Sun Moon Lake, Taichung Taiwan

Rise and shine – it’s another day in Taichung, Taiwan! Woke up at 7 so we could depart early from our hostel near Fengjia Market…but not without getting some breakfast! Since we stayed near a university, street stalls were crowded with students grabbing snacks and a quick brekkie.

20170214_085112-tileSimple but tasty! Sliced sausages, ham, omelette and cabbage for fibre.

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Two hour ride from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake – a popular tourist spot in central Taiwan. Greeted by the sight of red bananas!

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Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan and gets its name from its shape – apparently the east side resembles a sun while the west resembles a moon. I think it sounds romantic, like something out of a fairytale. 🙂 In the middle of the lake sits a small island called Lalu, considered sacred to the aboriginal Thao tribe who live around the area. Of course, there are local legends: Thao hunters discovered the lake while chasing a white deer through the mountains. They found the place beautiful and abundant with fish, so they settled there. There is a marble statue of a deer on the island.

Since the lake is so large (about 8km2), there are several piers, which brings visitors to the attractions, such as the Ci En Pagoda, the Wen Wu temple and the Syuanguang Temple, where we were headed.

20170214_111147-tileBoat ride. Water was a beautiful deep turquoise colour 🙂 The lake is 27m deep – not for a swim. They do have an annual swimming festival though, which attracts thousands of participants.

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Passing by Lalu island – it is tiny! 

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Alighting at the pier. Boats are frequent so don’t fret. 

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The temple and its grounds had a Shinto-esque feel: wooden shrines and archways, tall, overhanging bamboo plants and quiet, Zen-like paths. Easy to forget we were still in Taiwan and not some Buddhist temple in Kyoto.

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Tried herbal tea eggs from a stall here which was packed with tourists. They came piping hot in a plastic baggie; the aroma of tea leaves and herbs wafting into the air along with steam. Tea eggs are very popular in Taiwan and you’ll find them everywhere, from street stalls to 7-11 kiosks and restaurants. Usually made in a big vat, piled atop each other, the eggs need to be peeled (they flake off easily though) and taste absolutely delicious. The egg white turns brown from absorbing tea and herb essence, while the yolk inside takes on a creamy consistency.

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Path up to the temple. The weather was mild and perfect for a quiet stroll. There weren’t too many tourists during our visit. 🙂

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At the top of the hill is Syuanguang Temple, dedicated to the Tang-dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang whose travels to India to seek Buddhist scriptures inspired the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Built in 1955, the building houses part of his remains in the form of bone fragments.

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View from the top of the hill. In Chinese belief, this is perfect fengshui – water at the front, mountains at the back.

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A group of devotees/tourists chanting prayers with a monk over a hotpot (?) of herbs and tea.

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Took the boat to the next pier to grab lunch. That niche you see on the far side of the hill is a cable car leading to a theme park of sorts. We didn’t have enough time to check it out though.

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As it is with tourist attractions, there were a lot of shops and vendors selling local delicacies. We wandered around and after looking at the overinflated prices at ‘proper’ restaurants, decided to get snacks instead.

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The Taiwanese sweet sausage – you can’t escape it coz it’s literally sold everywhere, on every street corner and at every night market.

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20170214_130526-tileA very nice lady selling grilled pork ears fresh off the hotplate. They tasted kinda meh though.

Getting There 

If you’re travelling from Taipei, board a High Speed Rail train to Taichung HSR station (about an hour’s journey). Transfer to Nantou Bus at the station, directly to Sun Moon Lake.

Useful schedule here 

 

The Lake in the Mountains – Situ Patenggang, Bandung

With Mother Nature, nothing’s impossible.

You have places like the ‘Door to Hell’, a natural gas crater in Turkmenistan which  looks like a cavern into a fiery abyss; and The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, where the natural rock formations are so geometric they seem to be carved out of machinery.

So it’s not that surprising to find a lake in the mountains of Indonesia, at 1,600m above sea level! Welcome to Situ Patenggang, or the Lake of Love.

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Located at the foot of Mount Patuha, the lake and its surroundings offer breathtaking views of its exotic landscape. The still lake, broken only by ripples from the wind, looked like a giant mirror of deep sapphire blue.

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Visitors can rent motorized or paddle boats for a spin around the lake. There is a small island in the middle called Pulau Asmara or Passion Island. Legend has it that two lovers, Raden Indrajaya and Dewi Rengganis,  got separated for a long time. Their tears of grief became the waters of the lake, and they finally met again at a rock called Batu Cinta, or Love Stone. The story goes that lovers who visit the stone will have everlasting love. Aw…

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Paddling wasn’t our thing, so we took a stroll around the area. Tall, shady pine trees provided shade, while low shrubs and soft grass gave the place an almost European countryside look. It didn’t feel like we were in tropical Asia at all !

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There were many bamboo gazebos with leaf roofing scattered around the area, where visitors can just chill and soak in the sights. Some of the pathways are not paved and can be rocky, so kids and the elderly should watch their steps.

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A smaller lake next to the main lake. The gentle, sloping hills reminded me of the Lord of the Rings Hobbiton movie set !

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If you love nature, Situ Patenggang is a must visit while in Bandung. It’s a two-hour drive from the city, but worth the time especially if you’re coming back from Kawah Putih Volcano. It is best accessed by car, since public transport is a little unreliable in Bandung.

The entrance fees for foreigners is high, like 180,000IDR or something. Our driver was a lifesaver – he told us to ‘pretend to sleep’ while the car rolled up to the counter, and he told them we were from Jakarta (lol? coz many Indonesian Chinese Jakartans come here over the weekend). So we got the local rate !

Felt a little bad, but hey, whatever it takes to save money…

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Also not to be missed in the Ciwidey district around the lake are the beautiful tea plantations, which stretch on for miles as far as the eyes can see. Our guide explained that there were no ‘private tea companies’, so all these estates are owned and run by the government. Members of the public are free to walk down among the plants and take some amazing pictures.

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More of Bandung to come! 🙂