More than Just a Sun Moon Lake Pit Stop


A short jaunt up National Freeway 6 from central Taichung, the mountain-hugged, basin-nestled town of Puli offers a satisfying mix of urban amenities, outdoor adventures, and tourist experiences to suit all tastes. In short, it has all the makings of a great base for a varied and relaxing break.

A common stopover for travelers breaking up their journey to Sun Moon Lake, this diminutive town, the urban heart of Puli Township, occupies a wedge of land covering no more than five square kilometers. Suspended in the center of a mountain-fringed depression, the hilly surrounding landscape is a constant presence. The downtown’s crowded store signage frames distant peaks, and under big skies beyond the built-up area, fields of water bamboo spill across the basin’s flat bottom as far as the terrain will allow. Many a passerby has been enticed to pause and sample Puli’s slower pace of life. Read on for a few pointers on how and where to while away a while.

Cona’s Chococastle

Cona’s Chococastle is not an easily missable building. This three-story faux castle sits just off County Highway 21 about 4.5km southwest of central Puli, enticing kids with its Disney-esque pointy turrets and chocolate promises. Tickets can be purchased at the gate (cost is partly redeemable against in-store purchases), and from there you head past a horse-drawn carriage and into the first-floor main hall. Here, visitors will find a fancy-dress wardrobe full of prince and princess getup – yes, adults included – that can be donned for photo shoots and to enhance the castle experience.

Cona’s Chococastle
Chocolate sales space on first floor

The second floor is given over to a café selling gelato and coffee, and there’s also an enclosed area where children can make their own DIY confectionary creations. Personally, however, I thought the most interesting area was the third-floor factory. Strawberry thins were produced the day of our Travel in Taiwan visit, and we watched molten baby-pink chocolates being molded, cooled, and zipped along mini conveyor belts before being sealed in individual packets and arranged into boxes by a robotic arm.

DIY experience space on second floor
Chocolate factory

Returning to the ground floor, you’ll find a shop filled with colorfully packaged chocolates. Top offerings include dark chocolate thins filled with ruby sauce, matcha nama chocolate cubes, and the same strawberry thins we’d seen in production.

Grandpa Lai’s Honey

A neckerchief-toting Formosan black bear welcomes visitors to Grandpa Lai’s Honey with a leading question: “You’re so sweet, aren’t you going to come in and have a little honey?” Indeed, honey is the flavor of the day (every day) at this establishment on the outskirts of Puli town. The ground-floor store has scores of different honeys and honey products on display, and visitors are welcome to sample the wares.

Grandpa Lai’s Honey in Puli
Welcome to the world of honey

I have never been a big honey fan, but in the interest of thorough research, I tasted my way through the various multi- and mono-floral varieties on offer. And I’m very glad I did, because I discovered that it’s not so much that I dislike honey, but more that I just hadn’t tried the right one before. Two in particular stood out – both mono-floral varieties – one made by bees who feasted mostly on beggarticks, the second a schefflera tree honey. Both of these possess distinctive herbal hints that elevate them above the cloyingly one-note sweetness of regular honeys.

Quality lychee honey
Honeycomb ice cream

As well as selling honey, the enterprise aims to educate visitors about bees, and to that end the premises include a single-room museum full of fascinating bee facts (all in Chinese). Even without reading the exhibits, kids will enjoy the cute drawings and love watching the comings and goings in the glass-encased observation hives.

Single-room museum

Goang Xing Paper Mill

Those without a sweet tooth may be more interested in a visit to Goang Xing Paper Mill. Approaching its 60th year in business, the mill is a window into one of Puli’s heritage industries. In the final decade of Japanese rule (1895~1945), dozens of paper mills sprung up in the area, and at the industry’s peak in the mid-1980s around 50 mills were churning out handmade paper. Thanks to the region’s uncontaminated water – a vital element in the papermaking process – Puli became synonymous with artisanal papercrafts and high-quality papers.

Goang Xing Paper Mill
Paper making in progress

As the frenetic pace of Taiwan’s economic miracle slowed, increasing mechanization, resource scarcity, and an aging workforce prompted many of Puli’s mills to throw in the (paper) towel – a fate Goang Xing evaded by pivoting into the tourism industry. Now, visitors can attend factory tours (every half hour in Chinese or by prior arrangement in English) and watch as raw materials are boiled, beaten, pulped, and pressed into sheets. The factory also offers the opportunity to get all hands-on with DIY paper-making and printing plus a variety of paper crafts.

Paper making DIY area
Paper printing
Paper shop

Puli Distillery

Puli Distillery sits beside small Liyu Lake, separated from the urban spread of the Puli Basin by the low rise of Hutou Hill. Despite the name, the two-story building is less a working distillery and more a combined educational and market space. The second floor is given over to a museum dedicated to the history of Puli Distillery and the distillation process, while the ground floor is occupied by a Puli Farmers’ Association marketplace where you can sample and purchase the alcohols made and some of the local specialty agri-products, including all manner of cooking condiments.

Liyu Lake
Puli Distillery

The distillery has an extensive range of award-winning alcohols to choose from, such as Yushan Ailan 16-Year Aged Liquor and a pink-tinted rosé wine. Beyond these distinguished drinks and more run-of-the-mill fare, the market area also offers some rather unique alcohol choices (medicinal black chicken wine, anyone?). And teetotalers don’t need to leave empty-handed, either. There are plenty of treats on offer, like bamboo chips and dried roselle candy.

Rose wine
Shop inside the distillery

Hui Sun Coffee Brand Store

Holidaymakers passing through Puli Township on their way to Sun Moon Lake tend to leave Freeway 6 at the Ailan Interchange before immediately taking a left onto Provincial Highway 14. Coffee fans, however, should turn right instead and make an important stop before heading onwards for a weekend of lakeside bike rides and paddleboarding on the lake.

Hui Sun Coffee in Puli
Welcome to Hui Sun!

Hui Sun Coffee sits just back from the highway. Its modern-looking exterior is matched with bright, high-ceilinged interiors and a flight deck of gleaming, state-of-the-art barista tech. The staff know their stuff inside out, and on our recent visit we were treated to impassioned in-depth explanations of each item we sampled, starting with a siphon brew made with 100% Taiwan-grown beans sourced in neighboring Guoxing Township. This coffee has a complex flavor profile, with a tea-like aftertaste that fades into a lingering sweetness. Following some palette-cleansing water, we tried a pour-over brew with a strident bitter-yet-fruity piquancy. Moving on, our third drink was one of the creamiest lattes I have ever tasted. It was so perfectly frothed that the mouthfeel was closer to a warm scoop of ice cream than coffee, while the dash of caramel and drift of puffed rice took it to another level. Our final choice was a sparkling passionfruit and guava drink that is best described as the taste of childhood summers in a glass.

First floor
Siphon coffee maker
Expert barista at work
Creamy latte
Passionfruit and guava drink

Hui Sun Coffee’s attention to detail isn’t limited to beverages. It also offers a store full of local products and a menu of treats – all prepared to the same exacting standards. Think pillowy breads paired with chunky fruit conserves, tarts made with fragrant Assam lemons, and crème caramel islands rising from pools of amber sauce.

Tart, cake, and crème caramel

Those wishing to experience the full breadth of Hui Sun’s repertoire are advised to start with siphon coffee before progressing to pour over, then espresso, and finally fruity drinks. This will not only take you on a whistle-stop tour of the past 30 years of Taiwan’s changing coffee trends, but will also ensure that the sweetness of the latter doesn’t corrupt your tastebuds.

Second floor

Ja Po Café

Where Hui Sun is all about bringing contemporary coffee culture to the countryside, Ja Po Café leans heavily into a rustic image. Located close to the well-known Chung Tai Chan Monastery along quiet Nantou County Road 73 (about 6km northwest of central Puli town), this one-woman enterprise is the antithesis of city living. The name Ja Po comes from the Hakka word for maternal grandmother, and the premises embody traditional Hakka frugality mixed with a modern interest in eco-friendly upcycling. Orchids spill from repurposed scooter helmets, cooking pans are reborn as outdoor lampshades, and a reservoir of succulents has taken up residence in an old shelving unit. The centerpiece is a ramshackle three-story treehouse perched in the arms of a Madagascar almond (its top-floor tea room is available with advance reservation), and out back, a surfeit of jabuticaba berries carpet the small backyard orchard – the glistening sweet-sour tree grapes clinging to the branches, so ripe they come away with a single touch.

Ja Po Café
Teahouse building in the back flanked by jabuticabeiras (Brazilian grapetrees)
Inside the building
Pond outside

The café’s simple menu consists entirely of vegetarian light bites and sweets. We sampled the shepherd’s pie, which – while quite a dramatic reinterpretation of the dish my mum used to bake – was a very moreish mix of crumbly pastry, savory mushroom, and buttery mash garnished with snippings of home-grown mountain marigold. As for the cinnamon roll, that far exceeded my expectations, being much closer to the gooey-chewy confections I used to get back home rather than the overly bready ones that have become trendy in recent years. The food was washed down with organic black coffee under the mistrustful gaze of dog Doudou – one of a small menagerie of formerly homeless animals that have found a home at Ja Po. And as we headed too soon for our now-Taipei-bound car, I couldn’t help but think Doudou and her four-legged fellows had hit the jackpot when they found their forever home in this little patch of paradise.

Drip coffee
Shepherd’s pie
Cinnamon roll
Former stray dog Doudou