Gateway to the mountains – Home to one of the world’s most remarkable Zen temples
Puli is a city in Nantou County, in central Taiwan. Most people only stop here on their way to the mountains, to places like Mt. Hehuan, Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. Others come to visit the astonishing Chung Tai Chan Monastery. Very few visitors stay overnight in Puli.
If you do end up in the city and you’re looking for things to do or places to go, you might want to consider visiting the attractions I present on this page.
Chung Tai Chan Monastery
No, it’s not a rocket!
But it looks like one! Especially at night, when dozens of powerful light beams illuminate the sky over this 43-storey structure. Reminds me of the laser show over Hong Kong a bit.
Chung Tai Chan Monastery is the most unusual religious monument I’ve ever seen. It fuses modern materials and technology with ancient Zen Buddhist traditions and iconography. Inside, you can survey expansive halls and pavilions that contain art work, sacred texts, carvings and some pretty impressive statues. It’s a really cool place where you could easily spend 2-3 hours walking around snapping pictures and chatting with the staff / nuns.
The monastery was designed by C.Y. Lee, the architect of Taipei 101 and the entire project cost US$ 110 million. It’s actually 6km outside the city. If you come here by taxi, it’ll cost you around NT$250 from downtown.
Nothing too exciting here… Don’t expect anything like Sun Moon Lake. It’s rarely crowded and that’s why I recommend it. The highlight is a pathway that circles the lake. Takes about 45 minutes to walk this loop.
From here, you can hike all the way to Taiwan’s geographical center on Mt. Hutou. Allow 2 hours for this round-trip. There’s a handful of restaurants and hotels around the lake.
Temple of the Bright Light
This is the temple you see perched up in the mountains above Carp Lake. You can easily walk up there from the main road. I went there twice and both times the attendants came to ask if I wanted a tour – free, of course – of the site. They also generously invited me to have tea with them. Great views of the lake from here.
Bamboo Forest Zen Temple
If you’re into meditation, or if you feel like disconnecting from reality for a few hours, head for this peaceful temple. The only people I ever saw there were the friendly resident nuns. It’s along Rongguang Rd, just 5 minutes north of Carp Lake.
Swimming: If you head east from this temple, you’ll come to a bridge. Take the small dirt road on your left (before the bridge from what I remember) and go up the river. You’ll see some natural pools and waterfalls where you can have a dip.
Locals flock here on weekends to bai-bai (pray) or to watch Chinese opera on the parking lot. From my experience, it’s the busiest place of worship in town and that’s also where you’re most likely to witness ancient Chinese rituals.
Right next door is the much quieter Confucius Temple. It’s small, but charming. In the afternoon, kids gather here to fly their kites or ride their bikes – while the elders exchange stories by the incense burner.
Muh Sheng Museum of Entomology
It should simply be called Butterfly Museum – because that’s pretty much all there is to see. Sure, there are few other bugs, but not that many. A visit to your local pet shop might be more rewarding. Kids might enjoy it though. (NT$160/person)
Singling Temple is on a hill that overlooks Puli. It’s most pleasant to be here around four or five at night, when the daylight fades over the mountains all around the city. Taiwanese like to come here to play Chinese chess or chew beetle nuts – at the pagoda under the tree – while watching the sunset.
Puli Shaohsing Brewery
This is supposed to be the city’s most popular attraction – after Chung Tai Chan Monastery of course. I personally have simply no idea about it. I try to avoid these places…
Eating – Night Markets and Street Stalls
You can find a decent array of cheap Taiwanese snacks and Chinese food at Third Market, just 100m from the bus station (south on Donghua Rd).
Bade Road Night Market also has its share of affordable treats like stinky tofu, oyster omelets, sausages and fish balls. It’s the best place in town to sample local food at budget prices.
Puli Nansing Youth Hostel is in an old, pink building. I stayed there once and I paid NT$500/night. I had a huge 3-bedroom apartment to myself (with kitchen, living room, balcony, 2 bathrooms, TV, air-con).
I’m sure I could have had ten people over for the night and no one would have noticed. But I was a good boy – I simply watched TV quietly… and drank tea! (wink)
Getting there and away
Unless you have your own car or scooter, you’ll have to take the bus to get to Puli. There is no train station in the city. The main bus terminal is downtown, on the corner of Jhongjheng and Donghua Rd. It looks like a giant, grey water tank. Other bus companies have smaller offices close to the main bus station on Jhongjheng Rd.
Taichung: The Taichung Bus Company has frequent buses; NT$150; 1hour. The bus stop is in front of Taichung Train Station.
Taipei: Green Transit buses leave hourly from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station (exit 4 – south side of Zhongxiao Rd). NT$350, 4hrs. In Puli, their bus stop is across from the main station.
Sun Moon Lake:Nantou Bus Company (342 Jhongjheng Rd, by the KFC) has hourly buses for NT$50; 45 minutes.
Kuo Kuang Hao Bus Company (at the main bus station) also has buses to Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingdong. They offer the cheapest fares.
I have never taken the local bus in Puli, so I’m sorry, I can’t help you too much with this part.
What I do know is that lots of local buses stop in front of the main station on Jhongjheng Rd. Many university students hang out in that area, so you’ll have no problem asking your way around in English.
Apart from Chung Tai Chan Monastery and Carp Lake, you can easily reach all the sites I’ve showed you on foot.
Puli is a fun city to walk – if you don’t stick to the main arteries!