A favorite of Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan, a man-made lake 50 mi/80 km southeast of Taichung, sits 2,500 ft/760 m above sea level near the center of Taiwan.
Though it's beautiful, don't go to Sun Moon Lake for peace and quiet: It's by far the Republic's most popular tourist destination (especially for honeymooners and wealthy Taiwanese who built lavish vacation homes there). At times, such as Chinese New Year, it is more crowded than attractions in Taipei.
You'll enjoy the drive to Sun Moon Lake. The spectacular jungle scenery on the way there gives new meaning to the word lush.
A disastrous earthquake struck the area during the early hours of 21 September 1999. More than 2,000 people lost their lives, many buildings were destroyed and the lake actually changed shape because of the tremendous forces. The shrine in the center of the lake sank by 5 ft/2 m.
Everything is back to normal, however. The buildings have been replaced by stronger structures (able to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake), and the damage to surrounding temples was repaired. The island in the center of the lake is now surrounded by pontoons.
Though the lake can be seen as a day-trip from Taichung, plan to overnight so you can begin your day with an early-morning stroll along the shoreline road. Expensive but worth the indulgence are the rooms at Chiang Kai-shek's former country retreat, now an upscale boutique-hotel. The lake is surrounded by pagodas and temples, including Huang-Tsang Temple and the Wen Wu Temple. Wen Wu is particularly nice—it has ornate architecture and unimpeded views of the lake.
Tours of the lake are by motorboat and usually include stops at an aboriginal village. This tour is quite commercialized, but if dressing up in traditional clothes and taking photos is your thing, you'll enjoy it, and it is free. There is a hard sell later on for the local produce. If you're staying at Sun Moon Lake, you can take day trips to Taichung or to the ancient city of Tainan.
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