Wed, Jun 29, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Orchid Island spoils the visitor in need of a break

The island is a great place for seekers of tranquility. It boasts some of the best reefs in Asia and wonderful scenery

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Many of the sights and sounds of Orchid Island hark back to the island's past and its Yami tribe culture. A visit is the perfect chance to unwind and get away from the pressures of city life.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF DAVID SMITH

Located about 62km southeast of Taiwan proper, Lanyu (蘭嶼) is called Orchid Island because of the butterfly orchids that once grew there in abundance. It is a wonderfully interesting, friendly and unspoiled weekend destination and well worth a visit.

There are no beaches of note and much of its rugged mountainous hinterland is inaccessible, but the island nevertheless boasts a verdant picture postcard beauty.

Orchard Island was once populated by just the Yami tribe, which made its living raiding villages and breaking heads in Taiwan, as well as in China's Fujian Province.

Tourists were first allowed to visit the island in 1967, but 40 years later the place is still a tourism backwater. Life on the 46km2 island is far removed from Taiwan proper and unlike its nearest neighbor, Green Island (綠島), the natural environment remains unspoiled.

Orchid Island is home to around 3,200 people, most of whom are Yami, or are descendants of the tribe. Islanders rely on farming wet and dry taro, yams and millet and they also rear pigs and goats. Sinicization programs, which ran from the mid-1950s until as recently as 1980, have been responsible for the collapse of much of the traditional Yami way of life.

The years of meddling by the Taiwan government has left many of the island's elderly wary of outsiders, but the island's younger generation is extremely friendly and is more than happy to chat about the island's past, present and future.

There are two ways to get to Orchid Island, by air or by sea. Those who opt for the 16-seater Dornier 228 propeller-driven aircraft are in for a treat. The flight takes around 25 minutes and with a cruising altitude of a mere 1,500m, passengers are given a wonderful bird's-eye view of the Pacific Ocean as the plane skips above the waves.

The sole airline currently servicing the Taitung-Orchid Island route is Daily Air Corporation (德安航空). Every day there are six flights to and from, depending on the weather. Purchasing tickets for these flights is problematic, however, as unless visitors have an exceptional amount of political clout the company doesn't take reservations.

To ensure a seat on the plane passengers are forced to go to either Taitung or Orchid Island airports, depending on the direction they wish to travel, and write their names on a waiting list located at the Daily Air check-in counter. One-way tickets for the flight to Orchid Island cost NT$1,408 and are only available from Daily Air Corporation check-in counters.

Depending on the weather, the three-hour boat trip can be thoroughly enjoyable or exceedingly painful. On a calm day passengers can sit on the deck, enjoy the sun and watch dolphins and flying fish swim alongside the vessel. The Pacific Ocean can be cruel, however, and more often than not the crossings are rough.

Two boats run daily trips to and from Orchid Island, and both are based out of Fukang Harbor in Taitung. Roundtrip tickets cost between NT$2,000 and NT$1,550 and are available on the boat before sailing time.

There are a couple of hotels on the island but neither the Lanyu Ocean International Hotel (蘭嶼海洋國際飯店) or the Lanyu Hotel (蘭嶼別館) could be described as four-star in quality. And their prices are not cheap.

The best way to enjoy a few days is to stay at one of the many smaller hostels run by locals. Costing from NT$300 to NT$500 per night the hostels are clean and offer both single and dorm rooms. Guests are allowed to use the kitchens and some owners will even offer to cook for their visitors.

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