I have just returned to the United States, sadly, after spending a wonderful 6.5 months back in Taiwan as a COVID refugee. During my time home, I was able to expand my Taiwanese horizons and visit many new places. Taiwan has been a COVID safe haven and domestic travel this year has boomed.
One such place is Green Island. I had never been but it has been on my list for a while especially because I have been told it offers one of Taiwan’s best diving. And that is indeed a fact. The island lies off the Eastern cost of Taiwan, just 33KM off of Taitung. But as I soon learned, it is quite a feat to organize trips to both outlying islands off the coast of Taitung, Green and Orchid Islands. There are actually plenty of guides and information out there in both Mandarin and English but as you’ll see below, some said this or that and some did not even mention certain things that ended up being true or false. That is primarily what I am here to write about. To be honest, its mainly to do with can or should you rent a car or go with scooter, you’ll find out below.
But it is worth the stress and fight for transportation tickets and accommodations. The tiny island is beautiful and very laid back. Diving here is definitely world-class and pristine. Highly recommend a visit if you are stuck in or in the post-COVID world considering Taiwan.
First, it doesnt matter what you do, where you stay or what you eat, the one thing I think every person who visits Green Island must do is visit the Green Island White Terror Memorial Park and National Human Rights Museum. If you’re asking what is White Terror, or 228 or if you like myself had biases on Taiwan politics and history, then you most definitely need to visit and get answers and untie any biases from either side of the aisle. It is a fantastic museum, with some of the best English signage and explanation in any Taiwanese museum I’ve seen. It does not matter where you stand politically, I think this is such an important and integral part of the formation of modern Taiwan and it is a rare example of a place that so openly talks about it. The prison/ military based that now houses the museum was also a key part of Green Island’s history and inclusion into the greater Taiwan narrative. And whats more, its free admission! There are also 2 English guided tours/ day.
Getting There and Back
There are a few ways to get to Green Island, all involve getting to Taitung first, each come with pros and cons and varying travel times, it is completely up to you how to get there. Personally I recommend flying from Taipei to Taitung then taking the Ferry to Green Island.
When booking any ferry/plane ticket for domestic travel in Taiwan you’ll need a valid ID, for foreigners it would be your passport or ARC (alien resident card), and usually a valid credit card. Mainly for air and train. Ferries tend to be more lax, you just call or Line message and book, no credit card of ID (just name) is needed, and if you no-show you no-show but its a courtesy nonetheless to call and cancel. Refunds/changes usually are allowed, you either call (all have English telephone service) or you can go to the kiosks at train stations or Airports (note: domestic airport counters are only staffed if there are flights within 2 hours).
Getting to Taitung
Flight from Taipei Songshan Airport to Taitung is around NTD$3000 (USD$104) roundtrip. Flight time is around 1 hour. Both Mandarin Air and Uni Air operate the route. This full fare price is most often valid for a year for the exact same route, refund fee is around $NTD150. Domestic flights in Taiwan are very efficient, safe and comfortable.
Train from Taipei Main Station: Depends on which train to take but for comfort and speed of travel down the East Coast (there is no high speed rail on this side) I recommend taking the Puyuma or Taroko Express, travel time is just under 4 hours, although these tickets are extremely hard to get. Tickets for express trains open for sale around 2-3 weeks prior to date of travel at midnight Taipei time, and usually get sold out in seconds, but because people have 24 hours to pay, many tickets open up the next day, there are also always tickets blocked by travel agencies that can become available too. Just note you and family/ friends may not be seated next to each other. These tickets cost around NTD$783 (USD$28) one-way, you can even opt to pre-order a Taiwan railway bento box for the journey, delivered to you at your seat after Hualien station. Tickets are easily changeable/ refunded, except for no-show scenario. There is also the local train that takes anywhere from 5-7 hours.
Then from Taitung to Green Island:
By ferry from Fugang Harbour, the preferred and reliable method: The Fugang Harbour is around a 20 minute taxi from Taitung Airport as well as Taitung Train Station. Ferry costs NTD$560 (USD$20) one way, double that roundtrip. Journey takes about 50 minutes, departing every 2 hours from Taitung starting at 7:30AM, ending at 15:30PM. First departure from Green Island is at 8:30AM, with the last at 16:30PM. Will depart in any weather except typhoons or extremely rough seas. It is notoriously a rough crossing, though when I took it, it was not too bad despite everyone around me screaming and vomiting. Vomit bags included. Preferable to book roundtrip and retrieve your tickets in Taitung. Tickets must be picked up in person, there are no e-tickets. Unfortunately the ferry companies do not have English websites and if I recall correctly the phone service also does not. But fear not, ferries dont sell out as easily or as quick as planes or trains, you’re likely to find tickets available up until departure time, unless its peak summer travel season, then usually Saturday morning departure to Green Island and Sunday afternoon return from get sold out early. If not, you can always go through a travel agency in Taiwan or have a local friend assist!
By plane from Taitung Airport on Daily Air: journey time is around 15 minutes on a 19-seater Twin Otter turbo-prop plane and only operated 3 times a day. It is heavily weather and wind dependent and flights often get cancelled or delayed. Tickets are also hard to get, Daily Air only sells 4 tickets online per flight, you can call (they do have English service) and book more seats if they sell out online, but also keep in mind a certain % of the flight is reserved for local outer island residents. Daily Air also wont fly unless there is in fact a local resident on board. Tickets go for sale 60 days out at 8AM local time, and are once again sold out in seconds online. One-way ticket is around NTD$1040 (USD$36).
Your BnB/Hostel/Hotel will most likely arrange to meet you at the harbor or airport and then either take you to your accommodation to settle down and receive your transportation or take you directly to the scooter/car rental shops located right next to the harbor. If not, like I said the shops are literally along and across the street from the harbor, I dont believe any shops exist by the airport, so if you fly, make sure to arrange ahead of time.
Getting Around Green Island
The island is tiny, it takes about an hour or even slightly less to go around the whole island. Roads are mostly paved and there is one single major road that loops around, its flat in some parts but in others it can get quite hilly/mountainous. Downtown area is doable on foot. But for the rest of the sights you’ll need some motorized vehicle.
You will read and be told that it is not recommended to rent a car in Green Island, this is not true. The roads may be a tad on the narrower side downtown, but otherwise they are perfectly fine to drive on and mostly well paved. Parking may be an issue but its island life and you can basically park anywhere you can find a spot, just dont infringe on private property, and if you are in a group of 4 or more it almost makes more economic sense to get a car. I will warn though that during peak season, there will be a lot of motorbike scooters you’ll have to watch out for if driving. Finally, unless you have a Taiwanese license to ride a motorbike you will be limited to renting either a car or the electric motorbikes, even if you know how to ride a gas motorbike. Prices are NTD$2000 (USD$69)/day for a car. Motorbike/ electric motorbike ranges from NTD$400-$600/day (USD$13-20) NOTE: electric motorbikes are efficient and more environmentally friendly however their battery only lasts about one circuit around the island before you have to return to the rental shop to swap out your battery, so plan accordingly and dont push your motorbike to its limit. There is a bus that runs on the island, it is NTD$100/ticket and its hop on hop off style, and it stops at all key sights. But would not recommend the bus unless absolutely left with no other choice.
Where To Stay
There are no luxury hotels or chain hotels on Green Island. Mainly bed and breakfasts, most of which double as travel agencies/ dive shops. Almost all of them will be able to assist in booking island transportation as well as your daily activities. Most of the activities are guided by the owner/ staff of the BnB. Places are bookable direct, on AirBnB, or sites like booking.com. Less so Tripadvisor I found. Within BnBs there are a wide variety and price range as well. Some places actually do come with the breakfast part, others dont. Many dont provide towels or toiletries so dont forget those items at home.
Generally you can expect a night to cost around NTD$3000 (USD$100) during peak season, and yes despite the amount of rooms on the island, the island does sell out June-August. But also remember that some rooms at that cost can fit up to 4 people with 1 shared ensuite bathroom. I would recommend just browsing online and finding one that fits your style/ comfort levels (ie: are you ok with mattress futon style or prefer actual bed?), as well as location. Anything on the Northwest corner of the island is recommended as its walking distance to “downtown” and close to either airport or ferry terminal.
NOTE: on my trip, a family friend arranged for the accommodation as he knew some locals. I did however do my own research out of general curiosity. And observed as we drove along the island. There really is an abundance and wide range of choices on the island.
What to Eat
Unlike the outer islands of the West Coast of Taiwan, you do not visit the East Coast outer islands of Green Island and Orchid Island for the food. It is the reality. That being said, the food is not like terrible, it is just nothing to rave about either. A few novelty items for sure. Green Island is famous for 1) Deer meat and deer meat products (most restaurants will have deer meat and all souvenir shops will have deer products like deer jerky) 2) Seaweed 海草 and anything related to seaweed (primarily 海草蛋餅/蔥油餅 Seaweed breakfast egg crepes/scallion pancakes and Seaweed shaved ice 海草冰) 3) Fresh seafood 4) While not as famous as Orchid Island, Green Island still consumes Flying Fish as well.
A-Ma’s Scallion Pancakes 阿嬤的蔥油餅(阿嬤的蔥Q餅)
#140 ZhongLiao, Green Island, Taitung County
Green Island Hao Le Breakfast 綠島好樂早餐吧: #10 Green Island
#137 Nan Liao, Green Island, 台東縣綠島鄉南寮137號
Green Island Stir Fry Seafood 綠島 非炒不可海鮮食堂
#126 Green Island, 10鄰126號
Doraemon Seaweed Shaved Ice 綠島小叮噹黑糖海草冰: #118-1 NanLiao, Green Island
What to Do
I already mentioned that if you have time to do only one thing, then it has to be the White Terror Museum and Memorial. Trust me, you wont regret it and it wont dampen your island getaway. Nonetheless you really should spend time doing a few other things as well. Mainly getting in touch with nature.
Green Island is world famous for its pristine diving. And to be honest before I knew about the White Terror Museum, I knew about diving and that was my main reason to visit the island. Much of the reefs here are protected and many are biological reserves. Though this doesnt stop some ill-behaved first time diver/ snorkelers/ free-divers from touching things. There is a really famous boat dive spot for open water dives with hammer head sharks, but the requirements to be taken on this dive are fairly strict and the season window is very short. Nonetheless just a simple shore dive on Green Island is already amazing. The coral here truly is healthy and rivals that of the Great Barrier Reef. If you dont dive, even snorkeling offers you a brilliant view of the wonders below the surface.
We used Green Island Dive Rental Shop as our dive shop. There are so many shops on the island, a mix of PADI and SSI.
There are also many sites throughout and around the island. One of the easiest shore dives and snorkel spots that offers stunning corals is Chaikou Snorkeling Area 柴口. The site where shops take folks to train as well as a fun area to “cliff dive” off the harbor walls is ZhongLiao Fishing Harbour.
For full equipment rental, it is NTD$900/day (USD$30). Each tank was NTD250/person (USD$9), and boat dive fee/person was NTD1500 (USD$52). We did a total of 6 tanks, 4 shore dives and 2 boat dives.
Nature/ Rock Formations.
Green Island is a volcanic island and comes with many rocky beaches but also some very spectacular rock formations and caves/ inlets. Most famous rock formations/ scenic spots are along the East Coast. All island guides maps and signs will tell you the names of them. There are Little Great Wall, Sleeping Beauty Rock, Confucius Rock. Many of the inlets and beaches have naturally formed rock pools too, like Youzi Hu. There is also DaBaiSha 大白沙 beach on the Southern tip that is supposed to be stunning as well.
There are also many “secret” spots such as the Blue Hole 藍洞 (featured image to the left), you wont find it on Google maps, the closest place and it is where you’d park you vehicle on maps is called 彎弓洞 Sea Cave. It is highly recommended that you go with a guide, ask your BnB or dive shop. Also wear proper shoes, either wear close toed, really sturdy sandals or water shoes as it goes from rocky sand to pure sharp volcanic rock. It takes about a 20 or so minute walk from the parking area to Blue Cave. Bring snorkel gear/ fins to swim into the beautiful cave and look out from the cave for the namesake views. Some guides will take you to the ledge on the left side of the opening for some jumping. This place is absolutely worth visiting and spending some time at, so pretty. On the way to or from, there is a small waterfall that you have to climb up a few rocks to get to, and its so refreshing and clean to bathe in the small pools between falls.
There is also a natural seaside hot spring, only one of two in the world like it. Although nowadays ZhaoRi Hot Springs have become over crowded and are no longer truly natural pools in the rocks. The locality built it up for safety precautions and its now small pools along paved pathways. But still, many say its still worth a visit for a sunrise hot spring bath, oh and it is Taiwanese public pool, so swim cap is required!
Green Island Lighthouse is seemingly quite popular as well. I personally didnt have time to go. But from the pictures, it looks quite nice!
Gazebos, they dot the island along the main road and seawalls. At dusk and into the night locals tend to hang out here, have a beer or whole carton of beer and chat over some small snacks. Occasionally you might find live music coming out of one. Pop on in, say hello, strike a conversation, have a beer, or dunkenly join in the song and dance.
I hope these tips and suggestions help somewhat. And I hope you do make it out to Green Island. It is definitely worth visiting for both the nature and the Taiwanese history. But like dont expect much from the food. Remember, you dont have to be a certified diver to enjoy the wonders below, the snorkeling here is just as fantastic.