Exotic greenery sprouts from people’s plates. They dip dumplings in sauce, slurp milky-looking soup, and line up for ladlefuls of rice congee. A waiter approaches to offer me coffee and an omelette, which I gratefully accept. I’ll try any food once — but not for breakfast.
I’m at a hotel that overlooks Sun Moon Lake, known simply as The Lalu. Once, only senior government officials and emperors were allowed here; in the 50s, it was President Chiang Kai-shek’s summer home. Now The Lalu is open to whoever can afford the spacious Zen-inspired rooms.
The lake is a misty, mystical vision of blurred blues and purples. The fog moves constantly, discreetly. You look up to see the cascading ridge of a mountain range become unshrouded; glance back and it is gone, swallowed by soft white.
A bike ride around the lake’s blossomed perimeter wheels us past couples posing for wedding photos (taken weeks before the big day) and packs of chattering women wearing face masks and fleecy-lined jumpers. Couples canoodle on tandem bikes, and teenagers whiz by the tanoak trees. Everyone seems happy.
Only at Sun Moon Lake can you eat President Fish (very soft; very expensive) and learn about Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes at the Formosa Indigenous Cultural Village — a curious mix of re-enacted tribal life, cherry blossoms, and amusement park rides. Before the Han Chinese began emigrating here in the seventeenth century, Taiwan was home to Austronesians, who are now just 2.3 per cent of the population.
An infamous black tea called No.18 is grown here and trucked to teahouses around Taiwan. In November, there are lakeside operas and in September, a race — the only day swimming in the lake is allowed. Any day, any month, you will find a throng of tourists clamouring for a photo in front of a stone with ‘Sun Moon Lake’ carved on it.