ASIA Taiwan

Everything You Need to Know About Taiwan’s Green Island | MAY 2019

Green Island is a treasure trove of incredible sights, nature, and history – in fact, it was one of my favourite locations in Taiwan! Spending your days whizzing around on a scooter, flitting to breathtaking coastal destinations, exploring abandoned villages, soaking in one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world, and diving or snorkelling with some of the most brightly coloured tropical fish on awe-inspiring coral reefs? Green Island is an experience in Taiwan you absolutely cannot miss.

However, Green Island (and Taiwan in general) is typically left off most Western travellers bucket lists. I have no idea why – this country is incredible, and Green Island is a pinnacle of rugged beauty. Domestic and Asian tourists flock to the island in droves, but Westerners typically give it a miss. This post will give you all the deets so you don’t miss this zinging corner of the world.

What and Where is Green Island?

Green Island is also known as Lyudao and sits about 33 kilometres away from Taitung on Taiwan’s east coast. This island is so small it’s cute – it only takes an hour to drive around the ring road! This also makes it super-easy to navigate: the ring road is also pretty much the only road.

Green Island is so tiny it takes less than an hour to circle the whole area! Image: Taitung Travel

The island originally functioned as a place for prisoners to be sent to, and it still carries this theme in a lot of its tourism today (plus, there’s a real working jail on the island!). Now, there are around 3000 permanent residents on the island, plus a whole bunch of tourists in the warmer months.

How to Get to Green Island

First, make your way to Taitung using Taiwan’s extensive train network. Then, there are only two options to get to Green Island: by ferry or by plane.

Option One: Ferry (Recommended)

To take the ferry you need to get to Fugang Harbour, about a fifteen minute taxi ride from Taitung Station (Around $300-$400 NTD), or about ten minutes from Taitung Centre (around $200 NTD). Our homestay owner booked our ferry tickets for us, but as long as it’s not peak season you could probably just show up half an hour early and purchase them direct. The ferry costs $920 NTD for a round trip – or $460 NTD one way.

Ferries to the island go around four times a day in peak season, and take just under an hour. The ferries are huge, with pretty comfortable seating. The downside to the ferry? Boy, that sea is rough. The constant tossing and turning of the sea waves will churn the stomach at the same time. Fair warning: people will throw up. There are plastic bags hanging at easy access from all the seats (why clear bags? We’ll never know) and the smell of vomit may linger in the air.

But, we found the surefire way to take the ferry and not be bothered. Pop two sea-sickness pills, put on some headphones, and try and get some rest. We also sat up the front, whereas most people lingered at the back and this gave us a bit more room (and less chance of seeing other peoples previous stomach contents).

Getting to the island via abandoned Jeep is not recommended.

Option Two: Plane

The other option to get to Green Island is by taking a small passenger plane from Taitung airport. However, these tickets fly (ahem) out the door months in advance, so booking a ticket can be pretty much impossible. The flight only takes fifteen minutes, but we’ve heard it can be rough and bumpy.

The flights cost about twice the price of a ferry, but if you’re really set on not taking the ferry you can try purchase tickets on this website (warning: only in Chinese).

How to Get Around Green Island

So you’ve endured the ferry ride or the plane, and are back on dry land on the tiny Green Island. What next? While Green Island is not big, walking the whole loop would take some serious time. But, good news! There are few different options for getting around Green Island that are pretty cost effective (because we’re all about saving them dollars).

Option One: Scooter Rental (Recommended)

I made renting a scooter option number one because it is the number one option. You follow? I’m not actually big on renting scooters in Asia because it can get pretty tricky with travel insurance and travellers crash every day. But, for some areas of Taiwan we made an exception? Why? Taiwanese drivers are exceptionally polite, the roads in these areas are not busy, and overall we felt super safe. Plus, there really is nothing like whizzing alone a coastal road with the wind in your hair and a winding road ahead of you.

Electric vs. Petrol Scooter

If you’re apprehensive about renting a scooter I would definitely get an electric scooter. You don’t need an international license to drive them, they’re super easy to control, and you don’t have to worry about filling up at Green Island’s only gas station. You do need to keep an eye on your battery though to make sure you don’t end up stranded, but they go for a while! We hired an electric scooter for $600 NTD for 24 hours – but because we did it through our hostel owner we rented it from 10am one day until 2pm the next – four hours in the middle of the day for free! Definitely see if you can negotiate an arrangement like this, it’s worth it if you’re taking one of the later ferries or flights home.

If you’re more familiar with driving a scooter or a motorbike, you can go for a good ‘ol petrol scooter. These are cheaper and more common than the electric scooters. A 24-hour rental of a petrol scooter will cost you around $250 NTD, but could be as cheap as $100 NTD.

Option Two: Shuttle Bus

There is a little minibus that runs in a loop around the island for a cheap price. However, you will need to weigh up if that will really work for you as it could leave you waiting out in the rain or the hot sun – not particularly ideal. The minibus does stop and wait briefly at some of the main, quick tourist attractions, but if you’re planning on doing some walks this won’t be ideal. However, it is cheap! Only $100 NTD per person. If you’re not into renting a scooter, this could be an option for you.

Option Three: Car Rental

We’ve heard it’s possible to rent a car on the island, but this is a less common route so information on this is a bit vague. The only record I could find of it was this website, but it may be easiest to enquire with your accommodation if they can arrange something or point you in the right direction. Car hire in Taiwan doesn’t seem to run on the cheaper side, but if you’re travelling in a group it could be the best option to travel together and split the cost.

Option Four: Cycle

There are a few bicycle rental places around the island, but the quality of the bikes is a little bit questionable. If you decide to bike it, make sure you examine the bike carefully for rust, dodgy tyres or gears, and take it on a test ride first. We only saw two people who had elected to take this option on our trip and don’t know if they even attempted to ride around the whole island.

Option Five: Walk

I’m going to throw this hat in the ring because it is possible; Green Island’s main road is only 18 kilometres, so if you’re super keen to stretch your legs and save some cash walking the island is technically possible.

Where to Stay on Green Island

Look, Green Island is so small that as long as you have transport you could stay almost anywhere! Most of the accommodation is clustered between the harbour heading north and along the top of the island, which is also where most of the bar and restaurant clusters are. If you want to be close to food, try stay somewhere near the 7/11 or Family Mart, which basically mark the start and end of the township.

Nature has overtaken abandoned objects.

We chose to stay at HerHome Homestay, which offered spacious private rooms with private bathrooms and a cute cartoon motif. The rooms are basic, but the prices are some of the cheapest in the area. The owner, Ming, is INCREDIBLY helpful, and booked our ferry tickets, picked us up from the ferry, arranged our scooter, interpreted for snorkel gear rental, and fixed every problem we had on the island. You can book directly on Facebook and he will give you the best price (even cheaper than Genius on Booking.com!)

What to Do on Green Island

The great thing about Green Island is that there is heaps to explore, and stacks of activities to take up your time. The number one things people come to Green Island for though is diving and snorkelling.

Discover an New World by Diving and Snorkelling World-class Areas

The sea life around Green Island is absolutely stunning. What looks like stock-standard rocky beaches is actually concealing the teeming sealife that live just off the coral reefs. I kid you not, we went snorkelling and I didn’t even feel that excited – the water was grey, murky, and didn’t seem that interesting. Then I stuck my head under and was AMAZED. There are incredible fish that I had never even imagined that live just off the surface – and it’s incredibly easy and cheap to snorkel your way around to see them.

The best views on Green Island are found under the sea.

You can take a diving class (and even get PADI certified!), take a snorkelling class, or just rent some equipment and head out on your own! We opted for the latter option, our snorkel rental was just $50 NTD per person which was super cheap. Beware, because the coral around the area can be super sharp and most people wear full wetsuits, with boots and flippers. We were cheap and went without and were fine, but if you would like at least some shoes and flipper that will run you another $150 NTD a set.

There are three main diving areas on the island:

  • Shihlang
  • Chaikou
  • Dabaisha

Even if you have never snorkelled before, take the plunge and check out what incredible sights are lurking beyond the surface: you can easily spend hours floating and checking out the brightly coloured fish swimming below.

Visit One of the Only Saltwater Hot Springs in the World

There are only three saltwater hot springs on this globe, and Green Island is home to one of them. In fact, hot springs enthusiasts come from all over the world to see the Zhaori Hot Springs. For only $200 NTD, visitors can lounge in one of the many pools with views of waves crashing onto the shore. The pools are available in heaps of temperatures, indoor and outdoor, and if you take a walk closer to the sea some of them even have natural earth bottoms.

It’s a bummer, but these hot springs do require a bathing suit and also a swim cap (purchasable there for $50 NTD). It needs to be noted that these hot springs could use a renovation, particularly in their bathroom and shower areas (or even just a scrub with some bleach). However, it’s well worth it for the experience of bathing so close to the sea.

Ummm, yes, this should be you.

Explore an Abandoned Aboriginal Village

Along the main road of Green Island is a turn-off simply signposted Youzihu whih leads to an abandoned village that made up one of the first settlements on the island. A lot of the original stone huts remain in varying levels of destruction and you’re free to wander and explore among them. While some websites list these remains as ‘prehistoric,’ the amount of modern plumbing and even falling-apart Western style toilets makes the actual dates of the village unclear. However, it’s still well-worth checking it out – and there is even a secret waterfall nearby!

Walk the Little Great Wall of Green Island

Near Youzihu is a winding path leading to two lookouts on the edge of a cliff. The views from these lookouts are super-rewarding, providing clear sightlines across the Pekinese Dog Rock and Sleeping Beauty. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic lunch!

Check Out a Picture Perfect Lighthouse

The stunning iconic lighthouse that marks the the top left corner of the island was actually built with funds from the United States. After an American ocean liner, the S.S. Hoover, hit a reef on the island in 1939, Green Island residents took care of the passengers. The U.S government donated the money that eventually built the lighthouse as a sign of gratitude. The lighthouse still functions today which means while you can’t climb the tower, the building itself is the subject of many Instagram photos.

See Green Island’s Torrid Convict Past

This picturesque island is home to some dark history, with political prisoners sent to the remote location in exile during the KMT party’s White Terror. Today, the island pays homage to the events of the past with monuments and prisons converted into museums. There is even an abandoned prison that can be explored, and a real working prison on site (that can’t be explored, obviously).

See a Wild Deer

Sika Deer were introduced to the island and now roam it. While we didn’t manage to catch a wild one when we visited, they are around! Some shops unfortunately tie deer up outside their front doors in the hope of luring people in, but you’re not the kind of person to reward such an unkind activity, right?

Spend Hours Gazing at the Stars

Green Island is home to very little light pollution, making it the perfect spot to get in a bit of stargazing! Head up to the top of the mountain for some of the best views and some peace and quiet.

Things to Know Before Going to Green Island

  • There are only two ATMs on Green Island and neither accepted our foreign cards. Bring plenty of cash with you, and if you really get stuck ours still worked to purchase items at 7/11 (but this 7/11 doesn’t have an ATM).
  • Ferries and flights aren’t too often, so plan ahead – we made the mistake of thinking there would be lots of ferries and ended up running full speed from train to taxi to ferry!
  • Brings bug spray and sunscreen – if you’re snorkelling remembers to ALWAYS DO YOUR BACK. Trust me, I know.

Are you heading to the luscious lands of Green Island? Got a question, tip or trick? Leave a comment below!

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