known news channel will definitely help enhance the nation’s visibility in the world and attract more visitors to the scenic site.
“Biking is one of the best ways to enjoy Sun Moon Lake, as people can take a carefree ride and relish the beauty of the lake at their own pace,” Chang said.
According to Chang, the lake has different types of beauty depending on the season and time of day—the mist-laden water at dawn creates a sense of mystery, while the placid surface of the lake on a sunny day offers a clear reflection of the surrounding mountains.
Another reason to explore the lake by bike is that the route covers almost every scenic spot, Chang said. Starting from the Shuishe Visitor Center and moving in a clockwise direction, visitors can cycle to Wenwu Temple, Peacock Park and the Sun Moon Lake Cable Car before making a halfway stop at Ita Thao, an indigenous tribal village.
The second half of the biking route begins with an uphill ride to Xuanzang Temple and Cihen Pagoda before going down a slope to Xuanguang Temple, where visitors have a clear view of Sun Moon Lake’s Lalu Island. The last part of the journey brings cyclists to Toushe Dam, Xiangshang Visitor Center, Shuishe Dam and Yuexialaoren Temple before returning to Shuishe Visitor Center to wrap up the half-day lakeside ride.
Currently the round-the-lake biking trail makes up part of Provincial Highway No. 21 and No. 21A, Chang said, but the administration office is taking steps to transform the entire route into bicycle-only and has completed 60 percent of the trail with the rest scheduled to be finished over the next few years.
The director noted that another effort to promote the lake’s biking trail is the Sun Moon Lake Merida Cycling Activity, an annual event co-organized by his office and Taiwan-based Merida Industry Co., Ltd., one of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturers.
Held April 29, this year’s event attracted over 4,000 cyclists from Taiwan and around the world to take on one of three paths: a 9-kilometer family-friendly leisurely route, a 30-kilometer round-the-lake experience route, or a 60-kilometer self-challenge route, which connects the Sun Moon Lake area, Checheng, Shuili, Toushe and other sites.
Among the participants was Angela Hynn with Singapore’s Young Men’s Christian Association. The 33-year-old Irishwoman told Taiwan Today that she came for a leisure cycling vacation along with her YMCA co-workers.
“I’m really impressed by the lakeside biking trail, as it offers an amazing panoramic view of Sun Moon Lake,” Hynn said. “The lake is beautiful in many ways and really lives up to its reputation.”
Xiong Wen-cheng, leader of the Puli Chi Bike Cycling Club, said this is the fourth consecutive year his team has joined the Merida event and he found the Sun Moon Lake biking routes less challenging than other cycling races the 22-member group has taken part in.
Echoing Xiong’s remarks, Pan Yin-jie, one of the club members, said he came fully prepared. “The secret to completing the 60-kilometer race is to have the right attitude,” Pan said, wearing a pair of rock ‘n’ roll guitar-shaped sunglasses to show his high spirits. The 26-year-old finished 36 out of the 1,597 riders in the category at 2 hours, 6 minutes, 52 seconds.
There were others such as You Tong-rong, 46, and Wu Mei-fang, 44, who came for a different purpose. The couple, along with their youngest son, aged 15, joined the cycling club as a way to strengthen their family bonds. “My husband likes cycling so we followed suit and made it a common hobby,” Wu said.
Lu Mei-yun, Gu Yue-chang and Luo Chun-qiu, who are from Hsinchu City’s Genghis Khan Biking Club, said they saw the race as a self-challenge rather than a competition with others. Now middle-aged, they signed up for the 60-kilometer ride two months earlier so that they could do extra training in preparation for the event.
“I finished the loop at 4:48:41, a result that I’m satisfied with,” Lu said, adding that the balmy heat and breeze made it good for riding.
The event, in its eighth year, wrapped up at noon with great success.
(Source: Taiwan Today by Rachel Chan 06/09/2012)