Taiwan: Green Island (Lyu Dao)

Situated in the Pacific Ocean some 33 kilometers to the east of Taitung City, the 16-square-kilometer Green Island is Taiwan’s fourth largest offshore island. It was originally known as the Isle of Fire until it was renamed Green Island (Lyudao) in 1948.

Although it looks a bit abandoned during the low season (October-January), the island still sparkles with its own local charm.

How to Get to Green Island

The journey to Green Island is highly dependent on the weather. There are two ways to get there:

By boat: The best time to go is in the Summer around April when the seas are calmer, but beware of the extreme heat and humidity. October and November are notoriously known to be the windiest months, thus, the boat ride to Green Island was anything but pleasant. What is normally a half hour boat ride, easily turned into an hour long journey. A round trip fare is about NT$920. The boats ceased their normal trips from Taitung at the beginning of October when typhoon winds made the seas impassable. October 23, 2017 was the first day—and also the day we departed Taitung—that the boats were operational again. Prior to that, all boat trips and flights to and from the island were cancelled. That said, the seas were still incredibly unstable and everyone on the boat suffered its wrath more or less.

By plane: This is the fastest way to get to Green Island. You can fly from Taitung Airport to Lyudao Airport, and the flight is about 15-20 minutes. These flights are often fully booked months in advance though, and the planes themselves are really small—only 17 seats! It costs about NT$3000 roundtrip. It’s a hefty price, but is highly recommended if you are really prone to seasickness. The only airline that flies between Taitung and Lyudao is Daily Air—and the flights are often limited depending on weather. Flights are often cancelled or delayed if the weather is bad, especially during typhoon season. We were lucky to catch the boat because even when the boats operated, the planes weren’t necessarily operational. 

Transportation

Lyudao is a really small island and thus it’s possible to circle around the island in about an hour on scooter. There are both electric and fuel scooters, which cost about the same after taking refueling gas into account.

Scooter rentals are readily available at the harbor where you arrive and depart.

 A sea of motorbikes. Green Island must be pretty popular in the summer! A sea of motorbikes. Green Island must be pretty popular in the summer!

Sites and Attractions

Nan Liao Village

North of the harbor is Nan Liao Village where the majority of restaurants and shops are located. The Family Mart and 7-11 are conveniently along the main street if you want to grab a quick snack or withdraw money.

Note that during the low season, most shops and restaurants are closed.

Airport and Lighthouse

Further down, on the left is the Airport, and to the right is the Lighthouse. Note that the Lighthouse is closed on Mondays, but open the rest of the week. You can walk up to the lighthouse, but not climb up to the top. When you get to the top of the hill, there’s a beautiful view overlooking the ocean. There’s also a shallow natural pool you can swim in. I also saw some people in the pool doing their PADI diver training.

 First day on the island (Monday) was cloudy and super windy. Lighthouse was closed. First day on the island (Monday) was cloudy and super windy. Lighthouse was closed.

 We returned to visit the lighthouse the next day. We returned to visit the lighthouse the next day.

 Shallow pool next to the lighthouse Shallow pool next to the lighthouse

Human Rights Memorial Park

This memorial park commemorates the suffering of the people under the long period of martial law. Martial law was declared by the Kuomintang regime on May 19, 1949 and went into effect the next day. It was the law of the land until July 15, 1987. It sits openly next to the ocean where a large wall is dedicated to the victims of White Terror. Inmates’ collective activities were carried out on the parade grounds on the beach outside the walls.

 Human Rights Memorial Wall symbolizes the path of human rights taken by every victim Human Rights Memorial Wall symbolizes the path of human rights taken by every victim

 Waves crashing against the dock Waves crashing against the dock

Museum and Exhibition

As you drive further north, you’ll see a jail on your right. It is a fully functional jail! That’s NOT the infamous prison that’s open to tourists. Continue a little further and you’ll arrive at the prison that once housed political prisoners. 

 Prison museum Prison museum

“Exterminate the Communists, Restore the Country”

 Entrance to Oasis Villa Entrance to Oasis Villa

History

This island is notoriously known for the imprisonment of political victims during Taiwan’s martial law period known as “White Terror”.

The park area was originally home to two prisons built to accommodate political prisoners during the time of the White Terror. It was also the time  of the rising tide of the human rights movement, when overseas human rights activists came to the rescue of Taiwan’s political prisoners.

The establishment of the Taiwan Provincial Security Command’s Re-education Department on Green Island was aimed at carrying out the imprisonment and ideological transformation of political prisoners. The number of political prisoners imprisoned on Green Island once exceeded 2,000. At the initial stage, political prisoners on Green Island were sent to cut timber on mountains and collect coral limestone from the beach to build simple and crude houses. Such construction work was the major initiative of the Re-education Department at the time. Houses built of coral limestone remain standing on the site of the former Re-education Department canteen.

After an attempted prison revolt spurred by Taiwanese independence sentiments known as the Taiyuan Incident took place in February 1970, the Ministry of National Defense built a prison next to the landmark General Rock, which became better known as the Green Island “Oasis Villa”. The Oasis Villa was a typical closed prison surrounded by high walls and decorated with various patriotic slogans such as “staunchly anti-Communist”, “accept the hardships,” “never forget the lesson learned at Jyu,” “repent now,” and “destroy the Communists and recover the mainland”. The main building of the Oasis Villa was a prison with an internal hexagonal structure and four extended prisoner dormitories. It was also equipped with “isolation cells” location in a remote area on the west side of the prison, which the political victims referred to as “prisons within a prison”. 

 Prison walls Prison walls

 The north wing of the jail. Vacant cells with a couple doors left open. The north wing of the jail. Vacant cells with a couple doors left open.

 Hello on the other side... Hello on the other side…

Niu Tou Shan (Cow’s Head Hill) and Yan Zi Dong (Swallow’s Cave)

From the entrance of the prison, you can see Niu Tou Shan in the distance on the right. Continue east until you can’t go any further on paved road. There will be small concrete pillars at the end of the paved road/start of the dirt path where you get off the motorbike and walk about 800m. The path borders the wall of what looks like an extension of the prison. The sentry pillboxes surrounding the New Life Correction Center were primarily for prisoner surveillance, but also served as punishment cells. Situated near the ocean, the pillbox in the picture below has become half-buried by the shifting sands. Being so near the water meant occasional flooding, which is why the prisoners called it “the water cell”. Most prisoners put in this pillbox for punishment would drown from the unforgiving tides. Just before you get to Niu Tou Shan, the “13th Company”, a rundown graveyard, will be on your right. There were 12 companies in the New Life Correction Center. “Company 13” was where inmates, officers, and troops were buried.

The path opens to the beach which brings you straight to Niu Tou Shan. Yan Zi Dong is located under Niu Tou Shan. Walk across the beach toward the hill, climb over a few rocks, and you’ll see a large opening which is the mouth of the cave. It’s impossible to miss it. The cave itself is not very deep, but rather shallow to mimic a large amphitheater. Here, prisoners rehearsed plays, painted backdrops, and cremated fellow inmates. The cave hosted a stage that they fashioned of reef rock.

 Sentry Pillbox and path to Swallow's Cave Sentry Pillbox and path to Swallow’s Cave

 The 13th Company The 13th Company

 Niu Tou Shan Niu Tou Shan

The Vengeful Spirits

Long ago a man had supposedly buried gold blocks on Niu Tou Shan. Right before he died, he told one of his relatives about the buried treasure. Soon after, the relative told the son about the treasure and instructed him to dig it up. The son, of course, ecstatic from this discovery, immediately went to the location with his friends and began digging. After digging for some time, they made a rather gruesome discovery—bones from over 155 individuals. They never found any gold. It has been said that the so-called “relative” was an angry ghost unjustly buried atop that hill, and wanted the truth to be uncovered.

 

 Stairs in the cave to viewing area Stairs in the cave to viewing area

 View from above. The stage below where prisoners would perform. View from above. The stage below where prisoners would perform.

 Swallow's Cave Swallow’s Cave

 Swallow's Cave sits on the beach, so during typhoon season, the cave is easily flooded Swallow’s Cave sits on the beach, so during typhoon season, the cave is easily flooded

The Possessed Tourist

Night tours are well-known for animal sightings, and less known for spirit sightings. A guide is typically assigned to a hotel/hostel where he meets his group and takes them on tour from there. Niu Tou Shan, where Swallow’s Cave is located, is very haunted and apparently a lot of paranormal activity occurs between the hours of 11pm to 2am. Locals avoid the area even during the day. But night tours avoid the entire area altogether. There was one time, however, a group had begged their guide to take them to Swallow’s Cave during the night tour. The guide reluctantly agreed and took them to the cave. The majority of the group was spooked before they got to the entrance of the cave, so they turned around and headed back. The next day, the guide received a call from the hotel owner who sounded concerned. “Did you take a young lady on the night tour yesterday?” The guide replied with an inquisitive yes. “Did you go to Yan Zi Dong (Swallow’s Cave)?” The guide nervously responded yes. “This girl…she has been sitting in the lobby staring at me for the past couple hours. We tried giving her food, but she won’t eat. She may be possessed.” An exorcist was immediately summoned to the hotel to excise the demon that clung so strongly to her. They doused her in holy anointing oil, and after a couple minutes, she snapped out of the trance having no recollection of anything since the visit to the cave.

 

Sika Deer Ecological Park – Permanently Closed

The park closed its doors in 2009 when funding ran dry. You will occasionally see some live Sika deer on a leash, tied to store fronts to lure tourists into their shop or restaurant. The local guide told us that some shop owners are illegally keeping the deer because not all have permits to do so. You will also find restuarants throughout the island offering deer meat—don’t worry, they’re not Sika deer. The local residents raise deer to use their antlers in traditional Chinese medicine.

 Sika deer Sika deer

 Some people have pet goats Some people have pet goats

Lost at Sea

There’s a part of the island that is notoriously known for its massive waves. One time, a guide took a group of seven tourists–who claimed to be strong swimmers—to this spot. Four of the seven stayed further up the shore when they witnessed the enormity of the waves. The other three jumped in. But only moments after jumping into the sea, the adrenaline-rushing adventure quickly turned into sheer panic. Even the strongest of swimmers within the group were unable to outswim the strong current that swept them in and out of sea, slamming them against sharp rocks. They struggled to swim back to shore. Two of them made it back, completely covered in lacerations, while the third person presumably drowned. The body of the third person was never recovered. His spirit has been seen wandering that area.


 

Guan Yin Dong

Guan Yin Dong is named after the Goddess of Mercy. Legend is that a couple of lost fishermen followed a fireball that led them to safety and a statue (which is actually a stalagmite). This is where they set up an altar for their offerings.

You Zi Hu

You take a windy road from atop down to the beach where a little abandoned village sits at the bottom of the cliff. From atop, you can see the abandoned prehistoric structures, which look like a small compound. 

 Abandoned complex below Abandoned complex below

Hai Sheng Ping

From atop Hai Sheng Ping, there’s a breathtaking view of the ocean and the famous Pekinese Dog and Sleeping Beauty Rocks. There’s also a path that leads to Xiao Chang Cheng, also known as the Little Great Wall. It’s a short and pleasant walk along the path to the top of the hill where two pavilions overlook the ocean.

 Little Great Wall Little Great Wall

 View from higher pavilion View from higher pavilion

 Pekinese Dog and Sleeping Beauty rocks Pekinese Dog and Sleeping Beauty rocks

Zhaori Hot Spring

This natural saltwater hot spring is located in the southeast part of the island. In the morning, we woke up early to catch the sunrise on the hill next to the hot spring. There’s a clear marked path and set of stairs that lead up to the top of the hill. It was super windy at the top, so hold onto your hats! You can take shelter in the nearby pillbox if you need a moment from the gusty winds. Shortly after the sunrise, we headed down to the hot spring, which opened at 6am. I recommend going in the morning as there is generally less people. Entrance was NT$200, but two tickets were provided with our stay at the airbnb. We were quickly briefed at the entrance—Visitors must wear swim caps when entering the pools. If you don’t have one, you can purchase one onsite in store for NT$60. During this season, the three circular pools that stretched into the ocean were off limits/closed due to the strong winds and currents that could’ve swept people out into the sea. (I suspect that these pools may be permanently closed to the public because according to a couple sources, there were too many accidents). Some of the pools in the main area were drained as well. Only two outdoor pools and an enclosed pool were in service. The enclosed pool featured 3 waterfall massage showers—this was also the hottest of the three pools. If soaking in the hot spring isn’t your thing, you can head over to the cylindrical wells on the side where you can cook food—namely, eggs. You can purchase the eggs in the shop.

 Watching the sunrise from the hill next to the hot springs Watching the sunrise from the hill next to the hot springs

 Warmest pool Warmest pool

Guardians of the Bridge

Green Island falls victim to typhoons every year, but in one particular year, the typhoon was so severe that two policemen were placed on Horseshoe Bridge to redirect traffic throughout the day and night. The waves were getting bigger and unbeknownst to them, the storm had hit its peak—so much that an enormous wave engulfed the entire bridge, destroying it completely and killing both policemen. The bridge was reconstructed and since then, locals have reported seeing the policemen standing there during ghost hours (11pm-2am). They say that if you get flagged down by the policemen on the bridge at night, don’t stop. Keep driving. (But if the policemen chase after you, you should probably stop. Chances are they’re not ghosts…Or you could find out the hard way when a massive fine shows up in your mailbox.)

 

 Horseshoe Bridge Horseshoe Bridge

Have you been to Green Island? Drop a comment below!


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