Welcome to the wild side of Taiwan!
Point straight southeast from Taitung, travel for 50 miles or so and you’ll find yourself on Orchid Island (Lanyu 蘭嶼 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. The Yami are also called the Tao people.
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.
Best Time to Visit
The high season is between May and mid-October. During that period, you have lots of options to stay, eat, and drink. Summer is when Lanyu is at its busiest, so you need to book everything in advance: lodging, ferries, and plane tickets.
Low season, from November to April, means that everything is closed (aka dead), 95% of B&Bs don’t operate, and you’ll have to eat at 7-11 or at one of the very few local eateries open (listed below). As the winds are strong and the rain constant, boats and flights are often canceled, and very often without prior notice. Also, winter means clouds and bad views. Not the best if you’re here to take pictures of the otherwise beautiful scenery.
Getting your bearings on Orchid is pretty straightforward as the island is relatively small and there’s only two roads. The main road surrounds the island along the coast and it takes about one hours to ride around full circle. The other road bisects the island west to east through the mountains between Hongtou and Yeyin village. Crossing it takes about 15 minutes. If you ride that road, don’t speed on the way down, and use your back break to avoid an unpleasant road rash or a broken toe.
If you take the boat, you will arrive at Kaiyuan Harbor (northwest). If you fly in, you’ll land 3km south of the harbor, at the mini Lanyu Airport. The two biggest villages are Yeyou (west), and Yeyin (East). If you want to watch the sunrise in the morning from your B&B, get a room on the East side. If you’re more of a sunset person, book something on the West coast, facing the Taiwan mainland.
Things to do on Orchid Island
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 – especially the jaw-dropping panoramas along the coastline.
Rent a Scooter
Assuming you’re not here for cycling, renting a scooter is the #1 thing to do on Orchid Island. Riding around Lanyu is a must and takes only about 1 hour if you ride non-stop at full speed. But there’s no point in doing this. Take your time and stop at the various attractions shown on your Google Map or Maps.me Many of the sights are not obvious from the road and you’ll want to park your scooter and check around for some hidden spot, such as the Windy Rock Viewpoint. (More about renting a scooter below.)
Windy Rock Viewpoint
This quick little hike (15 minutes one way) to a stunning viewpoint is an absolute must. I repeat, you are wanting to be there! At sunrise preferably. From this point, you will have amazing photo opportunities that will make your Instagram followers go crazy. This viewpoint is not on Google map. Use Maps.me to see the trail clearly.
The walk is easy, but muddy at one section. The trail can get overgrown, so a machete or farmer’s scissors might come in handy, but I doubt you got that on hand. Wear shoes preferably, as you could touch some nasty plants like I did when I hiked there. Don’t get too close to the edge on top. Slipping could be fatal at best.
Lighthouse and Little Pond Viewpoint
The Lighthouse is actually not accessible to tourists, there’s a gate at the front, and it’s always locked. But the road up here offers some of the best views over the west coast.
Just before reaching the Lighthouse, you’ll see a clearing on your right where you can park. There’s a sign that says 小天池. Follow the trail to the second most scenic viewpoint on the island, and then a bit further to a little pond. Maps.me shows a trail surrounding the pond and up a little hill, but when I tried, I just got stuck in a marsh, so I turned around. Maybe rain boots would make it possible…
Hiking on Orchid Island
The most popular hike on Lanyu is 大天池 or Big Heaven Pool. Allow 3 to 4 hours for the round-trip excursion. Don’t try this one in flip flops, as the trail is somewhat steep in places, and muddy even if it hasn’t rained for few days. Use Maps.me to locate the trailhead, which is just south of Hongtou Village.
Another short hike takes you to Windy Rock Viewpoint, where you can witness one of the most glorious sunrise ever!
And yet another quick trek is the short path to 小天池 Small Heaven Pool, near the Lighthouse.
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. I’m never one to take what other people say though, try to find your own silly shapes and names for the rocks.
The Yami (Tao) Tribe of Orchid
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. For gifts and souvenirs, the scooter rental shop by the harbor is your best option.
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. If you go on your own, make sure to wear proper snorkeling booties as the shore is covered with sharp rocks.
Tec Only Lanyu Diving Center is one of the most popular outfitters who organizes scuba diving trips on Orchid Island. Overall, from what I’ve heard, they offer safe, professional, and friendly services. Most likely the best you’ll find on Lanyu.
That being said, keep in mind that this is not Koh Tao or Bali, where the level of the guides is of international grade. It’s well-known that Taiwan’s diving quality experience is not on par (yet) with the big players at bigger resorts around the world.
Best way to contact them is through their Facebook page.
Restaurants / Eating
Not surprisingly, local Yami fare features seafood as its main staple. Other than that, the fields are cultivated for taro, sweet potatoes, yams, millet, and rice was introduced by the Chinese not long ago. Flying fish is sold everywhere and it has become symbolic with Orchid Island. I tried it once, and it’s just not my thing, but don’t take my opinion too seriously, be adventurous and give it a try!
Kai Yuan Restaurant
Kaiyuan 開元小吃店 is one of the only restaurants which is open year-round. This local spot serves delicious rice bowls and fried noodles, as well as dumplings. I had the kong rou rice 控肉飯 twice. Super delicious and cheap. The place is kind of rough around the edges, but who cares, you’re on Lanyu and that’s why you came here.
1984 Breakfast Shop
If you crave dan bing 蛋餅 (a Taiwanese egg crêpe roll) for breakfast, get on your scooter and ride to 1984 breakfast shop in Yeyin village. The place is small and unpretentious and that’s exactly why you’ll love being there. Get the dan bing with bacon 培根蛋餅 45NT$! There is a 7-11 nearby, you can grab a coffee there first, and bring it in, the owners won’t mind.
NOTE: If you see dogs outside 1984, they’re most likely there because they are starving. Cross the street, buy some bread at the local market, and increase your karma points.
Accommodation on Lanyu
Lanyu is not a place where you want to just show up and look for a place to stay. BOOK AHEAD! In summer, places tend to announce no-vacancy
Shi Li Po Guesthouse 石里坡民宿
I spent 2 nights here in November 2020 and I enjoyed my stay a lot! Shi Li Po is conveniently located next to the airport. It’s not a big place, it has only 5 double rooms and 3 quadruple rooms. You get your own room with private bathroom. There is a communal area in a separate building where you can cook, eat, get free water, and sit with other guests. I did not use that area, so I cannot comment on it. It was a bit messy, as is a lot of stuff on Orchid.
My mattress was just perfect, not too soft, not too hard. There’s a desk and a chair if you have to do some work. My room had a double sofa, mini fridge, AC, fan, and most importantly for me, lots of 110v electrical sockets to recharge all my gear.
What I liked the most about this guesthouse is the sense of privacy I had. The previous time I had stayed on Orchid, my room was only accessible through the communal area and I had to meet people every time I wanted in or out of my room. Shi Li Po is kind of like motel style, rooms accessible from outside, and I like that.
The balcony on the 2nd floor was the best part. There’s a picnic table up there, you get a small view on the ocean and the planes that land every 2 hour or so in the afternoon. There are palm trees around, very little traffic on the road, so it’s a nice place to relax, read, sunbath, have a beer…
Address: 952, Taitung County, Lanyu Township, 漁人155號
Phone: 0937 497 905
Getting Around Orchid Island
Local Transport on Orchid Island
By far the best option for making your way around Orchid Island is on scooter as mentioned earlier. They can be rented for about NT$400-500 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.
I always rent my scooter right at the harbor. There is a building to your left as you exit the boat. Walk inside and look for the man in the picture below. His phone number is 0988-286431. If there’s no answer, try 0928-078325.
You 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.
Getting to Orchid Island
Plane to Lanyu
Orchid Island can be accessed via airplane. Its tiny airport brings in tiny airplanes from Taidong on the Daily Air Corporation. 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$2,600 round-trip.
Ferries to Lanyu
Ferries to Lanyu are also available for travelers with strong stomachs. They leave from Fugang Harbor 富岡, 6km north of Taitung City. The rough seas, coupled with the fact that the flights aren’t much more expensive than the boats, lead me to suggest the plane. I took that ferry 4 times, and was sick twice. Horrible experience! Check the weather beforehand. Check the winds on Windy.ty app. If it’s gonna be windy, forget the ferry and fly!
Taitung to Lanyu
In Taitung, you’ll have two options: plane or ferry. For the plane, book your ticket in advance with Daily Air, and make sure to double check your flight status BEFORE heading to the airport, due to regular cancellations.
You take the ferry at Fugang. There are buses leaving Taitung airport, train station and downtown area regularly for the the harbor. When you reach the harbor, there are two places where you can buy a ticket. If you need to park your car or scooter, then buy your ticket at the following office (see picture below) as they also offer parking space.
Kenting to Lanyu
There are high-speed boats leaving from Houbihu Harbor in Kenting from April to September. The trip takes 2.5 hours each way, and costs 2300NT$ 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
Travel to Orchid from other cities
One of the fastest ways to get to Taitung or Kenting from Taiwanese cities located on the west coast (Taipei, Taichung, Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Tainan) 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.
Orchid Island Travel Info
Wifi and Internet
Be aware that your internet SIM card from Taiwan might not work everywhere on Orchid. My card is with Taiwan Da Ge Da 台灣大哥大, and it would only work sporadically, ONLY on the east side of Lanyu. On the west side, I would have to connect to one of the Hotspots at 7-11, restaurants, or cafes. So that’s one of the reasons why you want to book everything ahead. Also, Google map might not load properly without a connection, so you’ll want to use Maps.me and download maps in advance.
The weather on Orchid Island is unpredictable at any time of the year. Even if the weather forecast shows sunshine, expect rain and strong winds. In winter, you are guaranteed to be rained on most of the time, and the winds are so strong that even riding a scooter is dangerous. Be prepared for extreme weather, bring a light rain jacket and rain pants.
Also, bring a long-sleeve shirt if you take the boat. I don’t know what’s wrong with these guys, but they always put the AC at maximum in there and it feels like you’re in a freezer.
The fact that Orchid Island is far away from the mainland means that you don’t want to get into an accident. There is a hospital on the island, but it’s got only very basic facilities.
If you rent a scooter, wear your helmet even if locals don’t. Don’t ride too fast (especially if the road is wet) as there can be goats, mountain pigs, dogs, and cats at any turn. As much as possible, avoid riding at night.
If you go for a swim or snorkeling, be very careful getting into the water, as the rocks are razor-sharp and can seriously mess your feet up if you’re not careful. Wear snorkeling booties or Chaco-like sandals that strap securely to your feet.
There are bugs, snakes, tropical plants with spikes and thorns in the interior. Wear long sleeves and if possible pants and shoes if you go for a hike in the forest. I did a couple of short excursions in the jungle and I probably touched an unfriendly plant with my right foot, so it got swollen and itchy for the whole day. Not cool.
Few areas are well-lit at night, even in villages, so bring a headlamp to see where you’re walking. The fact that there are so many animals roaming around also means that there is quite a substantial amount of poop on the ground. So, yeah, bring a headlamp.
Convenience (or lack of it)
Buy everything in advance!
Even though there are now two 7-11 on the island, there still is very little convenience compared to what you get on the mainland of Taiwan. So, think about everything you might need during your trip BEFORE arriving. Realizing you need a rain jacket here is not a good idea, especially if it rains your entire trip.
Other popular travel destinations in Eastern / Southern Taiwan: