Everyone wants to find their own slice of paradise. White sandy beaches, vibrant coral reefs, wild unhindered rainforests and authentic tribal culture are just some of the ingredients needed for the perfect getaway destination. Well, that’s exactly what you find on the island of Lanyu.
Not only does the small volcanic island off the coast of Taiwan have endless amounts of breathtaking natural beauty, but Lanyu (or Orchid Island) is also home to the country’s most isolated aboriginal tribe, the Tao, who are famous for their annual Flying Fish Festival. With only the absolute minimum amount of modern development, the island has remained practically unspoiled and remains a true testament to authentic tribal life.
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? So in that case, let me guide you on everything you need to know about the tropical island of Lanyu.
Table of Contents
For centuries, the island of Lanyu has been home to the Tao tribe (or Yami as called by the Japanese), which are one of the 16 officially recognized aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. Lanyu is by far the best-preserved example of authentic tribal life in the country. Sadly, only 3100 Tao people remain on the island they call Pongso no Tao (Island of the People), or as Westerns like to call it, Orchid Island.
Not only are the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan ethnically closer to the Philippines, but the Tao tribe has developed even more unique characteristics that set them apart from other Taiwanese tribes.
The most recognisable aspect of the Tao culture is their incredible hand-carved wooden canoes which line many beaches across the island. 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. Though you’ll see many of these beautiful structures, DO NOT touch them without permission, as it’s considered incredibly offensive to the tribespeople.
The Tao people are also known for their unique underground houses. As the island is regularly battered by violent typhoons every year, the Tao traditionally protected their homes by building them below ground with only the roof poking out.
When Taiwan’s past Japanese occupiers came to the island, they forced the locals to destroy their traditional houses and abide by the Japanese way. However, soon after the arrival of the first typhoon, the Japanese came back with their tails between their legs to ask how the locals built those houses.
Lanyu also has its own iconic animal, flying fish! Each year enormous schools of the airborne fishies are brought to the island by swelling currents, and thus have played an integral part of Tao culture for centuries! So much so that they even have an entire festival dedicated to the little gliders. They’re also on the menu of some of the island’s restaurants!
Last but not least, every tribe needs their own colours, right? Across the island, you’ll find boats, homes, hotels and everything in-between decorated with the same tribal colours of red, black and white. Red represents the colour of the island’s soil, white represents the seashells while black represents the volcanic rocks.
The 45km2 volcanic island that lays off the south-eastern coast of Taiwan is centred by monstrous mountains and lined with steep cliffs that stretch out to the often sheer coastline. A convenient flat strip of land circles the entire island around which the entire population has gravitated around.
The island has had the absolute bare minimum of development to keep up with modern life e.g. normal-ish houses, a relatively decent ring road, and plenty of scooters…but that’s pretty much it! The island has resisted any of the usual toxic tourist influences and remained as authentic as you can get! Let me guide you around Lanyu!
Note:Bear in mind all the island’s villages have both Chinese and local Tao names.Every guide you read on Lanyu will mention only one of the names.
Though Lanyu is beautiful, here is the ultimate guide to easily the most popular tourist destination in all of Taiwan!
The west to the south-west of the island is easily the most developed area. It’ll be your first point of arrival as it has both Kaiyuan Harbor and Lanyu Airport, which is essentially just one building and short runway.
Nearby are also the villages of Yuren (Iratay) and Hongtou (Imorod), both of which are more traveller-friendly. Within the villages are a couple of nicer restaurants and small-scale hotels (still not much) along some pretty stunning coastlines. The harbour also has one of only two 7-Eleven’s on the island.
Along the northern coast is Langdao Village (Iraraley), which also has a couple of guesthouses, a dive shop, and a beach filled with authentic Tao boats.
To the east of the island is Dongqing Village(Iranmeylek), another significant hub. Along with having a few nice restaurants and the island’s only other 7-Eleven, it also hosts a regular night market, albeit a small one. Not too far from there is the village of Yeyin which also has a fair share of guesthouses but pretty undeveloped compared to the other villages.
On the southeast of the island is an unwelcome addition to the otherwise perfect tropical paradise, the Lanyu Nuclear Waste Storage Facility. It’s been controversial ever since it was built against the will of the local Tao people, and is still a hot topic to this day.
Lanyu’s Free Roaming Wildlife
This is island life brother, and as such its expanses are full of unhindered wildlife. Two have become more iconic than all the others, simply due to their number and their complete freedom to roam the island!
The Goats of Lanyu
Another iconic feature of 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.
They are a food source, but only used on very special occasions. Be careful while driving around as you could easily hit one, and if you do, local law states you have to pay NT$8,000 per goat.
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.
Being as Lanyu is an island, then you only have two options, flights or ferries. A guide to Lanyu transport couldn’t be simpler.
Flights only leave from a single destination, Taitung. These Daily Air flights are propeller planes that carry a maximum of 19 passengers. There are usually 8 flights per day, though there are 10 on weekends and usually fewer in winter. Tickets cost NT$1,369 one-way and NT$2,673 for roundtrips, taking about 25-30 mins.
The flights go on sale exactly two months before the date of departure and sell out very quickly. They are only sold on The Daily Air website, and can also be reserved by calling 078014711, though you’ll get little English. Also, be aware, due to Lanyu’s remote location and unpredictable weather, flights are often delayed or cancelled.
Easily the most common option, ferries are cheaper, easier to get a ticket, and have many more seats available. The downside is that they take almost 3 hours to get there and the route is pretty damn rough! Even the most hardened stomach will end up getting seasick!
Ferries leave from TaitungFugang Harbor and Kenting Houbihu Harbor which is close to Kenting National Park (March to October).
Taitung Fugang <-> Lanyu
2 – 2½ hours
Kenting Houbihu Harbor <-> Lanyu
2 – 2½ hours
A guide to ferries to Lanyu
If Lanyu’s natural beauty isn’t good enough, how about a guide to the birthplace of Taiwan? Here’s everything you need to know about Tainan!
Your options are very limited for getting around the island! Lanyu only has 2 main roads: a ring road (Huandao Lu – East 80) that follows the island’s coast, and a cross-island road (East 81) that cuts across the mountains between Hongtou and Yeyin. There isn’t even that much road to drive, as it only takes 2 hours to get around the entire island!
The roads are okay but not the highest quality. Some sections might not be paved or inexplicably turn into a single road without warning. Just be sure to be extra vigilant at night as roads are rarely lit.
This is the best way to get around the island, no question about it! There’s a reason it’s locals’ top choice! And with a cost of NT$400-$600 a day to rent, it’s a bargain!
Sadly, you musthave an international license to drive petrol-powered scooters in Taiwan. That being said, the single company that rents scooters (which is directly across from the port) doesn’t always have the most stringent checks. Plus if you want to be sneaky, just ask the guesthouse or hotel you’re staying at if they can sort one out for you, which they most likely will, no questions asked.
However, local police will occasionally set up checkpoints during peak seasons to check tourists’ licences. I was almost busted because of it! Neither did I see that mentioned on any other Lanyu guide!
If you don’t have the proper license, then you can still rent electric scooters, though I wouldn’t really recommend it. The battery only lasts about half a circuit around the island, meaning you’ll have to return to the rental shop to change it. Basically, a big pain in the ass.
Renting a Car
There might not be many of them here, but it’s still possible to rent a car on the island. It’s not exactly cheap though at NT$2000 a day, and nowhere near as fun!
It’s not even worth mentioning this option! Apparently, there’s one bus that makes a single circuit around the island every day…so basically useless.
Lanyu has everything you would ever wish from a tropical island paradise; white sandy beaches, incredible natural landscapes, coral reefs bursting with life, and authentic tribal culture. What else could you ask for?
All the attractions are conveniently along the coast and the road which follows it. You can basically spend your day following the coast road and knock off one attraction after the other. Let me guide you on some of the best spots Lanyu has to offer.
Green Green Grasslands
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 breathtaking views Lanyu has to offer. The countless shades of green and blue provided by the wide-open view of the coastline are just too good to miss.
From here you’ll even be able to see Little Orchid Island clearly visible off the coast and the pristine ocean that surrounds it. The grasslands have become a favourite amongst tourists as the spot to enjoy the natural scenery as the sunsets.
The site draws such a crowd that it’s one of the only places that attracts vendors trying to capitalise on tourist cash. During peak seasons a few souvenir stalls set up shop at the entrance to the grasslands. One vendor worth a look sells Yojo Craft Beer, Lanyu’s only craft beer, out of a cooler strapped to a scooter. At NT$180, it isn’t cheap, but certainly unique!
Known as “the sea of mountains” or “the place where ghosts haunt,” Datianchi is the remnants of a volcano that gave birth to this island! As such, the mountain is rightly considered to be a sacred place by the local Tao people. They even have a strange tradition of wiping their bodies with five-node leaves to get rid of evil while visiting the mountain. If you look closely at some of the tree trunks, you’ll even notice different markings that indicate which family it belongs to.
You can visit with a local guide who will take you along the pretty intense 4-hour trek to the peak of the most significant mountain on Lanyu. If you’re adventurous enough to tackle the steep slippery slopes, rocky ravines, and scale the sheer rock faces, then you’ll be rewarded with a big payoff at the end!
At the summit of the mountain is the former crater of the once earth-altering volcano, which has since turned into an eerie lake that breaks through the surrounding canopy. During colder months, the crater is barely covered by a shallow pool of water with dead tree stumps eerily poking out. Come summer, the pool dries out, leaving behind nothing but an equally sinister dry lake bed.
Dongqing Night Market
It wouldn’t be Taiwan if the island didn’t come with its own night market, and it’s a pretty exclusive one at that! Dongqing Night Market is the only one on Lanyu! Though don’t expect much, as the market only has a gathering of maybe 20 stalls arranged in the square and along the main road, very few to Taiwanese standards.
The market has a simple 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!
Attention wannabe influencers, this is the spot for you! Lover’s Cave is by far the most popular Instagrammer spot on the island, and there’s little wonder why!
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!
Yeyin Cold Springs
Lanyu is definitely not short on incredible spots to go for a dip (more on that in a sec), but this one is a little unique! The Yeyin Cold Springs are equal part seawater and freshwater, which is definitely unique for the area! With such calm and beautiful surroundings, it’s the perfect place for an impromptu spa day or a safe spot for families to relax!
Though Lanyu has many notable rock formations, one stands above all the rest because of its quirky history! Laying just off the north-eastern coast, Warship Rock is an uninhabited island named so because American pilots bombed it during WWII, thinking it was a Japanese ship! You can kinda 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.
Every island needs a decent lighthouse, and Lanyu is obviously no exception! The relatively new Lanyu Lighthouse is the highest in all of Taiwan, though sadly you can’t explore inside. Doesn’t matter though, as that isn’t even the best part!
The reason so many visitors flock to the area is for the spectacular views that it provides! From the lighthouse, you have a sweeping view of the northwest coast of Lanyu, from the primaeval mountains to the turquoise oceans, all of which go to a whole new level during sunset!
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.
Lanyu Weather Station
At the peak of the incredibly steep slopes of the cross mountain road is the Lanyu Meteorological Weather Station. It comes with quite a surprising history! Built by Japanese occupiers, the station was caught in the crossfire of WWII and still wears bullet marks on the walls of the main building to this day!
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 almost the entire coastline, there are few better places to sit in wonder, especially during sunset!
Open: 6 am – 8 pm
Though it may seem like just a series of 5 holes carved into the cliff edge, each comes with its own unique and peculiar history! What were once sea caves eroded beneath the ocean, millions of years of coastal rising left behind evidence of its watery days in the form of coral fossils along the cave walls.
Each of the 5 cave entrances has been given a different name by the local tribes. They actually consider the caves to be taboo, and have even given them the collective name of “Evil Spirit Nest.” Women and children are actually forbidden from being around the caves for too long!
Each cave couldn’t be more different! The first two are currently used as churches that cannot be entered. Another cave is known as the home of a mythical snake, while another was used by the islanders as a venue for sumo fights between conflicting tribes! …I mean…what?!
The Many Rocks of Lanyu
What does Lanyu have? 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, some of which are pretty accurate!
The most famous of them all is Mantou Rock, a large steam bun-shaped column of lava protruding from the ocean. It’s always been significant for the local Coconut Oil tribe, who would carry out cliff and sea burials from here. Today the area surrounding Mantou Rock gathers a spectrum of tropical fish and even some pretty tasty lobsters!
Another significant formation for the local tribes is Jade Girl Rock that 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…
Another very cool addition to the list is Indian Rock (Jyakmey Sawasawalan), a natural stone tunnel you can drive through on your way along the coast road! Other imaginative names include Twin Lion Stones, Tank Rock, Oldman Rock, Dragon Head Rock, Elephant’s Nose Rock to name a few.
What better way to get a crash course on the culture of the Tao people than to visit a local museum? Inside are a few relics and displays on the local tribes, as well as a beautiful replica of an underground house that you can actually enter, as you can’t just walk into a locals’ home!
Open:08:30 – 12:00 and 13:30 – 17:00 from Friday to Tuesday, though they’re closed on Wednesday and Thursdays.
The locals of the island have a real love/hate relationship with tourism. Though it may be an easy source of income, the locals are very wary of their island being destroyed by outsiders. They wish that visitors would 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, such as 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.
Let me guide you through my own personal experience of Lanyu and my aboriginal awakening!
Lanyu is, in more ways than one, the perfect destination for travellers. Most attractions on the island are completely free and open at all hours of the day! Yet on top of that, there are plenty of other experiences that are just as incredible!
Lanyu has some of the best snorkelling spots in the entire country…but which spot should you visit? It’s an important decision as you won’t have time to visit each one and you need to make the most out of your time! So let me guide you on some of the best spots around Lanyu.
Note: I’m just mentioning the easy to medium level spots, there are still plenty I haven’t mentioned for more advanced freedivers. Purple spots are a little more difficult.
Female visitors should dress modestly whenever they’re nearby the villages. Also, you may not be allowed to swim in certain spots during the Flying Fish Festival (around February to May).
Reef Next to Airport
One of the most popular snorkelling spots is just a stone’s throw away from the local airport! The topography of the reef forms both natural pools that are safe for swimming and deep ravines filled with some fascinating biodiversity. There’s even a natural arch under the outer reef which makes for some incredible photo ops!
Iratay’s (Yuren) Village Bay
A favourite for everyone from kids to professional spearfishermen, this spot has plenty of underwater life. A little further out from the bay, you can reach a depth of about 10 metres.
Right in the heart of Yeyou is another great spot to search for some sea life! For the first few meters, it’s perfectly calm and an easy spot for some fish spotting! Though don’t let the stillness of the ocean fool you, it’s pretty deceptive! About 100 meters out the gentle slope quickly plunges down to 100 meters! And be aware of the current, it can get pretty powerful!
Yayo Snorkelling Site
Located almost at the northwestern tip of the island is another fantastic spot where you’re likely to find plenty of everyone’s favourite fishy friend, Nemo! It may not be quite as vibrant as the other spots but still worth a look. Be sure to stay close to shore though as the current can get pretty powerful the further north you go.
Jimavonot Outer Reef
As it’s a little further out to sea, best tackle this spot with a local guide. Jimavonot has a rocky outcrop that attracts plenty of little fishy friends and even has a beautiful swim-through tunnel at the bottom of the reef. Certainly a favourite amongst freedivers!
Secret of Iraraley
This is the absolute perfect spot for first-time swimmers and families! This natural rock pool is cut off from the nearby ocean, keeping the water beautifully calm and secluded. The wonderful mix of fresh and ocean water in a fairly deep pool makes it a perfect little spot for an easy day snorkelling.
This is a front runner for Lanyu’s top snorkelling spot! It’s also a favourite amongst diving tours and local guides to bring their foreign explorers. With an easy entry, scenic landscape, 20 meters of depth, and a whole variety of little fishies, it’s the perfect spot for all levels!
Iranmeylek No.7 Pavilion
Further along the coast is a small pavilion perfect for those trying to advance in their freediving experience! It’s a little barren when comparing to other spots on this list, and the stronger current makes it a little trickier for beginners!
Pools at the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility
To be honest, swimming in a reef nearby hundred of barrels of nuclear waste doesn’t sound all that appealing. Though don’t judge it by its admittedly god awful name! The two tidal pools connected by a central cave with a nice spectrum of life makes it a top choice for families.
Little Mushroom at Longmen Harbour
This beautiful dive site not only features a white sandy blanket beneath a rich coral reef but it’s also home to one of Lanyu’s iconic underwater sites, the “little mushroom”. At 13 meters below, the coral bommie is often surrounded by a myriad of fish brought in by the strong currents. You best go with a guide, the currents around Lanyu can get pretty intense.
By now you can see how many amazing opportunities there are to get into the water, and there’s no better way of doing that than doing some scuba diving! There are only a handful of dive “shops” on the island, such as Tung Lung Diving Inn 東龍潛水, which also doubles as a guesthouse.!
A 2 tank shore dive is around NT$2000 and you can even rent snorkels and fins for NT$1000. Not to worry if you’re not an experienced diver, instructors will guide you through some of the best waters around Lanyu! Be aware that these dives are only available in the morning.
There is still plenty of life on the island once the sun goes down! A local guide will take guests on night tours to the southern tip of Lanyu to explore some of the local wildlife. As is the way with these sorts of tours, it’s luck whether you see anything, but you might spot one of Lanyu’s indigenous animals, the Scops Owl. It costs about NT$250 per person, and certainly worth it.
Visit an Underground House
One of the most peculiar and unique aspects of Tao culture is their authentic underground houses. In any other case, you’d never get an opportunity to see the inside of one. Would you be happy if tourists just walked up to your house and stuck their noses in? I don’t think so, so visits mustbe prearranged.
Luckily there are regular tours where a guide will take you to their traditional family home here on Lanyu. They’ll take you inside a genuine home and explain the different aspects of the house and how everything is used (though it’s all in Chinese.)
Ride a Hand-crafted Boat
The most important aspect of the Tao people’s culture is their handcrafted boats, after all, it’s how the original ancestors arrived on the island and were used to harvest their beloved flying fish. Just like their homes, local tribespeople are incredibly protective of these boats, and shouldn’t be touched without permission. Luckily you can get up close and personal as part of a boat ride around the local bays.
To be honest, it’s a little too touristy. A local Lanyu tribesman will simply guide you around the port briefly by a local tribe member. It’s not as if you get free reign of it, they are super protective after all! They cost about NT$500 per person, which is a little overpriced.
Rather than arranging everything individually, why not arrange everything at once? Many of the guesthouses offer package deals that include a room, most of the experiences just mentioned, and can even include ferry tickets AND scooter rentals, all for a pretty outstanding price!
The deals available depend on many factors, such as which guesthouse you pick, what kind of room, and what you want to include. But just as a rough reference, these prices are from the Haven Harbour Homestay in Langdao:
Snorkelling (with guide)
Visit an Underground House
Climb Tianchi (with guide)
Price (per person)
2 People, 2 days – Mountain view
2 People, 2 days – Mountain view
2 People, 2 days – Mountain view
A guide to average package deals for Lanyu
When to Visit
Ideally, you want to arrive in spring which has the perfect combination of warm weather and fewer tourists. You could try summer though everything needs to be booked way beforehand and it can get pretty damn hot, not to mention the risk of typhoons at the end of the season.
If you’re thinking about travelling during autumn and winter then it would be a bit of a waste. Most things on the island are closed during this time and there are fewer flights and ferries headed to the island.
Flying Fish Festival
Both an iconic symbol and local delicacy, flying fish are a highly regarded creature on the island of Lanyu! So much so that the Tao calendar is divided into seasons based on the arrival and departure of the fish! As such, as strong ocean currents bring in schools of flying fish each spring, the Tao people have a yearly Flying Fish Festival to celebrate it!
The Flying Fish Festival is more like a season that includes a number of activities and rituals. The dates of these rituals change every year and are different in every village, so it’s just luck whether or not you stumble on the island during the right time.
Here’s a complete itinerary on how to visit every highlight in Hiroshima and the nearby spiritual island of Miyajima over two days!
You don’t have much choice! Firstly, the island has no hostels and doesn’t have typical hotels. What they do have though is a collection of small bnb’s or guesthouses owned by locals. There are also a few places on Air Bnb you could check out! If you want to actually stay in an underground house, you can book one at 262 Guesthouse!
Generally speaking, if you prefer the convenience and being close to more facilities, then stay on the west coast, but if you’re looking for some seclusion, stick to the east coast. The map is not the most accurate guide of the accommodation available on Lanyu
Though island cuisine may be very simplistic, they definitely don’t lack flavour! As should be pretty obvious by now, Lanyu’s speciality is flying fish! If you visit during the peak seasons then you might be lucky enough to try some fresh fish yourself. During the winter months, you might have to stick to a dried supply!
Other common ingredients on the island include taro, a very common feature for tropical islands and a huge favourite in Taiwanese deserts! Also, I’d highly recommend any place that serves pork belly, simply incredible!
Though there’s little development on the island, the few humble restaurants packs a big punch! So let me guide you through some amazing Lanyu cuisine!
Driftwood Restaurant 漂流木餐廳
This is absolutely one of the most famous and popular restaurants on the island. Owned by local tribe members, the beautifully simple selection of local staples the peaceful surroundings is a must-visit during your time in Lanyu! It’s also one of the best places to sample the all famous fish for NT$250!
WenWen Taro Ice Restaurant
The popular roadside store is a one-stop-shop for all travellers! Selling everything from souvenirs to some of Lanyu’s staple items of taro ice, taro ice cream, black tea taro ice cream float, fried flying fish and other hot meals.
If ever there was a luxury place to eat, this would be it! With decks directly on the white sand beachfront with a turquoise ocean behind it, it’s luxury at a price you can afford!
HongShao Flying Fish A-Bei
Right next to 262 Guesthouse is a small shack attached to the owners’ house. The owner catches his fish and seafood daily and serves it at his own relaxed pace! So much so that he left his phone number for you to call him if he isn’t there, very informal!
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.