Taiwan Day 3 – Sun Moon Lake (1)

Shuwen’s mother had a day off, so we (Shuwen, her sister Jane, I) took her on a day trip to Sun Moon Lake. That’s a (very) popular tourist destination in Nantou County, and lets be honest… it shows. The discrepancy between the marketing material and reality couldn’t be bigger: the brochures show and speak of a tranquil, peaceful and serene place.

In reality, ugly and high-rising hotels seem to pop up everywhere along the lake’s coastline, in between are some dirty little shacks, litter is seaming the sides of the roads (littering appears to be a general problem, it’s terrible to see trash and empty plastic bottles dumped almost everywhere) and the number of stinking, diesel-powered boats that haul tourists around the lake is just insane.

When we looked at the photos at home and booked two nights at a small bed & breakfast (we would return here later, on our own) we had thoughts about a romantic stay, quiet sunrises and sunsets at a beautiful lake… well, it didn’t happen. More on that later, in the post for days 6 and 7.

Anyway. We parked, got out of the car, and immediately, there was a guy who wanted to sell us boat tickets. Yep, it’s that kind of place. Well, we wanted to do the full tourist tour anyway, boat ride and all that, so what the heck – we bought the boat tickets from that guy. As a special service, he played our guide to the pier and showed us to a restroom (grin) that was otherwise not open to the public. We must’ve paid way too much for the boat tickets. 😉

The boat filled with people quickly (and there’s many of these boats) and as soon as we left the pier, some funny guy began to talk via the boats PA, non-stop. I didn’t understand a word of course, Shuwen told me he was funny, telling stories and anecdotes or something.

The first stop was at a temple down by the waterline, and we got off the boat to visit it (of course! we’re tourists!). Hoards of people formed a line to have their photos taken in front of some famous rock with an inscription. Crazy. Inside the temple, singing monks, or nuns, or both (sorry, can’t exactly remember). Repeating one chant over and over, it was extremely monotonous, and rather incomprehensible to me (I mean as a whole, both what they sung, and why it had to be one and the same thing over and over again). Sun Moon Lake is also famous for it’s tea-boiled eggs, so we got some. They were good indeed, but then again, the only comparison we had were some from Seven-Eleven (extremely popular in Taiwan, they are everywhere!), and those sucked.

Back to the boat, next stop Ita Thao. That’s a little village at the lake’s shore which has it’s origins with one of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, the Thao people (on our second stay, over night, one of the hotel employees would be Thao, she was really cute and had a surprisingly sweet, singing-like accent). We walked through the village and grabbed some snacks and tea here and there as a sort of lunch. They had one guy selling rice-stuffed chicken wings. Apparently, another food that is famous in the area. We had some, and they were good. Also had some fried mushroom & veggie buns (delicious, minus the cilantro; thankfully, it was only a small amount) before we went to a small family-style restaurant for some soup.

Fed, we walked to the station of the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, which connects Ita Thao to a mock-up aboriginal people village and an amusement park. We rode the thing because it takes you over the subtropical rainforest, which was hazy, quiet and peaceful. A nice experience (the ropeway was built by Doppelmayr from Austria, btw.). We didn’t really visit the aboriginal village or the amusement park (roller-coaster and such), but instead went straight back to Ita Thao with the ropeway. Shuwen got curious about some beekeeper who was selling honey products, so we stopped, watched and shopped. Then back to the boat, which took us back to where we had started. During the boat ride, another guy talked non-stop via the on-board PA. I guess it’s some kind of custom to entertain the customers, I don’t know. When you don’t understand a word and a guy talks loud in a language you don’t understand and you want to look out of the window and enjoy the scenery it’s a bit annoying.

We walked back to the car, and Jane drove us up to Wenwu temple – a most impressive structure, overlooking the lake (there are a couple more temples along the lake, but this one is the biggest). It was more quiet and beautiful here than down at the lake, even though there of course were a lot of tourists at the temple, too. Behind and above the temple is a beautiful little park from which one can partially overlook the lake. It would be quite nice without all the boat craziness!

At the temple, Shuwen’s sister burned some “god money” as she translated it – it is a money-like pack of paper that you burn in a small oven as a sacrifice, or something. You can pick it up for free at the temple, but because it has no actual value, you have to count it to give it a symbolic value so that it will work as a sacrifice. Better than burning actual money (for boat fare and ropeway rides, hehe).

All in all, I just didn’t get this place. It seems to me that it is popular solely because it is popular. Shuwen told me it was nothing like that some 10 or 15 years ago when she last visited it. Maybe one day people will wake up, collectively, rub their eyes, and say “wait a minute… what the heck are we doing in this place?!” So in retrospect, it was one of the weirder experiences for me.

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