Orchid Island’s rocky history: Part 4/4 and tourist info

Arrival in Kaiyuan Harbor on Orchid Island. Here, it's easy to rent a scooter or inquire about last-minute accommodation! See more info below. Photo: Trista di Genova

Part One here; and Part 2; Part 3

Check out this link at Travel & Culture magazine to read AmCham’s abridged version of this article.

By Trista di Genova, The Wild East

Land rights are another ongoing issue for this and other tribes in Taiwan. Under the Chen administration, residents were able to register their land for the deed. Traditionally land is handed down through Tao males — when sons come of age fathers show him the land of their ancestors (women inherit the jewelry). One of Stephanie’s jobs as secretary of the Tao Foundation is to take part in a project (under the Council of Indigenous Peoples) to establish place-names in all six villages, to help determine who owns what. It’s a huge job for six people making only 5,000NT a month (about US$150), and disagreements between families are inevitable, but this could help in the long run to establish autonomous land ownership. What is to be done to reclaim land from the barracks and prisons is another matter, however.

Despite many challenges, Orchid Islanders seem to be navigating their own way, with a cultural reawakening — and pride — in keeping their rich heritage alive. Tourism and eco-tourism may clear their path to a prosperous future, generating an income for islanders in exchange for sharing their culture. But can they transform Lanyu while maintaining the high quality of life and, most importantly, keeping the best of their traditions? Can they ‘sell’ their culture, without ‘selling it off’? One thing is clear: the trick will be finding the balance between old and new.

That, and if you get the chance to see Lanyu, you’ll want to say ‘How are you?’ Ah go gai? ‘Thank you!’: Ayoy! … and ‘Goodbye,’ Ni gu nah.

Some people like to avoid the ferry altogether, and pay the extra 800NT (US$28) to take a plane and get there in comfort! Photo: Trista di Genova

GETTING THERE
Even today, Orchid Island’s remoteness is both an advantage and disadvantage, but the hard-won opportunity to experience Tao culture is well worth the hassle! Plane and ferry schedules are as reliable as the weather. To reach Orchid Island takes a 25-minute 19-seater plane ride (NT$1,345, about US$45) from Taitung Airport. You can try to make a reservation (089-362489) but usually just have to show up and hope to catch one of 6 flights per day. Alternatively, there’s the hellacious three-hour ferry ride (NT$1,000 each way, about US$35) from Taitung’s Fugang Port or from Kenting’s Houbihu Harbor (also three hours, NT$1000). The trick is to sleep through it all, if you can. Taitung ferry (Chinese only): www.ezboat.com.tw; 089-280011. If you want to save a day or more in travel, fly relatively hassle-free to Taitung airport from Taipei’s Songshan airport (a 50-minute flight, NT$1800), and fly to Orchid Island from there. Taitung airport info (English now available): www.tta.gov.tw. July to early October is the typhoon season.

GETTING AROUND
You can rent a car in Hengtou (a.k.a. I-mowrod) in bum weather, but in all other cases definitely rent a scooter (NT$400-500/day). If you are staying at a guesthouse, they’ll usually give you a discount and deliver the scooter when you arrive. Rent one at the Kaiyuan Harbor gift shop; or call Stephanie (0932-128754) and it will be delivered. Scootering gives you the opportunity to explore the island; there are several ‘roadlets’ to wander around up the mountainside, and of course the 37-kilometer road that encircles the island, which passes most major sights. Take the scenic East 61 cross-island route, visit the Observatory/Weather Station built by the Japanese in 1940, and check out the view. Breath-taking! The airport has a small number of bicycles, free for tourists (must show ID). There are buses circuiting the island that can be hailed anywhere, but they’re few and far between. Taxis are also a possibility, in a pinch. Mind: there are no ATMs or credit cards accepted on the island!

Dragon’s Head Rock (龍頭岩), one of the many striking rock formations that can be seen around the island. Photo: Trista di Genova

Scootering is the best way to leisurely see the island’s considerable offering of natural attractions, such as: Beauty (or more aptly named ‘Lovers’ (情人洞) or ‘Virgin’) Rock, Dragon’s Head Rock (龍頭岩), Warship Rock (which was reportedly bombed by US military in World War II, after mistaking it for a warship). Or, take in the stunning view at the Lanyu Meteorological Observatory (蘭嶼氣象站) from the cross-island route.

ACCOMMODATION
Usually runs NT$300-800/night per person. When arrangements are made at a homestay, they provide transportation from train stations to the ferry, and from Lanyu’s harbor to the guesthouse and back. They can also arrange for snorkeling, diving trips (min. 8 people required), fishing trips, wildlife outings, and scooter rentals. Note: They don’t arrange flights.

My recommended 'cool spot' on Orchid Island. Photo: Trista di Genova

For the more adventurous, experience the ‘Liangting’ (‘cool spot’) culture and sleep by the sea for free, in one of the many small, wooden seaside hangouts where locals traditionally chat and fishermen rest. This is one very ‘cool’ option, especially when it gets hot! Just be prepared to share it with other visitors who may drop by, whether goat or human. And remember, always ask before taking pictures of people. Like Tracy said, ‘We don’t want to feel we’re in a zoo’.

Lanyu Local Hotel in Hengtou Village. One of the best-established hotels in the area. Tel: 089-731601; mobile: 0919-760152

Lanyu Guesthouse in Yeying Village. Described by Barry Martinson as the ‘best place to stay’, visitors can stay in an authentic traditional Tao underground home, with all the amenities (Reservations: 0928-647828). Alan (Mr. Lin): 0928-316543
Teresa’s Homestay in Hengtou. NT$2500/4 people. Teresa (Sinan Matopush), a health worker and the most famous fluent English-speaker on the island, is the perfect guide if you want to learn all about Tao culture. Tel: 0937-608814

You, too, can get around Orchid Island ... beautifully! Photo: Trista di Genova

Ta Ta La Homestay in Hengtou, NT$2000/four people including breakfast at the café across the street. Has scooter rentals, transportation, arranges snorkeling, scuba diving. Mei: 0933-913195.

Lamuran Guesthouse in Hengtou, at Sjaman Lamuran’s house, a scholar on the island’s history and fluent in English; features nice garden, a deck with hammocks and seaviews. NT$400-700/person, sharing single room. Single person: NT$700; double room NT$1500. 0933-913195.

Orchid Island package trips: Two days, one night including pickup, ferry, meals, NT$3,500 on weekdays, add NT$200 weekends. Contact Mr. Lin (Chinese only) 09 1298 2330.

OTHER LISTINGS FROM LONELY PLANET:

Yet another stunning Orchid Island landscape. Photo: Trista di Genova


Enhui mingsu zijia (089-732979) in Yeying Village, NT$300 per person. Home of husband and wife team Li Ge and Li Sao; four doubles and large dorm. Li Ge is an excellent guide, and offers night-time owl and sea-life tours, visits to his parents’ underground house in the mornings.

Hongsheng B&B (089-732462) in Langdao Village, NT$500-800/night. Fairly modern digs in one of Lanyu’s most traditional villages, with some of the best swimming and snorkeling areas nearby.

Mermaid and the Cat B&B (renyu he mao minsu), in Dongqing Village (089-732943), NT$1200. Next to the restaurant with same name, it has a few private doubles.

WHERE TO EAT/HANG OUT:
Epicurean Café in Yuren Village has an artsy, happening café-bar with brunch and dinner (18:00 to 20:30), featuring a local meal of Flying Fish, Yams and wild vegetables for NT$330; free WiFi. Reservations: 089-731623. The 2005 movie Deng Dai Fei Yu (‘Fishing Luck’) was based on the romance that took place behind founding this café!

The breakfast shop/café in Hengtou Village, across from Ta Ta La Guesthouse. It’s run by a Filipina, Sonia, has a variety of cheap eats and drinks, and is frequented by friendly and knowledgeable locals, often English-speaking.

Film Blue Café in Hengtou has a bright and trendy décor, popular among tourists, serves coffee, cake and beer; free WiFi. Tel: 0983-092327. Online: www.wretch.cc/blog/filmbluecafe

Ji Chang Lu Lu (translates to ‘Air Air Port Port’) next to the airport, has food, drinks, KTV and is open only at night.

Special thanks to Shu-min Huang for providing access to unpublished historical research done by Academia Sinica’s now-discontinued Orchid Island Research Group, and the Taitung County Tourism Department.

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