Cycling around Sun Moon Lake should be on every outdoors lovers' Sun Moon Lake bucket list. The total distance once around the lake is around 30km (~18 miles) and the ride offers many spectacular views of the lake and of course the chance to check out the various attractions scattered around the lake. There are bike rental shops conveniently located in both Shuishe and Ita Thao. If you aren't planning to do a loop, I would recommend starting in Shuishe since most of the bike-friendly segments (also known as a bike path) of the route are located on that side of the lake. A large portion of the route is on the main Round-the-Lake road which isn't sketchy by any means, but there are cars to watch out for.
I started my ride from Owl Hostel in Ita Thao, climbing towards Xuanzang Temple/Ci'en Tower. Before too long I had arrived at Xuanzang Temple which is a lovely temple dedicated to the Tang Dynasty Buddhist Monk Xuanzang who journeyed from China to India on foot. If you're interested in the story, be sure to check out this temple where you'll find loads of information.
Next there was a fun series of switchbacks that went downhill to the first tunnel on the ride and a sign marking the boundary of Ita Thao village. The Thao are one of the least populated Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and are often represented by an owl, stemming from a legend about a pregnant woman who passed away in the mountains and transformed into an owl. If you're into owls, Ita Thao is surely the place for you. There are even owl decorations on the lampposts! I took a quick break just before the tunnel and made friends with a cat.
After a second tunnel and a nice smooth ride downhill the small community of Toushe came into view. Even though I understand they are not the best for the environment, beetlenut trees are fairly scenic in my opinion. Maybe that's just because as a foreigner they are somewhat exotic. Toushe is a very charming little village with lots of traditional Taiwanese architecture and farms. There are several attractions here that I'd like to hit next time- an ice cream shop, a hiking trail and "Grandma's Ancient Laundry Facility". What an age we live in!
At this point it suddenly started to downpour! Luckily I was nearby a police station and ducked under cover for 20-25 minutes. When the coast was clear I started off again. Be sure to follow signs, coming out of the police station as I was you should take a left. A right hand turn would take you to Shuili, another small town featuring a train station that I'd love to check out next time.
This stretch of the route got far enough away from any lake view that I started to doubt I was going the right way. This was a blessing in disguise since as I stopped to check Google Maps I saw a large group of monkeys in a parking lot/driveway area on my right hand side. No pictures, so I guess you'll have to believe my monkey story.
Eventually I had the choice to get on a proper bike path via a long dark tunnel on my right hand side. At the end of the tunnel I arrived at a dam and enjoyed a "dam" good view of Sun Moon Lake. No dam in the picture but you'll see tiny Lalu Island in the picture below, along with Wenwu Temple in the hills in the distance.
At this point I got on a bike path that leads to the gorgeous Xiangshan visitor center. On the way to the visitor center, there are a few cute little bridges to cross that would be much more photogenic if the water level was higher (there's been a serious drought in Taiwan this year).
After passing the visitor center, I came to my favorite part on the entire ride with a nice bike path and lots of great lake views.
Love this boardwalk area! Shuishe can be seen directly ahead. There are several very extravagant hotels located in Shuishe such as the Lalu where former presidents have stayed.
Imagine if there was water! I'll definitely be back again.
Next is Shuishe. If you're looking for some grub or convenience stores this is your chance. Shuishe is the major transportation hub of Sun Moon Lake and if you have a chance, don't miss the pier area, the Jesus Church, the lakeside trail and more. Great views of Shuishe Great Mountain on the opposite side of the lake behind Ita Thao, hilltop Ci'En tower, Lalu Island and the harbor. I didn't stop this time and kept moving along. Luckily after the downpour I only had to face a slight drizzle at most.
The next main sight after riding through Shuishe is Wenwu Temple. This is a grand Confucius temple high above Sun Moon Lake with gorgeous lake views and all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies for temple lovers to explore. The size and beauty of this temple can hold its own against many of the other famous temples located around Taiwan. There's a nature trail located in the back of the temple if your legs are feeling fresh.
There are some hills with some pretty steep grades along this section of the route. I was "in the zone" at this point and thoroughly enjoying the ups and downs. I think even with the slopes in this section, my ride was very "top heavy" meaning it took a while to get from Ita Thao to Xiangshan due to all the twists and turns in the road but after Xiangshan the road is usually a pretty straight shot and progress is made very quickly.
If you like trash cans, you can't miss these beautiful bins depicting all the main attractions around the lake. It's not every day I take pictures of trash cans!
At this point I was nearing my starting point and before long I blew by Sun Moon Lake Ropeway and was back in the quaint village of Ita Thao. The feeling of completing the loop around beautiful Sun Moon Lake was very thrilling and it was the best way I can imagine spending a few hours here. I'm already looking forward to my next trip around the lake!
The ride took me a total of 3 hours including the time waiting for the rain to stop and also stopping often to take pictures. The Giant bike I rode does have an electric assist function which helps a lot going up hills. If you're planning to take in all of the attractions along the way and stop often, I would recommend devoting your day to this bike trip, there are easily enough things to see to keep you busy for a day. If you're a serious bike rider and just want to enjoy the ride without stopping much, this route can be completed within 2 hours. Go at your own pace and enjoy the ride! Watch out for monkeys!