I just came back from a trip to Taiwan with a friend, and it was wonderful. Lots of interesting things happened, mainly because of our lack of planning. Most of them were great, and I will have a few accommodation places to recommend if you are looking for something affordable and interesting in different parts of Taiwan.
But before all that, I have to talk about Sun Moon Lake, the main highlight of our trip. Which is ironic because if you have asked me about Sun Moon Lake before this trip, I would have told you that there was nothing too memorable about the place, save for a giant lake and a few temples.
But this time round, Sun Moon Lake was determined to make itself memorable. It has definitely surged up to become the highlight of my trip, although not necessarily in a very conventional way.
We arrived at the Shui She Pier, the main pier of Sun Moon Lake, from Puli some time in the late afternoon and realised that our hostel was at the other side of the lake, at a village called Ita Thao, which was away from all the main attractions and the walking trails.
There were two recommended ways to travel between the two points, by bus or by boat. By the time we were done checking in and figuring out what we wanted to do for the (short) day, it was about 5 pm which was when the last boat was. We figured that we could have a look at the main pier and make our way back to our hostel by foot – after all it was just around 10 km stroll around the lake to reach back to Ita Thao, how bad could it be? I remember doing a 10 km jog, and it only took me about 1.5 hours, and I’m not a very fast runner.
So with the plan firmly laid out, we set off to explore one of the walking trails at the main pier. It was a cloudy day, so everything looked slightly grayish.
We were walking around for a while before we realised two things were amiss: people and lights. No one else was walking along the trail and there were no signs of lamp posts or any sources of lights whatsoever. It then dawned on us that we might need to walk our 10 km back in the dark with no one in sight.
Understandably, we decided to quicken our pace so that we could start our journey back. But not after we have bought this wonderful fried oyster mushroom at one of the stalls by the pier.
It started to get dark by the time we finished cleaning the last piece of crumb from this wonderful snack while enjoying the lake breeze.
The moment we set off on the first part of the walkway, our plan was ruined when the whole stretch was cordoned off because of a fallen tree. But the only way to get back to our village was by foot, so we decided to walk along the highway instead.
It should have been a sign enough that the idea of walking back was a bad one, but we persisted. I was worried that we might have needed to walk the whole way back being worried that we would be hit by a car, but I soon found out that it would be the least of my worries.
We soon found our way back to the walkway where it was not blocked and walked alongside the lake. The view was rather pretty actually, the approaching fog exuding a mysterious feel to the whole lake.
We were walking for a whole stretch, me quietly noticing that there was nobody in sight and the trees were starting to thicken and the sky darker, but I tried to distract myself by enjoying the view. After some time, we saw some people sitting by the lake fishing and I breathed a sigh of relief. At least there were other people there, and they were clearly not afraid being there so late, so why should I?
Except that the fishers were getting rarer and the whole place darker and I found myself wishing at every turn that there would be someone as crazy as us walking along the same path.
At the last point where we saw the fishers, my friend and I noticed that there were some floating bushes, and we soon figured out that these floating bushes (or floating islands as they call it) were built to appease the lake spirit after they were angry that people were depleting the fish too fast through fishing.
We made a turn where there were thick trees on both sides which made it so dark that we had to use our phones as torchlights. And then I saw them. The shadows. It looked like two people walking (floating) but it couldn’t be because I couldn’t see anyone. Perhaps it was just my imagination and it was the reflection of tree branches that looked like people? I continued walking and there they appeared again, but still I couldn’t see anyone in sight. My heart started to beat really fast, but I didn’t want to say a word to my friend since I didn’t think it was a good idea to freak her out too. I passed it off as our own shadows, but deep down I knew they weren’t.
It wasn’t until a few minutes later that we started hearing people chatting and there were indeed two people who were walking in the dark! They must have been the sources of the shadows! I could feel the surge of relief running through me.
These two were walking so slowly that we decided to overtake them while feeling weird the whole time that they didn’t feel the need to use their phones as torch lights (I’m pretty sure they were real people). Soon after, I started regretting leaving them behind since it started to get even darker – their presence actually gave me somewhat of a comfort that were not complete idiots for walking at night.
And then I walked past something, a low platform with a few concrete blocks on top which were surrounded by iron fence. My first thought was that it was some electric generator, but as I continued my steps, I started to realise that it was a little weird to have an electric generator in the middle of nowhere, especially where there was no electricity required at all.
Come to think of it, the concrete structures looked eerily like tombstones.
My hands started to get clammy, my head spinning and my heart beating faster than ever. I didn’t dare to shine my torch at the platform, for fear of confirming my suspicion. We still had a looong way to go, around 7 km judging from the distance of the lights that seemed like our village, and I could not afford to have my fear of the dark heightened by my fear of ghosts.
I felt increasingly breathless, but still I did not dare to tell my friend what I just saw. I was desperate to get to the main road and face the danger of approaching cars rather than deal with this darkness and potentially looming spirits.
And then I saw it.
A small slope that led to the main road. My flicker of hope.
“Let’s get to the main road,” I gaped to my friend.
She agreed, sensing that I was getting uncomfortable. And I was very glad we did since we ended up right at the door step of one of the biggest hotels in Sun Moon Lake. And once I was up there, I knew that there was no way I was going back to the walkway and continued our journey.
We decided to ask for help at the hotel, and thank goodness for Taiwanese hospitality. The people at the concierge were really kind and offered to call our hostel to tell them that we needed a ride back. (At this point in time I looked like I was about to cry and faint at the same time). As taxis turned out to be really expensive, in the end they decided to send us back in the hotel car and give us a much lower rate than what they would otherwise charge.
On our ride back, we could see that after the hotel, our walking trail would get increasingly dark and there would be no way to get back to the main road until we reached our village. I felt shaky and relieved and I have seriously never felt so glad to be back on streets with lights and actual people walking around.
We treated ourselves to a cup of chocolate tea and bamboo rice at a pretty iittle cafe to calm ourselves down, and as I sipped my comforting cup of tea, I realised that it was only 8 30 pm. Our whole frightening walk probably took just over an hour, but it definitely felt like one of the longest walks that I have ever done in my life.