Want to see the mountains and forests of Nantou and enjoy the natural beauty of Sun Moon Lake without spending a lot of money? Many scenic and recreational areas in Nantou are free to explore. You can create an itinerary to suit your budget and enjoy a wonderfiul tour of Nantou without breaking the bank. You can cross the Sky Bridge in Hou Tan Jing Recreation Area, enjoy the beauty of the mountains and forests in Tataka Recreation Area, pay a visit to the tea garden at the Sung Po Ling Visitor Information Centre, or learn more about the local history at the Shuishe Visitor Centre next to Sun Moon Lake. After that, you can take a stroll along the Hanbi Trail and witness the radiant beauty where the mountains and water meet. If you love colourful flowers, the Peach Garden is a wonderful place to visit. There's lots to see and do in Nantou on a budget.

    1

    Picnic at National Chi Nan University

    National Chi Nan University is on Tai 21 County Road, on the way to Sun Moon Lake. Upon entering the campus you'll immediately notice the vast grassland surrounded by green mountains in the distance. The ingenious design of the buildings makes you feel as if you're in a resort rather than a university. In addition to the green grass and the beautiful scenery reminiscent of a European or American holiday destination, the other main highlight of the campus are the cherry trees, which bloom every year from mid-January to early March. You'll see a number of cherry trees scattered around the main entrance, and as you proceed through the campus you'll eventually arrive at the famous cherry blossom forest. There are more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees on campus, mainly distributed across 12.35 acres (5 hectares) of woodland. In cherry blossom season, the contrast of the beautiful blooms against the green grass and mountains attracts large numbers of tourists. The magnificent scenery and romantic atmosphere make this a perfect dating destination for couples, so if you happen to be in Nantou, you might want to pack a picnic blanket in case you decide to stop for a picnic at National Chi Nan University.

    Location: No. 1, Daxue Road, Puli Township, Nantou County, Taiwan, 545

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    photo by Hst0129 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    2

    Bald Cypress Forest

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    Located on Provincial Highway 139, the famous bald cypress forest of Nantou is privately owned and has around 10 bald cypress trees. The forest is fairly small, but is free to visit. As bald cypress is hydrotactic, you'll generally find water nearby. The needle-like leaves of the bald cypress begin to turn red in November. Under the sunlight you'll see an array of different colours, such as green, yellow and orange. This amazing display, coupled with surrounding watery terrain, make you feel as if you've been transported to a Nordic forest. With the help of the Internet, the stunning scenery of the bald cypress forest has become a popular place to take photos. Many couples come here to experience its dream-like, exotic beauty and romantic atmosphere.

    Location: No. 710, Bagua Road, Nantou City, Nantou County, Taiwan 540

    Open: 24/7

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    photo by lienyuan lee (CC BY 3.0) modified

    3

    Sky Bridge in Houtanjing Recreation Area

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    Located in Fushanli, Nantou City, Houtanjing Recreation Area is one of the most scenic spots in the Pakua Mountain Range. Houtanjing Recreation Area is located on the west side of the Pakua Mountain Range, which stretches over Nantou County (Fushan) and Changhua County (Shetou). There are two hiking trails; one connects to the lookout area of Houtanjing Recreation Area, while the other connects to the pavilion of the tea plantation. The park has a suspension bridge, which is 669 feet (204 metres) long with 265 steps. The bridge is quite flat and easy to walk. As you stand on the bridge, surrounded by forest and clouds, you can see as far as the Changua Plain and enjoy the beautiful views of the valley below. Admission to the recreation area is free. If you like stunning scenery, this is a great place to get close to the mountains and forests.

    Location: No. 300, Houtanjing Street, Fushanli, Nantou City, Nantou County, Taiwan 540

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

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    photo by lienyuan lee (CC BY 3.0) modified

    4

    Tataka Recreation Area

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    Surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers, Nantou has many amazing free attractions with free parking, such as Tataka Recreation Area. Tataka stands 8,562 feet (2,610 metres) above sea level, making it the highest point of the New Central Cross-Island Highway. It is part of Yushan National Park and is the main entrance to the main peak of Yushan. You can follow one of the many guided trails yourself or book a tour with a professional guide. Tataka comes from the language of the Tsou tribe, and means "vast grassland". On a fine day in Tataka you can see the cloud-capped Yushan main peak and surrounding mountains in the east and Tashan Mountain in the west. There is often a sea of clouds between the mountains in the early morning and evening. In autumn and winter, it is one of the best places to appreciate the gorgeous red splendour of the maples that cover the mountains. Admission to Tataka is free, and there is scenic beauty to enjoy all year round. It's a recommended addition to your must-see list if you're visiting Nantou.

    Location: Visitor Centre: No. 118, Taiping Lane, Xinyi Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 556

    Open: Visitor Centre: daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm. Closed on the second Tuesday of every month, and postponed by one day in case of a holiday

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    photo by bactizzy (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    5

    Songboling Visitor Information Centre

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    Songboling Visitor Information Centre is located in Mingjian, Nantou, south of Pakua Mountain. It stands around 1,640 feet (500 metres) above sea level and is characterised by the distinctive red soil of the tableland. As the climate and soil here are ideal for growing tea, the area has more tea plantations and produces more tea than anywhere else in Taiwan. Songboling is most famous for Songbai Evergreen Tea. A wide variety of teas with different flavours, such as Jade, Jinxuan, Oolong and Sijichun, are produced here. In Songboling you can take a stroll along the 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometre) tea trail, where you can smell the scent of tea all around you. You can also stop by the tea factory to see the tea-making process, and then head to the lookout area to enjoy the magnificent view of the tea plantations or watch the sunset. Admission to all of these attractions is free and they are definitely worth checking out.

    Location: Songboling Visitor Information Centre No. 181, Section 2, Mingsong Road, Mingjian Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 551

    Open: Songboling Visitor Information Centre: daily from 9 am to 5 pm; closed on New Year's Eve and the three major festivals

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    photo by 芳蘭 徐芳蘭 (CC BY 2.0) modified

    6

    Shuishe Visitor Centre

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    If you're visiting Nantou's Sun Moon Lake and want to explore the local history and culture of Sun Moon Lake while enjoying the beautiful scenery and delicious food, look no further than the Shuishe Visitor Centre. The visitpr centre has 4 floors in total, with the ground floor and basement levels providing tourist information. There are also exhibition areas, where you can learn more about the local culture and history as well as the indigenous culture. There are fantastic old photos on display and it's a great place to get tourist information and brochures. Outside the centre, there is a semi-outdoor plaza with four large pillars displaying the local specialities, crafts, food, and cultural activities of Sun Moon Lake. It's a pretty interesting way to find out more about what the area has to offer. Not far from the centre is the bus shelter, where you can take a boat or bus to visit other attractions. Admission to the visitor centre is free. If you're feeling a little tired after walking around Sun Moon Lake, you can come here to take a break or have a wander around the exhibition area to gain a deeper understanding of Sun Moon Lake.

    Location: No.163, Zhongshan Road, Shuishe Village, Yuchi Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 555

    Open: 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays (extended for half an hour on holidays)

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    7

    Hanbi Trail

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    Along the beautiful Hanbi Trail in Sun Moon Lake, you can enjoy the enchanting scenery of the lake and mountains while hearing the sounds of insects and birds. You can also see the many trees and smell the fragrant flowers and plants that line the trail. The trail is located next to the Meihe Garden and admission is free. The trail, which loops around the Lalu Peninsula, is 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometres) long with an altitude of around 2,460 to 2,559 feet (750 to 780 metres). The gentle slope is comfortable for walking and it takes about 1 hour to complete. In the early morning you can hear the sweet birdsong of Taiwan barbets and thrushes. At the lakeside pier you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the green mountains around the Sun Moon Lake. The sweet osmanthus and gardenias planted on both sides of the trail exude a heady fragrance, forming part of an incredible sensory experience combining sight, smell and sound.

    Location: Yuchi Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 555

    Open: 24/7

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    photo by rheins (CC BY 3.0) modified

    8

    Peach Garden Recreation Area

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    Peach Garden Recreation Area is located next to Mingzhu Bridge in Mingjian Township, close to the Waipu area of Zhuoshui River. Covering an area of 24.7 acres (10 hectares), the recreation area is planted with lush peach and plum trees. The peach trees are planted in a Y-shape. When the peach trees are in full bloom in spring, the peach tunnel turns a dramatic shade of red, attracting swarms of bees, butterflies and tourists. In summer, the peach garden becomes a tranquil sea of green. In April, May and June, you can come here to pick and eat the delicious ripe peaches. In addition to peach and plum trees, the garden also has many flower and fruit trees suitable for growing in subtropical regions, such as carambola, date, jabuticaba, yam, day lily, lotus, and many more. Apart from picking fruit and admiring the beautiful trees, you can also enjoy the garden landscape by strolling along the lotus pond and listening to the sounds of the frogs and birds.

    Location: By the Zhuoshui River, Xinmin Village, Mingjian Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 551

    Open: 24/7

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    9

    Zhongxing New Village Children's Park

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    Located in the heart of Nantou, Zhongxing New Village is not only a cultural and educational centre, but was also once home to the Taiwan Provincial Government. The village is famous for its abundant green spaces, creating the feeling of being in a large garden. Next to the circle at the entrance to the village is the Children's Park, which covers an area of around 2.47 acres (1 hectare) and has an area of lush green grass at its centre. There are walking trails, a family paddling pool and rock garden to keep the kids entertained. In the evening or on holidays, many local people take their families here to play, fly kites or throw frisbees. On holidays, the park also hosts events as well as craft stalls and exhibitions. At the centre of the circle is a big clock, whose hour and minute hands kept moving during the devastating earthquake of 1999, embodying the spirit of the village and demonstrating the significance of time. The park has stone sculptures such as "Cow with Calf", "Harvest", "Ode to Spring" and "Tea Picking", echoing the family atmosphere of the park.

    Location: Near the circle of the entrance of Zhongxing New Village, Nantou City, Nantou County, Taiwan 540

    Open: 24/7

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    10

    921 Leaning Tower Recreation Area

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    The 921 Leaning Tower Recreation Area, also known as 921 Earthquake Memorial Park, is located 144.2 miles (232 kilometres) away from Provincial Highway 3 in Mingjian Township. You have to pass through here on the way to Sun Moon Lake, Jiji Township and Zhushan Zinan Temple. The earthquake of 1999, referred to locally as the 921 earthquake, caused the transmission tower to tilt. The tower was preserved as the landmark "921 Earthquake Leaning Tower", standing in sharp visual contrast with the surrounding upright towers. There is a "921 Earthquake Disaster and Earthquake Leaning Tower" information sign to help visitors understand the power of nature and learn about the importance of earthquake and disaster prevention as well as earthquake-related scientific research. Admission to the recreation area is free. Along the trails in the park you can see the Jiji train track twisted by the earthquake and the normal track running next to it. If you're in Nantou, it's worth coming here for a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of the 921 earthquake.

    Location: No. 40-36, Yuanji Road, Mingjian Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 551

    Open: 24/7

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    photo by 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia (CC BY 2.0) modified

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