The Legends of Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan

View of Sun Moon Lake
View of Sun Moon Lake | © WeiHsiang Wang/ Wikimedia commons
Ciaran McEneaney

Taiwan is brimming with incredible natural scenery yet few locations captivate the tourist masses quite like Sun Moon Lake. Interestingly, the lake as it is today is actually man-made, formed as a result of the dam constructed during Japanese rule in 1931. However, regardless of the fact that it is a relatively new landscape, the area is home to the Thao tribe and as such there are many myths and legends relating to the mountains surrounding the lake.

The discovery of the lake

In Thao legend, hunters of the tribe one day spotted a white deer, followed it and the chase led them to the lake. The hunters were so impressed by the landscape with its lush greenery, fish-filled waters, and abundant wildlife that they decided to relocate to the lakeside. The countryside became theirs and they still live there to this day.

Lalu Island

At the heart of the lake lies Lalu Island. This is a sacred ground for the Thao tribe yet it is only in recent years that it has been recognized as such. During Japanese rule the island was renamed as Jade Island then again, later, as Guang Hua. The island originally split the lake into two distinct shapes, one resembled a sun while the other a crescent moon. This is believed to be how the lake got its name although there are other stories that claim it was due to the colors of the lake water.

The local government built a marriage pavilion on the island in 1978 and for many years, annual group ceremonies took place there. It may have seemed a touch insensitive to the local Thao tribe who believed that their most revered ancestral spirit resided on the island.

However, after an earthquake in 1999 (known locally as the 921 earthquake) the landscape shifted resulting in much of the island sinking and the destruction of the pavilion. The island has since been recognized by the government as sacred ground and locals insist that only members of the Thao tribe can now set foot on it.

Lalu Island

The Sun Moon Lake legend

While the deer hunting legend is told by many tribes (not just the Thao) there is another legend that is especially popular among tourists. This legend tells of how the Thao were one day working their land when they heard a massive boom before the sky went dark. The sun had disappeared but they took comfort in the fact that the moon would soon come to offer them light. However, when the moon came out that night the same thing happened and the world was left in utter darkness.

A young couple took it upon themselves to search for the sun and the moon and after a long hard trek they came to the lake. There they saw two dragons playing with the sun and the moon. Before they could do anything they noticed smoke coming from under a rock. They moved the rock and followed a passage to find an old lady that claimed the dragons had forced her to live there cooking their meals.

After hearing this the couple were worried that they could not defeat the dragons but the old lady had an idea. She told them of the golden axe and scissors under Ali Mountain which when thrown in the lake would kill the dragons instantly.

They found the axe and scissors, threw them at the dragons and won back the sun and moon but unfortunately they didn’t have the strength to put either back into the sky. The old lady then informed them of the powers of a dragon’s eyeball. Apparently once consumed, you would have the strength of that dragon and so the couple ate an eyeball from each dragon. They soon became giants and with their now superhuman strength, the couple lifted the sun into the sky using a palm tree. When the sun began to work properly they did the same with the moon.

It’s easy to see why this legend persists and why tourists love it so much.

Sun Moon Lake

Getting there

If you’re heading for Sun Moon Lake, then the best way is by bus or by car. There are many private tour companies that run buses from both Taichung and Taipei to the lake and some even include hotel accommodation in their tour package. However, a car of your own or a rental is a far more enjoyable way to get there as you’re not bound by schedules. There’s plenty of paid public parking around the lake and most hotels provide on-site private parking.

Things to do

There are many things to keep you occupied during your time at Sun Moon Lake. Take a boat trip across the lake or a cable car trip up to the aboriginal theme park. For many though, the chance to rent a bike and ride around the many cycle paths is the best way to see and appreciate the local scenery.

Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, 45 Jingtian Alley, Yuchi Township, Nantou County, Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake Ropeway

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Edit article