I recently submitted a magazine article about one of my favourite places to visit in Taiwan – Lanyu, also known as Orchid Island, an island off the south eastern coast of Taitung.
The last time I was in Taiwan for my grad trip back in 2007, I had the chance to visit my first Taiwanese offshore Island – Green Island or Lyudao, which included a rather harrowing choppy hour-long ferry ride and one of the few times I ever felt incredibly seasick but was a pretty amazing experience.
Lanyu is a tad further away – about 2-3 hours by ferry, and is also much larger and even more pristine compared to Lyudao. Lanyu’s remote location has allowed it to retain a strong aboriginal Yami culture, something that a lot of mainland Taiwan has lost to modernisation, and the sheer difficulty of getting there means that a lot of the nature has been left relatively untouched. You’re surrounded by beautiful coasts and green hills everywhere you look.
I had to keep it very brief in that magazine article, but for anyone looking to make the journey to Lanyu, here’s a detailed guide to help you out. There’s not a lot of information out there in English – most of it is in Chinese – but the wild beauty is definitely worth the effort to get there. My journey there started out pretty rocky with transport and accom issues and I was convinced I was going to regret my stay there, but in the end, I kinda wish I had more time there. C’est la vie 🙂
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LANYU
- How to get to Lanyu
- Where to stay on Lanyu
- Getting around Lanyu
- Things to see on Lanyu
- Other things to do on Lanyu
- Essential things to know
- Useful Links
HOW TO GET TO LANYU
Getting to Lanyu is half the adventure and there are two main ways to do it. I’ve listed them here but you can also find more details and contact numbers on the Taitung tourism website.
FLY ALL THE WAY: If you choose to go by plane, you’ll need to:
- Fly from Taipei’s Songshan Airport to Taitung Airport – 50mins
- Fly from Taitung Airport to Lanyu Airport – 25mins
The only airline that does the Taitung-Lanyu hop is via Daily Air – there are 6 flights in a day, though flights are often cancelled or delayed if the weather is back, especially during monsoon season. More on their website here (mostly in Chinese).
The planes are really small (19 seaters) and are often fully booked months in advance. What a lot of people do (especially when they are trying to fly off the island) is put their name down on the waiting list for the date they want to leave as soon as they arrive. After that it’s a bit of a waiting game to see if you can get a flight.
It only costs about NT$3,000 (around S$133) in total for a round trip flight, and given the time and potential seasickness from taking the ferry, may be worthwhile to consider, but you need to be lucky enough to score a flight first!
The other more common but tedious way is to:
GO BY LAND:
- Find your way to Fugang Fish Harbour – you can take a train to Taitung and then take a taxi or a bus if you time it right to Fugang
- or head to Houbihu in Kenting – I was staying in Hengchun and took a bus from Hengchun to Houbihu
AND THEN BY FERRY:
- Take a ferry from Fugang or Houbihu to Lanyu’s Kaiyuan Harbour
The round-trip ferry ride cost me NT$2,300 (about S$100). The boats are considerably bigger so there’s a higher chance you can get on a boat last minute as compared to a flight.
The ferry ride will take about 3 hours in total, and really depends on the weather and how good you are on the seas. I don’t get seasick so I was pretty sprightly most of the way, and spent most of my time on the outer deck breathing in sea air and watching the flying fish. This boat is bigger than the Lyudao one so at least you have that option of staying outside if the weather is good. Ferries may also be cancelled if the weather is bad and seas are deemed too rough!
CAN YOU GET FROM LANYU TO LYUDAO?
I was hoping to go from Lyudao directly to Lanyu and hopefully save myself some ferry time (Lyudao is an hour’s ferry ride from Taitung) but the short answer to this question is – don’t count on it. You’ll need to ask the locals or the ticket office if any ferries are making any trips during that period during the busy summer period, but the likelihood is still quite low.
Also the funny thing is that while there may be a chance to go from Lanyu to Lyudao, you can’t get from Lyudao to Lanyu by ferry directly unless you go back to Taitung first.
WHERE TO STAY ON LANYU
The beauty of Lanyu is that it’s not very touristy, which is great it you are looking for a quiet place, but not so for English speakers because there is very little on the web in English with regards to Lanyu accommodation. My suggestions are:
- Airbnb – There are a handful of Airbnb listings but make sure to check that the accommodation location is actually in Lanyu, and not for nearby Lyudao or Taitung
- Chinese websites like Lan Se Da Men or Lan Yu Min Su have a listing of homestays and guesthouses in Chinese. You can usually communicate with them via phone or chat apps like Line. Enlist some help if you are not fluent in Chinese.
I highly recommend pre-booking accommodation and arranging your pick up at the Lanyu harbour – I left my booking till quite last minute and nearly didn’t have a place to stay (more on that when we talk about getting around the island). Luckily, the local folk pointed me and dropped me off at a lovely guesthouse Rong Shu Xia Backpackers (which translates into Backbackers under the Banyan Tree, and there is literally a huge Banyan Tree here) where I ended up having an amazing time.
They have a website in Chinese here and are on facebook too. and if you don’t mind working, they are happy to barter accommodation for you putting in some working hours at their shop! They can get pretty busy during mealtimes as they serve vegetarian food and ice desserts.
It cost me just NT$600 (~S$25) per night, and because it wasn’t too crowded, I shared a 2-bed room instead of a 6-bunk room – you can see pix on their website here. There was air-conditioning though there weren’t any windows. Toilets were very basic – a squat toilet and 2 showers. Stay indoors or pile on the repellent during mosquito hour in the evenings because you’re under a huge tree which is very charming but also mosquito heaven during 5-7pm! I also rented a scooter from them (they have 2) for NT$500/day.
What I mostly enjoyed doing was spending my evenings with the boss and his wife just sitting around having tea as the night cooled down. The boss Zhou Yi Cheng (contact: 0988-286431) is half-Yami and half Chinese and knows practically everyone on the island – people tend to just pop by randomly, have a cup of tea with him for a bit and then continue on their way. He apparently had a pretty illustrious career in the past as a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and still dabbles in that today – he warned me about my shoulders and posture >_<
I was also recommended to check out Jiu Lou Min Su (9th Floor Guesthouse) in Ye Yin village, a hostel which is also about equivalent in price and apparently has a nice rooftop hangout spot.
GETTING AROUND LANYU
Lanyu basically has 2 roads – a ring road (Huan Dao Lu – East 80) that goes around the island, and a cross road (East 81) that cuts across the mountains between Hong Tou Village and Ye Yin Village. Really, it is quite hard to get lost if you stick to the main roads. It takes about 3 hours to drive one complete circuit around the ring road without stopping. The roads are generally ok, but there are certain sections which are not paved and it is hilly in some areas.
Look out for goats wandering wild around the island – note that they are probably not wild – if you knock down an islander’s goat, you have to pay NT$8,000 for one goat AND you don’t even have the luxury of eating it.
What’s also nice are these rest houses that you will find along the roads, little huts that are mostly a raised platform and a roof for some shade, which are nice to rest in especially during blazing hot afternoons. You’ll find lots of locals just sitting around enjoying the island life in these rest houses, and it’s also a nice place to chat them up. I met a nice old man who happily showed me his fishing lines and horseshoe crab haul.
I highly recommend doing as the locals do and renting a scooter to get around the island. It’s the easiest and most efficient way to explore! The other option is renting a car but those may not be so readily available. There is apparently public bus transport, but it is an island I’m not sure how reliable this is, and there aren’t any taxis either. There is just one petrol station on the island as well on the west side near Ye You village.
Note that as a foreigner you MUST have an international drivers license to rent and they are really strict about it because they get into big trouble if you don’t have the right certification and get injured.
I thought my Singapore’s drivers license was sufficient, but they were insistent on an international license and refused to rent me a scooter even though I could definitely ride one. In the end, I was lucky that the guesthouse I went to had scooters for rent and the owner was willing to rent me a scooter even though I didn’t have the right license.
You could cycle on the island if you really wanted to and there are people who do, but for casual/amateur folk like me I would highly recommend that you do not. This place is HILLY, especially when you cut across the central region.
WHAT TO SEE ON LANYU
Lanyu’s charm is in its pristine nature, so a lot of what you’ll see around the island include weird rock formations, caverns and extremely scenic viewpoints. I spent most of my time just circling the island on my scooter and stopping wherever I felt like. Very liberating.
I’ll start from the harbour and move clockwise around the island:
Kai Yuan Harbour
This is where you begin your journey if you take the ferry to Lanyu – on the west coast. There is a police station cum tourist centre just as you exit the ferry area, and you will also see a parking lot of sorts with a whole bunch of scooters which people rent and return here.
A little to the north of the harbour is where you can find some eating places and convenience stores (including the only 7-11 on the island) – there is a bit of a mark-up in price given the scarcity of goods on the island, but you can pick up some snacks and necessities here.
You will come across a very steep hill with a single road leading upwards with a ton of switchbacks which leads to a lighthouse on the north west corner of Lanyu – I didn’t even have to turn on my engine when I was coming down, that’s how steep it was! The view here is pretty amazing, definitely recommended for late afternoon and sunsets, but I would go up and come down before it got dark!
Apparently the entrance to Small Heavenly Pond or Xiao Tian Chi is somewhere along this road as well, but I missed it this time around~
The lighthouse is a working one, not really meant for tourists and it’s fenced up so you don’t really get much of a view from the lighthouse itself, but the view on the road up is pretty spectacular.
The Northern coastline is home to Lang Dao Village (Iraraley) where you’ll see a lot of various rock formations. Whether it’s a touristy thing or just that people are very imaginative, the rocks have some pretty interesting names like Crocodile Rock (E Yu Yan), Jade Girl Rock (Yu Nu Yan) and Twin Lions Rock (Shuang Shi Yan).
Dong Qing Village (Iranmeylek)
On the north east coast of the island is Dong Qing village, not a bad spot for catching the sunrise. On the weekends there is Dong Qing night market here, and by that I mean 7-8 pushcarts grouped together in the town square of Dong Qing in the evening, so don’t expect too much! Look out for Warship Rock (Jun Jian Yan) and the popular Lovers Cave (Qing Ren Dong) around this area – both are worth stopping to take a closer look at.
Ye Yin Village (Ivalino)
Ye Yin village on the east coast is where you can take the cross island road to Hong Tou Village on the west coast. I particularly liked one of the random cafes I stopped in called Mermaid and Cats. Pretty little cafe, decent food and of course, cute cats. My favourite place around this area is the cold spring (Leng Quan) – the water flows out from the hills of Lanyu and it’s much cooler and really clear – on a hot sunny day it is heavenly to sit in the cold water for a bit!
On the cross mountain road between Hong Tou and Ye Yin Villages is the weather station – the road leading up to this place is so steep that they recommend you not try to drive your scooter up here. While the road is paved, be prepared for some serious steep slopes and about 30mins of walking, but the view is well worth it.
The southernmost tip of Lanyu is actually not on the island itself, but a tiny island called Xiao Lan Yu (Little Lanyu) just off the south coast. Look out for rocks like the Helmet Rock, Elephant Trunk Rock (Xiang Bi Yan – apparently the best spot for sunrise) and the Old Man Rock (Lao Ren Yan). I really liked Green Field Pasture (Qing Qing Cao Yuan) which is a stretch of green grassy hillside which has great views overlooking the sea.
You can also see the nuclear waste storage building and power plant here too, a bit of an anomaly in this mostly natural beauty. The nuclear waste building is a cause for contention – locals have been protesting its existence and have been calling for its removal, though they haven’t seem to have found a proper solution yet.
Somewhere nearby here is the entrance to Tian Chi or Heaven’s Pond and one of the iconic sights to see here, which I sadly missed this time around >_<
Hong Tou Village (Imourod) / Yu Ren Village (Iratay)
On the south western end of the island are two villages – Hong Tou is the other end of the cross island road and also the main administrative seat for Lanyu, while Yu Ren is another village just a short distance north. Both villages sit in Patai Bay, or Ba Dai Wan which is a lovely pebbly bay.
The airport is just north of Yu Ren village, and for some reason the road here is not very good!
Yeyou Village (Yayu)
I probably spent the most time in this stretch between the port and the airport on the west coast because that’s where my guesthouse was located, and I often headed to Yeyou to grab dinner before heading back to the guesthouse. Lots of food options in the village area.
Head to Tiger Head Slope or Hu Tou Puo for sunset, though there can be quite a lot of people there. Some quieter spots – Ye You Elementary school which was just in front of my guesthouse – my host said there going onto the grounds for sunset was fine. Instead, I headed onto the beach area just before Man Tou Yan (Steamed bun rock! It really does look like it eh~) and had a bit of a dip in the waters there (it got pretty rough so I didn’t dip for too long!)
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Night Tour by Scooter
I definitely recommend signing up for a night tour (NT$250 / S$10). These are usually run by a local guide and everyone piles onto their scooters, and the convoy is led around the island in the darkness. My guide turned out to be a local long-time resident who is famous for his ability to ‘communicate’ and call the Scops Owl – this is a tiny rare owl indigenous to Lanyu. He informs me that the males make a sound that is THOOORRRPPP!! and by golly the owls actually reply him when he does that. Females apparently go “cheep” and much less stridently.
It rained halfway through and our already small group of 4 dwindled to just me at the end! We checked out dark caverns, the shore by night, and even found some night-flowering orchids. Ask your local guesthouse host about this, there were 2-3 other groups out that night as well.
I was keen to see whether Lanyu underwater was as pristine as what you could see above water, so I signed up for 2 dives with Blue Ocean House in Hong Tou Village (NT$3,650 / S$150 including gear rental). We took the lorry up to the Jade Girl area in the north coast and dived from the shore – always a bit of an experience dragging your gear across sand and rocks instead of jumping in from a boat!
Snorkeling is also quite popular if you don’t have a license – you have to take a plunge into these beautiful waters. Lovely abundant fish life and corals!
The Yami are the indigenous people to Lanyu, also referred to as the Tao or Dawu depending on what you read. Most commonly on the island they just call themselves Yami. As one of the last remaining tribes, they are very proud and protective over their culture, so make sure to be respectful of their culture. Tourism is a bit of a love-hate thing for them – on one hand they do welcome the visitors and can be quite friendly once you start talking to them, on the other hand they get really irritated at ignorant people wandering into their homes or not respecting their property, and they aren’t shy to show it. My advice is to just be a respectful tourist as you should be wherever you go around the world. Making an effort to learn a bit of their language or talk to them while chilling out at the resthouses around the island will go a long way with them!
You can do a homestay and live in one of the traditional Yami houses. Be prepared to rough it out a little – these houses are low to shelter from typhoons, and there isn’t very much in them other than basic necessities, and you’re unlikely to have a toilet either. But if you really want an authentic experience,
Flying Fish Season
February to June is flying fish season, and you’re likely to see lots of fish hanging out to dry along the roads! If you take the ferry over, you might spot them skimming over the water as well. You can arrange to go out with the fishing boats and catch some fish late at night – I didn’t get the chance to do it though some of my guesthouse mates did.
Make sure to eat some deep fried flying fish as well – they are really nice and crispy.
ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW
The best time to go to Lanyu is in summer from April to June – there are more ferries available, the weather is better and flights + ferries journeys are less arduous or likely to be cancelled, and the scenery is amazing with blue skies and crystal blue water. I was there in May and it was hot but amazing.
Definitely avoid typhoon season which tends to be from July to September – Lanyu has been quite badly hit by typhoons in the past, and I’ve heard stories from the boatman making the crossing about how insane the sea is during those periods.
Lanyu is a part of Taiwan, so most people here speak Chinese. Local folk also speak Yami, and you can hear a rather strange twang even when they are speaking Chinese – the Yami culture is actually a lot closer to tribes in the Philippines than they are to Han Chinese, and you can see that in the names of the villages around the island.
Very few speak any English at all. My guesthouse host often got me to entertain the odd western customer who came into his shop in the evenings, and asked me to help translate things for him. My rusty Chinese skills definitely got quite a workout!
It’s best for you to carry enough cash on hand – there is an ATM at the 7-11 near Kai Yuan Harbour, as well as one in the post office near Hong Tou, but don’t count on them actually working with your foreign card, or actually being in service!
Credit card is not very widely accepted either, but you can try your luck – I paid for my scuba diving with credit card.
There’s quite useful information on the Taitung Tourism Website on how to get to Lanyu.
I quite liked this practical info link by The Cycling Canadian as well
This website is in Chinese, but 5657 has quite a fair bit of Lanyu info