Catriona Rowntree was delighted to be in Taiwan on its most romantic day of the year. It's the day thousands of couples choose to be married or renew vows, surrounded by cherry blossom blooms.
She travelled to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan's largest body of fresh water. The emerald green 800-hectare lake is backed by high-forested mountains and enjoys good weather year-round. Its eastern side is round like the sun and the western side is shaped like a crescent moon, hence its name. To the Taiwanese it is a cultural treasure and is a favourite honeymoon destination, not just for locals but others as well.
It's a 33km drive around the lake, but a boat trip is far more scenic. There are piers along the way where you can stop and there's always a temple or two to be found.
Wen Wu Temple
Wen Wu Temple is midway up a steep slope on the north end of the lake. It has a courtyard, two gardens and three halls. The front hall is devoted to the founding gods. The main hall is devoted to Kuan Yu and the rear hall is devoted to Confucius. The pair of red lions at the front of the temple are the largest in the country.
During Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945, the lake was dammed to raise its water level and generate hydro-electric power. The surrounding area flooded and temples were relocated.
The area has been a centre of aboriginal life for thousands of years, and they have been involved in the tourist industry since the 1930s.
Catriona strongly suggests a visit to the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village. It's not your average theme park, though it does have the usual attractions. It's Taiwan's largest outdoor museum and displays traditional homes and architecture of the country's nine principal aborigine tribes.
All buildings were reconstructed after much research by anthropologists, and trails separate each community so visitors are able to see the differences and similarities between styles. Stone, wood and bamboo were popular building materials. Indigenous tribes reveal the area's culture with demonstrations of dancing, sculpting, weaving, cooking and knitting. It's a beautifully maintained village, full of cherry trees and with manicured lawns.
A new $30 million cable car links Sun Moon Lake and the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village. It has 96 gondolas, each carrying eight passengers. As well as cutting travel time, the bird's-eye view is pretty spectacular.
When the cherry trees are in bloom, the park hosts a wedding extravaganza. Masses of couples apply, but just 30 are chosen. It's not exactly an intimate occasion, but the happy faces of the newlyweds say it all. They feel special to have been chosen.
A severe earthquake in 1999 demolished waterfront hotels, but the Taiwanese soon began rebuilding and now business is booming.
The five-star Lalu Hotel overlooks the lake and is named after the indigenous Shao aboriginal settlement once located on the site. It dates back to 1901, and was a favoured summer getaway for the late president Chaing Kai-shek.
The 2002 version was designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill and is Taiwan's most expensive hotel. The Zen-style building has lots of wood and stone and is an all-suite property.
There are one- and two-bedroom suites as well as private villas which have their own pool and courtyard. The outdoor warm water infinity pool is 60m long. There are hot and cold whirlpools, herbal steam rooms, Swedish saunas and Japanese baths, all with lake views. The award-winning Lalu Spa offers Eastern and Western treatments.
The hotel has five restaurants and bars, a boutique and library.
Sun Moon Lake in the centre of Taiwan.
Advance Olympic Travel has six-day Taipei and Sun Moon Lake packages including return flights with China Airlines, two nights at the Lalu, breakfast, a visit to the Wen Wu Temple and Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, a boat tour and airport transfers. They start at $2150 from Sydney and Brisbane. Available between January 10 and March 31, 2010.
China Airlines flies 10 times a week between Sydney and Brisbane to Taipei.
Prices correct at November 19, 2009.
For further information
Advance Olympic Travel
Second Floor, 64 Castlereagh Street
Ph: (02) 9233 8508
Fax: (02) 9232 7039
1800 824 926
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for Taiwan if they are staying 30 days or fewer. Passports need to have at least six months' validity.
Electricity: 110V at 60Hz with two flat pins as used in the United States.
Time zone: GMT+8.
Currency: New Taiwan dollar.
International dialling code: +866.