Considered by many as the “Switzerland in the East”, Nantou is famous for its mountainous terrains and mountain trails. Hiking in Nantou is truly breathtaking, especially on Mount Maolan, which overlooks the magnificent Sun Moon Lake. There are relatively fewer tourist landmarks in Nantou but a good number of local and foreign tourists continue to come to Nantou to hike, visit Sun Moon Lake and enjoy the natural resources that could not be found elsewhere in Taiwan. (For example, it does not snow in Taiwan except on Nantou’s Hehuan Mountain, also known as Joy Mountain.)
Maolan Mountain is found at the northern side of Sun Moon Lake. It is 1,020 meters tall, which makes it the most ideal spot to view the picturesque lake during sunrise, the misty Jioufen and Jiji Mountains, and a sea of clouds. The Mount Maolan Hiking Trail is 4.6 kilometers long beginning from the Mingtan Middle School, through the Taiwan Provincial Tea Station and Weather Forecast Station, and finally to the Sun Moon Lake Station. Even before reaching the peak, the path is very scenic especially along the provincial tea station where there are Asam black tea and cedar trees, and where sunrise on the lake is best viewed.
The Provincial Tea Station, which is actually a tea-improvement research facility, has amazing greenery and very old Japanese-style houses. The area has been designated by the local government as an important historical site. Inside the research station is an old three-story black-and-white wooden building that used to function as a tea-processing plant during the Japanese Occupation. To the left side of this elegant building is an amazing mountainside view of the tea plantation. There is also a bamboo stone garden about a kilometer away. This garden features several kinds of bamboo and tons of native pebbles that were used as building materials.
Moving past the old tea processing plant is a romantic road that is flanked by rows of olive trees. This leads to the top of Mount Maolan where stands a weather station, one of the four highest weather stations in the country. Visitors and the general public may enter the weather station for yet some more stunning viewpoints of the surrounding areas below.
While the Maolan Mountain trail is clearly the most popular hiking path in Nantou, the trail leading to Zhongliao Village is just as engaging yet not as popular since it is located far from Sun Moon Lake. There are interesting natural treasures in this part of the country, one of which is the Water Curtain Cave. Curious tourists may check out this hidden village on their way to the resort town of Jiji.
There are a few more trails in Nantou, many of which feature Nantou County’s tea plantations since the county is world-renowned for its tea, especially the Oolong tea. There are also a number of temples, museums and historical sites to see. Hotels and resorts offer hiking excursions so that foreign visitors may get to see the natural beauty and charm of Nantou. It is only while hiking in Nantou that one truly understands why it is considered one of the most charming counties in Taiwan.