If you’ve had your fill of the city and want some fresh air, hop a train down to Taitung County. Once you’re there, embark on a journey across 20 miles of very rough seas (read: bring Dramamine) to Ludao Township, also known as Green Island.
Now a popular spot for Taiwanese tourists and scuba divers, Green Island was once a remote place of exile for political prisoners during Taiwan’s White Terror, a period of martial law that lasted from 1949 all the way to 1987. Green Island Prison is still operational, but the island’s main penal colony (the oddly named “Oasis Village”) has been converted to a museum.
After being in cities for a while we were grateful to find that Green Island only has about six square miles of land and maybe 2,000 residents. The ring road along the island’s coast is just 12 miles long, but given the total lack of public transportation or taxis available it’s best to pick up a scooter and get around like the locals do. There is no shortage of two-wheelers on the island, and you’ll be bombarded with offers as soon as you get off the ferry. We picked one up for under $12 USD a day.
If you aren’t experienced with riding scooters this can be a good place to get in some practice. Just watch out for Taiwanese tourists (they travel in packs), coconut crabs, and other small animals crossing the road.
We stayed just outside of the main village in town, which is basically just a strip of restaurants, dive shops and boutiques. If you walk a bit north you can watch the tiny puddle-jumper planes take off from the airport and see the island’s lighthouse. It actually has an interesting history: In 1937 a luxury ocean liner called the SS President Hoover ran aground there during a typhoon. Everyone survived, and members of the US public donated money so they could build the lighthouse and avoid more accidents in the future.
We also snapped this photo from the lighthouse, which went on to be one of our favorite Snapshot Sundays of the year.
Although the reefs around the island are well-known for diving opportunities we decided to snorkel instead of taking the chance that some important piece of safety information might be lost in translation. There are several places where you can snorkel without hiring a guide, although the locals will be really perplexed if you try to buy gear from them. “You want to snorkel?” they’d ask. “Alone!? Not safe!”
Before long we realized why they were so apprehensive. Turns out that even though Taiwan is an island nation, many Taiwanese can’t swim. If you go on one of their “snorkel tours”, you’ll be fitted out in a full wetsuit, a mask and snorkel (no fins), and a lifejacket, and then pulled along on a rope lined with buoys while you peer into the water.
The instructors bring bread to feed the fish and walk on the reef while pulling you along. There’s so much wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, we were happy to brave the waves and danger and go out on our own. If you go this route, though, you might want to take some water shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks, and make sure you watch the sea conditions since it can get a bit rough.
After a full day of water sports make sure check out the island’s saltwater hot springs, one of only three in the world. It’s $6 USD to get in and they have about a dozen pools of different temperatures. They’re even open at night if you want to take in the stars and relax.
Aside from the main tourist sights (which can all be seen in less than a day), there are some fantastic opportunities for hiking over volcanic rock and taking in views of the sea.
Here’s hoping that developers don’t move in and change the landscape of this little paradise. It’s fine just the way it is.