20 Best Highlights to see on Lanyu (Orchid Island)
A short ferry ride from the mainland of Taiwan and you arrive at a tropical paradise home to a vibrant indigenous culture that’s mostly been untouched by outside influences. The island of Lanyu represents another age in Taiwanese history, one where indigenous tribes ruled the lands. By minimising tourist infrastructure and an influx of change, Lanyu has been left untouched and keeps things just like the locals like to see them.
Across the island has a myriad of treats including some of the world’s best snorkelling, dormant volcanoes and a rich cultural presence. So in that case, let me show you 20 of the best highlights to see on the island of Lanyu.
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Volcanic activity constantly brews beneath the surface of Taiwan, which in its wake, left behind a chain of islands surrounding the mainland. One of the mightiest volcanoes would later become the island of Lanyu. As it’s literally the island’s birth giver, the mountain is considered sacred by the local Tao people.
The mountain’s former crater has since turned into an eerie lake which is whispered under the name “the place where ghosts haunt“. During colder months, a shallow pool of water encircles a few dead tree stumps eerily poking above the surface. Come summer, the pool dries up, leaving behind an equally sinister orange lakebed.
The now inactive volcano can be explored as part of a 4-hour trek which takes you through steep slippery slopes and rocky ravines while giving you chance to scale the sheer rock faces. A true island adventure!
Lanyu is surrounded by some magnificent coastlines that provide amply photo opportunities. On the island, one spot is favoured amongst attention-hogging Instagrammers that come for that perfect shot, Lover’s Cave.
The natural sea-eroded stone arch is at mercy of the ocean during high tide. However, as the water pulls back, it leaves behind a vibrant pool which not only contrasts with the surrounding landscape, but with the right angle, the reflection of the arch forms a heart on the surface of the water, aww!
Visiting a Genuine Aboriginal House
The island belongs to the Tao indigenous tribe who’ve lived on this land for centuries. Many years ago, the tribespeople lived in unique underground houses so they could survive the regular barrage of typhoons each year. Throughout the island, you’ll spot the traditional wooden rooves poking out from the ground, so peculiar!
You’re even able to look inside one but it must be as part of a tour. These are still parts of people’s homes and neighbourhoods, so sneaking your way in for a nosy look isn’t appreciated! Once inside, you’ll be able to see the arrangement of the house and some of the tools they would have used all those years ago.
Inspect a Tao Fishing Boat
Taiwan’s ancestors once arrived in these lands on mighty vessels that crossed the Australasian oceans. Once the Tao people had arrived at Lanyu, they immediately returned to the water to see what the vibrant oceans provided them.
These incredible hand-carved wooden canoes which line many beaches across the island are highly significant in Tao culture, so much so that you SHOULD NOTtouch one without permission! Making a canoe is considered a rite of passage for men of the tribe and is still a part of an important coming-of-age ceremony.
Eat Flying Fish!
Once the Tao people returned to the oceans, they found a very peculiar site, flying fish!! In true island fashion, the locals survived on the fat of the land. With the changing seasons, schools of flying fish pass the shores of Lanyu, breathing life into the island and its people. As such, flying fish has become the iconic delicacy of Lanyu and the Tao people!
If you’re fortunate enough to visit the island during peak seasons, then you might get to try some or even catch the local Flying Fish Festival! Many of the local restaurants will serve it, and even if you visit during the winter months, then there should be a dry supply around.
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What was once a coral reef at the bottom of the ocean millennia ago, today the Green Green Grasslands is a wide-open prairie offering some of the most breath-taking views worth to see on Lanyu. A favourite by visitors at any time of day, the open panoramic views of the coast are a sight to behold!
The area also attracts the attention of small independent vendors during peak seasons. Look out for a cooler strapped to a scooter and try yourself some Yojo Craft Beer, Lanyu’s only craft beer!
Scattered across Taiwan’s island coastline are a myriad of coral reefs and some of the most vibrant oceans in the world. Of those many spots across the country, Lanyu is amongst the best places to get into the water!
Spots range from child-level paddling pools to open-ocean free diving, with a spectrum of life scattered in between including lion fish, sea crates and even hammerhead sharks. Of the many spots to choose from, the weirdest might be the pools next to the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility. Despite its ominous unappealing name, it’s apparently one of the best!
Though Taiwan has a love of night markets, Lanyu only has one. Dongqing Night Market consists of maybe 20 stalls arranged in a nearby square and along the main road. It’s definitely one of the simpler one’s you’ll find!
The market has a basic spectrum of Taiwanese classics, including chuan 串 (roasted meats and vegetables on skewers) to lu wei 滷味 (meats and vegetables boiled in savoury broth), bubble teas and a more unique option of fried flying fish for NT$150!
Every island has its lighthouse, and this is Lanyu’s contribution. The relatively new lighthouse is the highest in all of Taiwan. Though you sadly can’t explore inside, the area surrounding the lighthouse provides some spectacular postcard images!
You’ll have a sweeping view to see of the northwest coast of Lanyu, from the primaeval mountains to the turquoise oceans. It all steps up a whole new level once the sun starts to set.
Yeyin Cold Springs
While Lanyu’s shorelines are lined with an ample number of coral reefs, further in, former reefs now make up some wonderful collections of rock pools. One area of the island even comes with its own cold spring!
The Yeyin Cold Springs are equal part seawater and freshwater, which is definitely unique for the area and a perfect place to take a dip! With such calm and beautiful surroundings, it’s the perfect place for an impromptu spa day or a safe spot for families to relax!
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Along that magnificent coastline, nature has sculpted some very unique figures. Of the many rock formations across the island, one the most notable is Warship Rock.
In its peculiar history, the uninhabited rock gained its name because American pilots bombed it during WWII, thinking it was a Japanese ship! You can really see why!
The Tao people traditionally used the rock formation they call Jyahawod, translated as “it’s not easy to land“, like a fish farm! The rapid ocean currents brought with it a rich ecology and some very diverse species, making it a popular dive spot.
Get On a Tao Fishing Boat
Now that you’ve finally set your eyes on a traditional Tao fishing boat, how about a chance to ride one?
One of the popular local activities is to be taken out of the port by a local tribe member in one of the iconic fishing boats. To be fair, you aren’t taken out too far and you’re effectively pushed along the whole time, but it’s still a worthy experience!
The Goats of Lanyu
Another iconic feature you’ll see on Lanyu is the hundreds upon hundreds of goats that roam the island freely! Often grazing along the edge of roads or perched precariously on the jagged rocks along the coast, they’re everywhere! Though they seem wild, they’re all owned by locals who just allow them to wander at large.
These goats are a food source, but they’re only slaughtered on very special occasions. Be careful while driving around as you could easily hit one! If you do, local law states you have to pay NT$8,000 per goat.
Lanyu Weather Station
At the peak of the steep slopes of the cross-mountain road is the Lanyu Meteorological Weather Station. It also comes with its own quirky story. Built by Japanese occupiers, the station wears battle scars from WWII in the form of bullet holes in the walls of the main building!
The weather station has such a commanding height over the island, it gives one hell of a 360-degree view! From the rolling forests and the sweeping coastlines, there are few better places to sit in wonder, especially during sunset!
Along the island’s cliff edge, a series of 5 caves that were once beath the sea, evidence of which is left behind in the form of coral fossils along the cave walls. The locals actually consider the caves to be taboo and refer to them as “Evil Spirit Nest.” Women and children are actually forbidden from being around the caves for too long!
While the first two caves are are used as churches (cannot be entered), another is known as the home of a mythical snake, and another used by the islanders as a venue for sumo fights between conflicting tribes!
The Many Rocks of Lanyu
What does Lanyu have to see? Rocks, a lot of them! Whether it’s a cultural phenomenon or clever tourist marketing, any and every rock formation around the island has its own name.
The most famous is Mantou Rock, a large steam bun-shaped column of lava protruding from the ocean. Another formation known as Jade Girl Rock acts as a wonderful Rorschach painting. The Tao people think it resembles a bunch of reeds or a child standing between two quarrelling parents. Others see something of a more sexual nature…let’s see what your personality says about you…
Other creative names include Indian Rock (Jyakmey Sawasawalan), Twin Lion Stones, Tank Rock, and Elephant’s Nose Rock to name a few.
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The island’s locals have a real love/hate relationship with tourism. Though its an easy source of income, the locals are wary of their land being destroyed by outsiders. They hope that visitors can be more aware of the impact they have, and so Kasiboan was born.
The tiny educational facility was built almost completely out of recycled trash, including using plastic bottles to build the walls, to illustrate the need to keep the island clean and that any trash brought onto the island should also be taken out.
The Cute Dogs of Lanyu
In and around the local villages you’ll come across a staggering number of wild dogs. They’re all tame and completely comfortable amongst people, they’ve just been allowed to breed unhindered for years until their numbers have blown out of proportion. Now they’re just been allowed to ramble in the villages, where they’re most likely to find food.
It’s actually a little sad, as you’ll come across little puppies that look malnourished and have all manner of skin conditions. You kind of wish you could take them all back with you.
What better way to learn more about the Tao people than to visit a local museum? Inside are a few relics and displays on the local tribes. Inside the exhibits will walk you some through the different elements of their culture and local traditions.
The highlight has to be the beautiful replica of an underground house that you can actually enter, as you can’t just walk into a locals’ home!
A Thread of Sky
Not too far away from the Lover’s Cave is yet another rock-related attraction (be prepared for many more!) It’s pretty easy to miss as the cave opening blends well into the side of the road. At the end of the eerily long tunnel, you can climb through to find a large crack that breaks through to the light, and you found A Thread of Sky.
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.