Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sun Moon Lake

1 July 2015

 I know, same map - but it helps to show where we are in Taiwan.

Yesterday we left Fangliao at 5:23 AM - our local train was scheduled for 6:12 AM, but we arrived at the train station early enough that we caught the earlier train.  The local train truly stops at each and every tiny town and village along the way.  But it was the only way to get where we were going, so we spent two hours looking at rural Taiwan.  Towns, rivers, farms, rice fields, temples, and the occasional large town or almost city.  

Our train car was totally empty when we got on it, so Richard and I each took a window seat and enjoyed the view.  (The long distance trains all give assigned seats, but the locals are free seating.)

The train quickly filled up with students, especially senior high students heading to the larger towns where their schools were located.  I had a nice chat with a young woman heading to school in Pintung; she told me I'd know when we arrived because half the students would get off the train.  The other half would be getting off at our stop, Kaohsiung.  And of course she wanted to take a photo me - I sort of feel like a trophy!

We finally reached Kaohsiung, and hopped off.  We had a bit of a wait for our next train, but this gave us a chance to get a bite to eat, use a non-moving restroom, and just get in some walking and stretch.  

So, next train arrives and we have a three hour limited express ride - meaning the train stops at every second or third town, not every single town.  Still slow, but faster than the local.  

We rode through more coastal plain, and low hills.  More rivers.  More towns.  More farms.  More temples.

One thing I haven't mentioned - Taiwan has tons of rivers, so most of the power is hydro-electric.  And, the trains are electric, with overhead wires providing the "fuel" for the engines.  So train travel in this country truly is energy efficient and good for the environment - definitely the way to go!

Finally we got to Ershui (pronounced er-SHWAY), where we bought tickets for the Mountain Line to Jiji (pronounced just like the French name Gigi).  Our train arrived, and it was decorated inside and out with panels that looked like children's drawings.  And dancing lions and hearts on the seats.  It was kind of crazy, and we have NO idea why this three-car mini-train was decorated in kindergarten patterns.  

This half-hour trip took us through the foothills and into the lower part of the Central Mountain Range.  Up, up, ears popping, tree branches slapping the sides of the train, a few tunnels, and we arrived in Jiji.

Jiji is a cute little town, and would be a nice place to hang out for a few days.  But we only had ten days for our tour around the island, so we found the visitor's center, left our bags, had lunch, collected the bags, and tried to get the shuttle bus to Sun Moon Lake.  Unfortunately, the "bus" is really a van, and was full by the time it arrived in Jiji to pick up people.  The next bus would be an hour later.  There was no way we were going to stand in a van, crouched over, for 45 minutes while winding around mountains and through valleys.  Nice Mr Info Center called a taxi for us, and we paid way more than the van price - but we got to stay seated, it was comfortable, and hey, after a certain age, comfort is worth a few extra dollars.

So, Sun Moon Lake.   Wonderful name, isn't it?  Somewhat whimsical, definitely universal, and maybe a little romantic.  

The story is that the lake almost looks like two separate lakes, the one on the right looking like a sun with the beams of light emanating outward, and the other part of the lake, on the left, looks somewhat like the crescent moon.  Hence Sun Moon Lake.  Rather prosaic name, but, well, what can you do.  (And no, this isn't my photo, this is lifted from the internet to show what the lake looks like.)

We're staying in Shueshi Village (not sure how that is pronounced), on the northwest-ish side of the lake, sort of where the crescent moon separates from the sun.  Hard to see on the map.

Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan, at 3.06 square miles (or 7.93 sq km).  The lake is almost in the center of Taiwan, in the mountains; the elevation is 2,454 feet above sea level (748 meters).  And the maximum depth is 89 ft (27 m).

Our hotel is just a short walk to the village and the pier.  There's a boardwalk that goes partway around the lake, although a tree fell and that area is closed right now.  But there are walking trails, bike paths, hiking routes circling the lake.  There is also another village across the lake from us, as well as a few temples and monasteries visible from the pier.

We got up early and went down to the lake, which was like glass, just flat and smooth.  The only waves were created by passing boats.  There's a "shuttle" boat that we'll probably take one day, where we get a day pass and can take the boat around the lake, stopping at several locations to explore the temples, villages, who knows what else.

But the lake just was amazing, almost turquoise, and reflecting all the mountains rising up around it.  The place is just gorgeous!  Absolutely stunning! Turquoise blue water, large orange koi, and then blue grey mountains in the distance, shrouded in early morning fog and clouds.  Traditional wooden fishing boats, fancy tourist boats looking like temples, dragon boats, and modern motorboats - in early morning they were mostly quiet and at the docks, but by mid-day they were all noisily crisscrossing the lake like, well, giant waterbugs.

It was just so incredibly beautiful, and peaceful, and relaxing, at 7 AM.  I know, I couldn't believe I was up that early - but it was the best time to see this gorgeous lake.  Truly one of the more beautiful places we've seen in Taiwan.

So, we'll enjoy our four days here.  We'll walk, explore, take the shuttle boat around, and maybe even rent bicycles.  Or not - I'd rather walk.  But we'll spend our time outside enjoying the natural wonders of Sun Moon Lake.  

And the romance of the full moon while at Sun Moon Lake. 

Perfect timing!

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