Ludao: Prisons and Paradise
Many countries around the world have their tropical paradise islands. America has Hawaii, Spain has Mallorca and Japan has Okinawa. For Taiwan, it’s Ludao. After spending the last 3 days on the island of Lanyu, a place which holds true to its traditional aboriginal ways, it was time to travel to the island which it could have turned into. For better or for worse, Ludao accepted the change and influence of mainland Taiwan. Therefore, the island is more of a tourist-ran industry, with only 1/3 of the inhabitants being local aboriginal tribes. It was time to find out if its had a negative effect.
Hunting Down Nature
Just like Lanyu, we decided to arrange some tours through our hotel. Firstly, we’d hunt down the island’s most famous animal, deer. Not only are they across every t-shirt and souvenir, but also a unique feature on restaurant menus across the island. As delicious as it sounded (sorry vegans), we hopped on our scooter and began looking for a live one. However, disappointment, no deer. Perhaps the revving armada of scooters had something to do with it.
Thankfully, the second tour of the night was more successful. A group of us were taken to the southern tip of the island to rock pools that stretched across the coast. We were each given a torch and were kindly reminded to take care, as the island had no real medical assistance. Reassuring.
In single file we were brought to a shallow pool where we were told to wait for the guide as she went over to a collection of buckets. A few animals were being kept aside, ready to be brought over to our pool. Despite it not being as authentic as hunting down these animals for ourselves, in some ways it was better. The tour guides worked together to find and share the animals amongst each other, ensuring we could see the greatest number of creatures.
We were shown a small coconut crab, a huge sea snail, a bright blue starfish, a sea cucumber, and a sea urchin. We were also taken to another rock pool where we were told to catch one of the tiny fish swimming in it and eat it raw. It was the first time I’d ever caught and eaten my own meal. A regular hunter-gatherer.
Looking Through the Eye
A new day and a new tour. We’d be heading back to the coast, this time on the eastern side of the island. The first spot on the tour was one of the most photogenic and (more important) the most Instagram worthy shot in Ludao. It was the Blue Cave, otherwise known as the Blue Eye. Just like any similar attraction, it quickly becomes annoying being in the herd of cattle shuffling in line just to take the same fucking picture as every other person. It truly infuriates me.
The second spot of the day was a little hidden gem further down the coast. It was the supposed to be the highlight of the tour. It was apparently only accessible with a guide, as we could get stuck with the incoming tide. We arrived at a deep cavern that was locked off from the incoming tide. Though there was less animal life, it really was a totally unique place to do some snorkelling in a very eerie yet extraordinary atmosphere.
However, any sense of awe or fascination we had was quickly replaced with frustration. As always with tours, being in a group ruined everything. Having 30+ people squeezed into a narrow cave, kicking as they’re trying to find space. Obviously not the ideal circumstance to enjoy the experience.
If you want your business to succeed in Asia, there’s one simple rule you must follow: make it Instagram-able. People will truly go out of their way to visit a spot JUST for that one shot. Many people (myself included) can’t help but be motivated by the same reasons, and so is Jess. Weeks before she had found a bar that was particularly photogenic, and thus was a very important stop on our journey.
It was completely unique and absolutely genius in its simplicity. A series of miniature tents were spread across a narrow courtyard with delicate fairy lights hanging above. It was incredibly cute and gave a bit of privacy with the person you were with. So simple yet so beautiful, fairy-tale like.
It was such a popular spot that people would literally turn up, pose like the models they wished they were, and leave. It became slightly infuriating to me to see these attention seekers line up one after the other and snap into character as if they were on genuine million-dollar photo shoot. These fake little bitches trying to look candid and cute 100 times over as they constantly retake the picture to get the perfect shot. No matter how many pictures you take you won’t be any cuter. Take your pictures and FUCK OFF.
Final Time in the Ocean
The last day was all about hitting the remaining highlights across Ludao. This would also be my last chance to get back into the ocean, not knowing how long it would be until my next chance. We headed to one of the most popular snorkelling spots on the island, Chaikou. A long stone path led on top of the rock bed to allow swimmers to get deeper into the ocean. Unlike any other time, I had the entire ocean to myself with nobody around, slightly eerie.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of spots. The corals and the sea life were just a bit too deep to fully appreciate whilst snorkelling. It was my last hope to find something special, maybe a turtle or even a shark, but no luck. Even so, there’s always next time.
Taiwan’s Dark History
Next up was an experience I didn’t expect to have during my time on a tropical island. People would rightly associate such a place with beautiful beaches, colourful oceans, and palm trees waving in the breeze. However, a few unlucky souls would associate this island with misery and suffering to the highest of levels.
Ludao on the other hand has become infamous for its prisons. Many businesses in the area profit off the association by setting their establishment to a prison theme. The island is currently home to Ludao Prison, a maximum-security complex which has been in use since 1971. It houses some of Taiwan’s most dangerous convicts, including organised crime bosses.
Sadly, that isn’t the worst of Ludao’s prisons. We were about to visit the Green Island White Terror Memorial Park, built to remember Taiwan’s dark history. When the Republic of China government took control of Taiwan in 1945, the local inhabitants became upset with the conduct of the Kuomintang (the party that took control). The KMT were severely corrupt and would mismanage and mistreat many of the natives. It all came to a head on February 28th , 1947 when an uprising against the government was violently suppressed, killing up to 28,000 victims.
That began the period known as White Terror, when Taiwan was under martial law for 38 years. During this time 140,000 Taiwanese citizens would become prisoners. The crimes they were accused of ranged from opposing the KMT, suspected of sympathising with communism or even accused of being Chinese communist spies.
More than 20,000 of these political prisoners were held here on Ludao in the “Reform and Re-education Prison”, otherwise ironically known as “Oasis Villa”. The inmates were frequently tortured and up to 1,000 were executed. The last thing you’d expect to find in a tropical paradise.
Return to Serenity
We didn’t anticipate how disturbing the prison would be. In that case, it was time to clear the mind. Who better to visit than the God of Mercy, Guanyin herself? Further along the coast was a cave which had naturally made figure of the Goddess. Though the small underground cave did have a serene peaceful aura about it…the figure in question…didn’t really look like anything. It felt like those people who claim to see Jesus in a piece of burned toast. With a leap of imagination, I guess it could look like that.
Next was a very beautiful site that had a very grandiose namesake, the Little Great Wall. Maybe its supposed to piss off their cousins across the ocean. Being fortunate enough to visit the real wall a number of times, it hardly compares. Despite that, the view was almost equally spectacular.
The short walkway led across the peaks towards the edge of the coast. The entire path overlooked the expanse of the east of Ludao, with platforms at the end to give gorgeous views of the surrounding region. They included different rock formations which themselves were an attraction on the island. Two of which had acutely descriptive names that matched them perfectly; Pekingese Dog and Sleeping Beauty.
Hard Earned Relaxation
Following a long week of travelling and daily exhaustion, it was time to truly unwind in the beautiful surroundings. What better way than a hot spring? Couldn’t ask for anything better. Though this part of the world has to suffer frequent earthquakes, the benefit is having a number of hot springs. However, this was not your ordinary hot spring.
For one thing, they are all outdoors, and open until the early hours of the morning. That way we could bathe all night and look up at the stars in the unblemished sky. The hot springs here in Ludao are one of only three places where you can find salt water hot springs, the other two being in Japan and Italy. There are always benefits to being on a volcanic island.