Orchid Island (Lanyu) Travel Information
Point straight southeast from Taitung, travel for 50 miles or so and you’ll find yourself on Orchid Island (Lanyu in Chinese), a popular tourist spot to get as far away from mainland China as possible.
The island of 3,000 or so people is rich in aboriginal culture – the home of the Yami people, an ethnic group that has lived there for nearly a millennium.
Many travelers rave about visits to Orchid Island because it offers even more of the beautiful landscapes and friendly climate that Green Island gives, and its distance from mainland Taiwan means that the tourist population isn’t nearly as large.
The island’s name comes from the flower that once populated the island ubiquitously, but is now quite a bit harder to come across. Among some of the classic features and reasons for travel are intriguing rocks shaped and molded by the sea, scuba diving and getting to know the local Yami customs.
When planning a trip to Lanyu, watch out for Taiwan’s famous typhoons, which hit the eastern seaboard the hardest and might make your trip multiple times more dangerous than you had expected.
Orchid Island Attractions / Things to do
Orchid Island is quite small – 46 square kilometers – so don’t plan to go for more than a couple days, unless you plan on sleeping on the beach for a week or something. Given that the island is so small, there isn’t a ton to do, but what it’s got is quite a treat.
Lanyu’s Coastal Rocks
The small island and its geographical propensity for typhoons have created a number of interesting rock formations that have been popularized by Taiwanese tourists and visitors. Like a much more tangible version of spotting shapes in the clouds, rock formations here range from battleship rock, to Lover’s Arch, to Dragonhead and beyond. We’re never ones to take what other people say though, try to find your own silly shapes and names for the rocks.
In most areas of Taiwan, aboriginal culture has more or less been transformed into a tourist attraction, a lucrative but perhaps unfortunate way for these peoples to eke out a living. In Lanyu that spectacle of entertainment has to a large degree been avoided, and Orchid Island is one of the least “Chinese” places in Taiwan. Some Yami may even demand exorbitant fees for the photo you’d like to take, contrary to the picture-taking frenzies that take place in other parts of Taiwan.
On your way around the island, check out shops selling traditional crafts, and keep your eyes peeled for the famous, elegant canoes that have been part of the Yami’s existence for centuries.
Scuba Diving / Snorkeling
Some say the scuba diving in Lanyu is the best in Taiwan, trumping Green Island and Penghu. That’s for you to decide, but either way if you’re up for the underwater zoo you should give it a thought. Snorkeling is a lot more accessible and there are locals around to assist you in this endeavor. Travel packages may also include snorkeling in their list of planned activities. Alternatively, you could bring your own mask and dive right in.
Getting Around Orchid Island
Information about local transport on Lanyu Island
By far the best option for making your way around Orchid Island is on scooter. They can be rented for about NT$300-500 per day. Renting policies are usually pretty loose, but make sure to bring some kind of driver’s license in case they ask for it. The island is small enough that you could conceivably walk, but we’ll still opt for the thrill of buzzing around the luscious landscape on two wheels.
Drivers should remember to fill up near the harbor, as it contains the island’s only gas station. Walkers should similarly load up on foodstuffs for their journey.
Eating on Orchid Island / Restaurants
Lanyu is perhaps the last place in Taiwan to lack a 7-11 – an indication of how difficult it might be to fill your belly there. Not surprisingly, local Yami fare features seafood as its main staple. Other than that, the fields are cultivated for taro, sweet potatoes, yams, and millet, and rice was introduced by the Chinese not long ago.
Restaurants like Lanyu Seafood House and Ocean Restaurant will give you the seafood you’re craving. At the same time, some spots have popped up that cater to foreign tourists and offer western dishes and a place to get a bit of relaxation. These are the Epicurean Pub and the Tribe Pub.
Accommodation on Orchid Island / Hotels
Like everything else, accommodations at Lanyu are limited. Your best bet might just be to wander around and pick what feels right to you, but here are some options. If you are going during Chinese New Year or another holiday weekend, booking through a travel agent is recommended as the limited places fill up quickly.
Lanyu Villa – Fairly simple and straightforward, though might get a bit overpriced during the heavy travel season. It claims to be a 4-star hotel, but who’s listening?
Homestays — Another popular (and cheap) option is to do a homestay with a local family or individual. There are quite a few of these and they are generally very friendly toward foreign visitors. Keep your eyes peeled, and your stomach ready for local home-cooked meals.
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Getting to Orchid Island in Southeastern Taiwan
Orchid Island is mostly accessed via airplane. Its tiny airport brings in tiny airplanes from Taidong on the Daily Air Coproration. Be warned that the small planes and severe weather mean that you might get stuck on one end or the other. The plane trips are about NT$3,000 round-trip.
Ferries to Orchid Island
Ferries to Lanyu are also available for travelers with strong stomachs. They leave from Fugang Harbor 富岡, 6km north of Taitung City. The rough seas, coupled with the fact that the flights aren’t much more expensive than the boats, lead me to suggest the plane.
There are also high-speed boats leaving from Houbihu Harbor in Kenting from April to September. The trip takes 2.5 hours each way, and costs 2300NT$ for a round trip ticket. The ticket office and the boarding area are at the southern end of Houbihu Harbor in Kenting. I would suggest to call in advance to ask about schedule and possible boat cancelation due to bad weather. Phone number is 088866388, I doubt anyone will speak English, so you might want to get a Chinese speaker to call for you. (Maybe you can ask your hotel receptionist to help…) If you want to take a taxi there, you can show this address to the taxi driver: 屏東縣恆春鎮大光路123號
One of the fastest ways to get to Taitung or Kenting from Taiwanese cities located on the west coast (Taipei, Taichung, Hsinchu, Taoyuan) is to take Taiwan’s ultra-fast High Speed Rail (HSR) all the way to Kaohsiung City, in the southern part of the island. From Kaohsiung, you can then take a normal train (TRA) to Taitung, or an express bus to Kenting.