Jungle bike trip

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DAY 7

(Reading time: 6 minutes)

Our accommodation in the Sun Moon Lake area – a small cosy hotel – is run by a cute elderly lady. Although her English skills are limited, it doesn’t stop her from chatting with everyone – about their daily plans, whether guests are satisfied, whether it will rain today, and so on. She is also probably in charge of the breakfast menu. If there are fewer guests at the hotel (we don’t know where the limit stands), they don’t serve breakfast buffet-style; guests choose a type of breakfast, Asian or European, at the reception the day before.

What an interesting morning awaits you when you find out what the locals imagine as “European-style breakfast”.

The Asian breakfast consisted of thin rice porridge with various side dishes, while the European one… sausages, bacon, eggs. All fine. But back home, we sure as hell don’t eat spaghetti, chicken nuggets or fries in the morning. That seems like a brick in the stomach to start the day.

And we had a really action-packed day ahead of us!

Bike ride. 😊

Sun Moon Lake is a perfect location for cycling. You can find cycling paths almost all around the lake (the rest are still under construction), and almost everyone here operates a bike rental of various types. The nearest one we found was as far as 100m from our hotel, the horror! They offered popular electric bikes of various sizes for one to three people (300TWD per day), city bikes with a basket, and mountain bikes (200TWD per day). Renting is very simple – you point to what you want, sign some paper with Chinese characters, pay, and off you go. No delays with identity documents, blocking amounts on credit cards, or any locks. For what? You rent the bike to return it by 6 PM, and no one will steal it from you.

We wanted to make the most of it, so we took mountain bikes, we’re not wimps after all!

Now to the route itself.

We made an (almost) all-day trip. Departure from Ita Thao at 9:30 AM and return around 4 PM. In total, we covered over 30km including stops at various interesting places and lunch.

START + FINISH – Ita Thao

POINT 2 – Xuanzang Temple

POINT 3 – Ci’En Pagoda

POINT 7 – Xiangshan Visitor Centre

POINT 8 – Shuishe

POINT 9 – Wenwu Temple

Some sections are flat along the lake, elsewhere more like forest trails, and where the bike path has not yet been completed, we rode on the road and often uphill, but it’s not a tragedy. Moreover, we were surrounded by lush nature and fresh air everywhere. It felt like visiting a botanical garden, but here you just ride along the road.

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The first stop clockwise was the Xuanzang Temple about 2.5km away. The way to it led uphill on the road. Again, we made sure that stealing is not a thing in Taiwan. We simply leaned the bikes somewhere by the road, not to get them in anyone’s way, and went up to the temple. When we returned, they were still there. In our country, the same situation would serve more as a social-mathematical experiment: who would do it first and how long it takes to take them?

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The highest point of our trip was Ci’En Pagoda, a spectacular lookout tower with breathtaking views.

And the weather was perfect, we could see the entire lake beneath us from the pagoda and across to the mountains of the Alishan National Park on the other side.

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From there, we then descended for a long time (in one slightly annoying section, we had to carry our bikes, which wasn’t very “cycling”) to the area where a well-maintained bike path winds close to the lake. A popular spot in this section is Xiangshan Visitor Centre.

It wasn’t very clear to us why. The concrete construction didn’t match at all with local natural beauty, and there was nothing inside except an information corner and a small snack bar. Perhaps they are planning cultural activities here in the future, but for now, it completely disrupted our visual zen.

Our lunch break took place in Shuishe. This town is the starting point for most tourists. Boats depart from here, local and long-distance buses, too, and most visitors are accommodated here. But we weren’t particularly enchanted by it, and we were glad for our picturesque Ita Thao across the lake. The most beautiful thing we found in Shuishe was Longfeng Temple – my personal favorite among Taiwanese temples.

After being fed and rested, we looked forward to the main attraction on the route – Wenwu Temple.

Wenwu is definitely one of the most impressive temples in Taiwan. It is a three-tiered complex consisting of three large halls and specialized side shrines. On both sides of the main stairs, huge lions, powerful guardians of faith originating from Chinese traditions, stand guard.

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We toured the entire complex of main and side rooms. Two smaller specialized shrines caught our attention the most.

Medicine Buddha Palace…

…and Matchmaker God Palace.

To the left of the shrine, you will find a detailed guide (even in English, that was a shock!), on how to properly ask the god to find you a suitable life partner. Of course, making an appropriate financial contribution is essential for its proper functioning.

In the rear part of the temple complex behind the main halls, you will find a monument with amazingly detailed bas-reliefs.

We spent about an hour touring the entire Wenwu, then descended to so-called Year of Steps – 366 steps representing days of the year – leading from the temple to the lake. We were already quite tired to go down and up the whole thing just for fun. Fortunately, it was “December 31st” at the top step, and we were both born in the second half of the year, so we only had to go down about halfway. Then back to the bikes, ride the remaining few kilometers to Ita Thao, and it was done.

Phew, it was a challenging day. Fortunately, there wasn’t much to do in the evening, as everything is closed, which played into our hands this time.

-endy-

DONKEY’S SPECIAL:

  • The Asian breakfast consisted of nuts, crushed nuts, something unidentifiable, tasteless rice in water, mango, tasteless dragon fruit, tasteless cabbage salad, the situation was saved by a sunny-side up with mackerel.
  • Dragon fruit is a terrible trap for the as yet uninitiated, fancy name, interesting appearance (especially when it’s purple), but the taste is blandly sweet nothing.
  • Most cyclists around Ita Thao wobbled on electric bikes, occasionally on “folding bikes” (or something like that), on mountain bikes we met only one other European tourist couple, Asian women may have a problem with mountain bikes in men’s versions as getting on it requires swinging your leg over the saddle, which some consider indecent.
  • More often than we would like, we encountered locals controlling their bikes very insecurely (swaying from side to side, almost falling), even reactions to the bell of an approaching bike were very confused, sometimes it might have been better not to ring.

-mj-

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