I awoke in my room at the Fleur de Chine after the best night’s sleep I’ve enjoyed in a long, long time. Was it the hour-long soak in my room’s mineral bath, the mind-blowing dinner in the Rainbow Cloud teppanyaki restaurant, or the low-key, yet luxurious, room overlooking Sun Moon Lake? Probably all three.
I dressed again in the yukata (a kimono-like robe made of cotton supplied by the hotel that I’d worn to dinner the night before) and made my way downstairs to the breakfast buffet. After breakfast I went back to my room and changed into ‘real’ clothes so that I could walk along the wooden walkway that borders Sun Moon Lake.
Sun Moon Lake (Jih Yue T’an), in Nantou County, is the largest body of water in Taiwan. It’s a very popular spot for hiking with fourteen hiking trails. The area is also home to the Thao tribe – one of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. Lalu Island, in the middle of the lake, has gone by several names – Jade Island when Taiwan was under Japanese rule, Kuang Hua when Chiang Kai-shek’s government moved to the island. After the ‘921 Earthquake’ in 1999, and due to increased sensitivity to the aboriginal tribes that inhabit Taiwan, the island was renamed Lalu—a Thao word meaning ‘after’ or ‘later.’
After crossing Zhongzheng Road and making my way down a flight of steps, I had to decide whether to go left or right. I turned right for no other reason than that it seemed to be the direction my feet wanted to go. Between the heat in the high 90’s and the humidity over 60 percent, I knew that there was no way I was going to make it around the entire lake on foot and be back to the hotel in time to catch the bus to Taichung. This is when I wished I’d made the effort to look into bike rentals.
Renting a bike would’ve gotten me all the way around the lake, but the sensory feast I experienced on foot more than made up for that: Men fishing and then feeding hungry, whining cats with the fruits of their labor, a spider as big as my hand sitting in its intricate web to the side of the walk, a myriad of different colored butterflies – electric blue, butter-yellow, inky black hovering just out of reach, floating gardens bobbing in the water. And the sounds – gently lapping water, melodic bird calls, the wind moving through the leaves of the lush trees that grew all along the lake. From time to time I heard quiet conversation and soft laughter among fishing companions, fathers encouraging their children as families rode their bikes along the boardwalk, the sound of the bicycles’ tires going thumpety-thump over the wooden slats, and the flap-flap of running shoes as the occasional runner overtook me and disappeared around the next bend.
Sun Moon Lake is teeming with life, yet it’s also a place of complete serenity. I frequently stopped along the way just to let the sights, the sounds, and the sultry air wash over me, while thoughts of everything else melted away. By the time I got back to the hotel I felt like I’d spent two hours meditating.
I found out later that had I turned left instead of right I would have come upon Wen Wu Temple -an impressive structure, even in a country that has Buddhist temples everywhere. I was only able to enjoy the beauty of the temple from the window of the bus. Next time I will turn left.
Even so, it was a win-win situation for me as it is for anyone who visits this beautiful, peaceful spot. You really can’t make a bad decision. Whether you’re on foot, a bike, a walkway, hiking trail, or turning left or right, you’ll feel like you made the best possible choice.
Marsha Lenox is a writer and freelance editor. Her articles and essays on travel, roller derby and homeschooling have been featured in newspapers, magazines and on numerous websites and blogs. Marsha writes and performs creative non-fiction stories for Story Salon, the longest running storytelling venue in Los Angeles. She is also a roller derby referee.