The Wenwu Temple made me do a double take. After hours of driving through little villages and narrow mountain roads, I'd thought this temple that stood on the north-eastern shore of the Sun Moon Lake would be a little shrine.
But, through its elaborate gates I was looking at an even more elaborate multi-tiered place of worship that looked as if it had been painstakingly planned and constructed with care.
Symmetry was all prevalent and the colour scheme of ochre and red stood out proudly under the bright blue sky. The architecture, in fact, follows the striking lines of the Northern Dynasty (386 – 581 AD).
The Wenwu temple was built in 1938, and expanded in 1969. It suffered severe damage during the catastrophic 1999 earthquake in Taiwan. But, today, it stands unblemished again.
I walked through its tiers, past separate halls dedicated to Confucius and his disciples and Taoist deities. The views of the Sun Moon Lake from the terrace of the uppermost tier are arresting, and should be seen during the first half of the day when the Sun is as yet behind you.
I was thinking of returning the next morning, but my room in Hotel Fleur de Chine, with its soothing views over the lake that I could appreciate while soaking in the natural hot spring-fed pool within my room, lulled me into holiday mode.
The hotel sources the water from the hot springs within the area and the average temperature of the water is 45 to 55 degrees C and the ph value is 8.6 — very relaxing for a leisurely soak.
I plugged in my iPod, plonked myself into the pool and plugged out of the world, floating away on my favourite music.
In fact, staying at Fleur de Chine was a highlight of my visit to the Sun Moon Lake.
The other highlight was cycling. Recharged and rejuvenated, I was now up for some adrenaline action. The tourist authority is intensely promoting cycling in Taiwan and there are dedicated trails and cycle hire shops all over.
At the latter, the cycling enthusiast as well as the first-timer can hire state-of-the-art cycles with disc brakes and a standard 21-speed gear system that will let the cyclist handle every decline and incline with confidence and ease.
Plus, most bike shops have a phone in the saddle bag that is GPS enabled, and this lets them track you on their system.
The big daddy of the cycling trails around Sun Moon Lake is the 29-km ‘Round the Lake' trail. A superb way to explore the region. If you do the circuit like a transport section of a rally, you could do it in a shade over two hours.
But my advice is — take it in as you'd enjoy fine claret. Sip in the soothing views that range from cherry blossoms to reflections of the mountain peaks in the calm blue green waters of the lake, and savour the fresh air. From noon to dusk, a light breeze helps beat back the heat. But again, my advice is to do this ride just as the sun is coming up — you will be rewarded by gorgeous skies, and the soundtrack of your ride will be an assortment of birdsong.
One of the popular spots you can access during this ride is the Lalu Island, considered the home of Thao ancestral spirits. Before the 1999 earthquake that changed the geography of the island, there used to be a ‘Matchmaker Pavilion' on the island, where you could come and make requests to the matchmaker God seeking a husband or wife.
But, if you don't want to be an aspiring Lance Armstrong, there are other shorter trails too, such as the two-km Moonlake bikeway that goes past rich and changing ecologies and forests. Then, there is the Toushe bikeway that has the cyclist pedalling past flat farm fields, flocks of flying egrets and rustic farmhouses.
And, if you're hungry, it is never a problem. In Taiwan, there are always road-side stalls selling egg rolls, a light, sweet and crumbly roll made of egg batter.
Then, there are pastries with cream and sweet red bean paste that are ever so delicious. For the meat-eaters, paradise is here in form of grilled sausages on sticks and sesame pork on skewers that can be munched on the move.
The Sun Moon Lake is around three hours by road from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. But, if you arrive at Taoyuan Airport, Taipei's international airport, you can take the high-speed train from Taoyuan to Taichung. From there, it is an hour's drive to the Fleur de Chine hotel and Sun Moon Lake.
For more information, visit eng.taiwan.net.tw and www.fleurdechinehotel.com