12 January 2020.
With rugged sea cliffs, wild windswept hilltops and rolling golden meadows, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, or perhaps the dramatic coast of Ireland, rather than a lonely isle wedged off the east coast of Taiwan.
Green Island provides a beautiful escape from the mainland, where your days will be filled with spectacular coastal drives, dramatic rock formations, aquamarine bays, lazy afternoons in the hot springs and, best of all, the fantastic underwater world of Taiwan’s best dive destination.
Admittedly, my arrival here coincided with a fairly awful bout of island weather, with persistent winds and rain that just wouldn’t let up. But that didn’t stop me from exploring and having a ridiculously good time while doing so, bad weather and all.
This guide covers everything you need to know plan a wonderful trip to Taiwan’s Green Island, including the best things to do, where to stay and how to get there.
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Go Snorkelling or Diving At Taiwan’s Premier Dive Destination
Lush gardens of soft blush corals, schools of kaleidoscopic reef fish, abundant macro life, visits from sea turtles and snakes and some of the best visibility you’ll find this side of Asia, it’s really no surprise that Green Island is Taiwan’s best dive destination.
While many also sing the praises of Kenting on Taiwan’s southern tip, particularly for its curious little critters like the pygmy seahorse, I’m here to tell you that, in this traveller’s opinion, Green Island is far more beautiful. So if you can only choose one for diving, I’d definitely make it here.
During high season, operators run shore and boat dives every day, while in low season, boat dives may be limited to just once per week, with shore dives available every day. Strong northeasterly winds that pick up during low season can also make any north and eastern sites largely inaccessible.
As always, I’d recommend researching dive operators thoroughly ahead of time, particularly if you’re visiting outside of high season, to confirm availability, dive schedules and prices. I went with Green Island Bay Dive Centre based in Nanliao who have an excellent reputation, English speaking staff and decent gear.
Prices are also reasonable with shore dives at $1,500/dive (€45) for 1 person or down to $600/dive (€18) for 4 or more people. Boat dives are $3,000/2 tanks (€90) for 1 person or down to $2,000/2 tanks (€60) for groups of 4 or more. Gear is an extra $800 (€25) per day.
Not a diver? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to snorkel.
Key snorkelling areas on Green Island are Shilang, Dabaisha and Chaikhou which all have easy access points. It is heavily regulated though and unfortunately, visitors are generally not permitted to snorkel independently for safety reasons. You must be accompanied by a guide which often means being tethered to a flotation ring and an annoyingly large group. If you can persuade your guide that you’re a strong enough swimmer, you may be permitted to swim independently, but don’t count on it. If you have your own gear you can attempt to go solo, but pay close attention to currents and waves which can be strong.
Snorkel trips are very reasonably priced at $400 (€12) for a 1 to 2-hour experience. In high season, trips depart at least every 2 hours, while in low season there are just two sessions each day.
TOP TIP | The water visibility at Green Island is incredible, sometimes up to 40m, so be sure to bring your camera along to capture all the underwater action. I travel with the Olympus Tough TG-6 which is compact and lightweight and has excellent macro capabilities. It’s waterproof to 15m, so perfect for snorkelling, with a number of specialised underwater settings to help you capture the best shots. For diving, pair it with the Olympus PT-059 Underwater Housing which can be taken down to 45m and has attachments for external flashes and lens accessories for those wanting to up their underwater photography game.
Admire The Rock Pillars At Gongguan
Jutting out amidst the bay that hugs Gongguan, a trio of jagged jet black monoliths rise from the ocean.
During my visit, the coastline was battered by strong wind and waves that collided with the rocks sending billows of salty spray flying into the air making for a very dramatic scene.
But whatever the weather, they’re well worth a stop as you make your way around the island, either up close from the Memorial Park or even more impressive is to view them from across the bay.
Visit The Green Island White Terror Memorial Park
For most, it’s the incredible diving and coastal views that bring them to Green Island, but this spectacular emerald isle holds many dark secrets.
To really understand their significance, however, you’ll need to delve into Taiwan’s history.
On 27 February 1947, the massacre of tens of thousands of Taiwanese connected with protesting the corruption and repression by the KMT (Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party) ushered in an era of martial law and the period known as the White Terror. After losing the Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the KMT fled to Taiwan to continue their authoritarian governance. Through to 1987, Taiwan’s intellectuals, professionals and social elite continued to be targetted often suspected of being Communist spies or sympathisers. Around 140,000 people were imprisoned, thousands of which were executed.
Some 2,000 political dissidents were kept at the two concentration camp-style prisons located on Green Island, forced to participate in tedious classes and debates designed to drum out any Communist leanings, perform demeaning plays and spend their days undertaking gruelling labour. Informants acting within the prisons bred deep-seated distrust among prisoners.
Today the prison area has been transformed into the Green Island White Terror Memorial Park to comemorate those who fought for their land’s freedom, democracy and human rights. The park comprises the memorial overlooking the bay, the former Lyudao Prison and the Oasis Village which now acts as a museum offering insight into the daily life and conditions suffered by the prisoners. If, like me, you know next to nothing about this chapter in Taiwan’s history, it makes for an interesting visit and takes around an hour to wander through the complex.
Explore The Hilltop Meadows At Niutou Hill
The windswept grasslands and knobbly mounds of rock of Niutou Hill make it look like it’s just been lifted from a postcard of the Scottish Highlands. Though do be warned, the wild weather that batters this exposed peninsular lends to this distinctly Scottish feel as well.
From the main road, a meandering boardwalk brings you to the open meadow where a smattering of tall rocks indicate the rugged cliff line. It is from here that you can enjoy beautiful views of the island’s northern and eastern coasts and across the open ocean. Be careful wandering too close to the edge however – the wind can certainly be strong enough to blow you over!
Before you actually reach Niutou Hill, there are two other short detours you can take if you have enough time. One will lead you to the Swallow’s Grotto, a cave carved out from underneath Niutou Hill, while the other cuts inland where it’s possible to spot wild dear in the late afternoon and evening.
Visit the Sea Cave At Youzihu
Once you reach Green Island’s east coast, many folks make a beeline for the glorious hot springs with a quick stop en route to enjoy the views, but at the end of a tiny side road and rocky beach trail, you’ll discover an enormous cave that is definitely worth a visit.
This lonely stretch of wave-battered pebbled beach feels strangely eery, but enter through the back of the cave and you’ll be greeted by the thunder of crashing waves echoing in from outside.
A short way beyond Guanyin Caves you’ll see signs for Yanizhao where you’ll find a small road veering left. At the bottom, follow the small trail left across the coastline which will lead you inside the cave. The waves can get quite rough here so be careful walking across the rock platform and watch for the incoming tide.
If you turn right from the parking area you’ll find the ancient village of Youzi, though, under a moody sky, I found this spot rather creepy to wander alone.
TOP TIP | The road down is very steep with a series of hairpin bends. If you’re travelling by bicycle with questionable brakes, I’d recommend leaving your bike near the first corner and walking the rest of the way down instead. This will also mean you don’t have to walk your bike back up afterwards. If you’re on a scooter, there’s a small parking area at the end of the road.
Walk The Little Great Wall For Epic Coastal Views
Looking for the absolute best view of Green Island? Don’t miss the Little Great Wall.
Named for its resemblance to the Great Wall of China, though I can’t stress enough that it is the far, far littler version, this 200m walkway offers up simply gorgeous vistas along the east coast culminating in a small hilltop pavilion that takes in the rugged volcanic coastline, impossibly turquoise bays and verdant green interior. It’s also the best place to view the island’s most famous rock formations – the Pekinese Dog and Sleeping Beauty – which jut into the ocean.
For keen photographers, the Little Great Wall’s east-facing position also makes it a great place to catch the sunrise.
If you’re travelling by bicycle in a clockwise direction, this thankfully marks the final uphill stretch – yes, your thighs will be burning by the time you arrive – so it’s a perfect place to enjoy a well-deserved break because it’s all downhill from here.
Hike The Historic Mountain Trail To Amei Hill
Green Island’s wild interior is largely inaccessible to visitors, but there is one option to enjoy its natural beauty from above.
Just before you reach Wenquan village, you’ll see signs for the ‘Across Mountain Historic Trail’ which will lead you into the heart of the island and the summit of Amei Hill.
Unfortunately, this is not the highest point of the island – that area is under military control – but, on a clear day, the panoramic views are certainly worthy of the sweaty hike to the top.
From the road, the trail is 5km return and can be completed in around 2 hours. There’s a parking space for bikes and scooters at the bottom.
TOP TIP | Many maps show an alternate route commencing a short way south of Wenquan, but this path is horribly overgrown and rickety and I suspect not widely used these days so I’d recommend sticking to the official Historic Trail instead. There’s also a small access road that cuts across the entire island from near Nanliao and also intersects with the Amei Hill Trail, however, it’s worth noting that, aside from a view good vantage points of the lighthouse, there are next to no views for the entire road so taking the historic trail is still the most scenic option.
Relax With A View At Zhaori Hot Springs
After 15km of cycling, battling the steep hills, violent winds and incessant rain, nothing could have been more welcome than the deliciously hot pools of Zhaori Hot Springs (also spelled Jhaorih and Chaojih).
Before you enter the pools however be sure to follow the stairs onto the headland for a look at the Fanchuanbi Grasslands.
The springs are naturally salty – one of only three in the world – with pools ranging from comfortably cool through to lusciously hot. Sitting alone in the steaming pool as a storm rolled in across the windswept ocean and rain lashed the outside was something quite special. Visiting during low season on a weekday also meant that there were very few people to share the pools with and you can easily spend an hour or more mooching about.
Unlike many hot springs in Taiwan, Zhaori is fully mixed with both males and females able to bathe in all the pools. You’ll need to bring your swimming costume and towel and a bottle of water is highly recommended. It’s also required to wear a swimming or shower cap while bathing though you can buy these here or in town.
On arrival, be sure to have a shower to rinse off all the suncream and sweat from the day before jumping in. Baskets piled around the changing rooms can be used to cart around your belonging while you’re in the pools.
The entrance fee is $200 (€6) for an unlimited amount of time.
High season on Green Island falls between June and October when there are frequent daily ferries, hot temperatures and tourists flock to the island. Seas are generally also calmer during summer, unless there’s a typhoon on the horizon of course.
The best times to visit however are during spring and autumn during the week when you can enjoy the milder temperatures and fewer crowds.
Diving is excellent at any time of year, but keep in mind that many shops drastically wind down their operations outside of high season so you may have limited options for boat dives or finding dive buddies to share the cost with.
The incredibly scenic coastal road that winds its way around Green Island is just 18km which means no matter which mode of transport you choose, it’s perfectly manageable to see it all.
The main things to consider, however, will be how much time you’ve got and how active you’re feeling.
Scooter – Fuel + Electric
Renting a scooter – either fuel or electric – is easily the most popular way to explore Green Island and allows you to comfortably travel around the entire coastline in around half a day.
For petrol scooters, you officially need a motorbike license, though you’ll find hotels aren’t quite as strict at enforcing this. Electric scooters are slower but can be rented without a license.
Price | Regular scooters are $400 (€12) per 24 hours, plus around $50 (€1.50) for a tank of fuel. Electric scooters cost $600 (€18) for 24 hours.
Where | You’ll find hundreds of scooters for rent from shops around the harbour – seriously, I can’t even imagine how busy it must get when even half of these are on the roads! Most hotels can also rent out scooters, sometimes at a slightly better rate than places in town. The island’s only petrol station is in Nanliao and you’ll find charging stations both in town and near Wenquan.
After seeing so many travellers with scooter accidents in Asia, I opted to take a bicycle which allowed me to explore at a slower pace. There are some fairly serious but still manageable hills to tackle on the eastern side and strong winds can make it tough going, but it’s a great way to experience the island and perfectly doable in a full day that includes plenty of long stops.
Travelling clockwise, the most challenging hills are just before Niutou Hill which is very steep but relatively short and on the way up to the Little Great Wall which is gradual but continues for around 1km. Otherwise, the road is relatively flat.
If you’re planning to do the hike to Amei Hill, be sure to arrive by mid-afternoon at the latest to ensure you have enough time to complete it.
Price | $300 (€9) for 24 hours including a bike with gears, helmet and basket.
Where | There seems to be just one bike rental place in town located just north of the port from a guesthouse on the main road. I rented my bike through my hostel but was taken here as well. You’ll need to leave your passport as a deposit.
There’s a small shuttle bus that travels in a loop around the island though it’s not all that frequent.
During high season (April to October), the bus comes almost every hour, while in low season there are just four departures each day making it difficult to rely on.
The full loop takes around 2 hours with stops at all major tourist attractions though you’re also able to flag the bus down anywhere along the road.
I’d suggest only taking the bus if you just want to visit one or two locations – like the Zhoari Hot Springs or the Historic Mountain Trail to Amei Hill – otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time waiting. If the weather is terrible, taking the bus for the full loop might also be a good alternative option to see the island without being stuck outside all day.
Price | $100 (€3) for entire loop.
For any visit to Green Island, I’d recommend an absolute minimum of one night on the island, and only if you’re able to arrive on the early morning ferry and depart in the late afternoon. Better is to stay at least two to three nights to give yourself enough time to explore the island fully, spend some time diving or snorkelling and soaking up some sun along the coast.
If you’re visiting in low season when ferries are very infrequent, I’d recommend at least two nights as the ferry schedule may mean you arrive in the afternoon and have to depart the following morning leaving very little time to actually see the island.
This is how I’d suggest spending a two-day visit to Green Island.
Day 1 | Arrival To Green Island + Diving Or Snorkelling
Try to depart on a morning ferry to give yourself as much time on the island as possible.
Once you’ve checked into your accommodation and settled in, organise a dive or snorkelling trip for later in the day. Most hotels will be able to arrange your snorkelling trips on the spot with regular sessions running throughout the day. I’d recommend arranging your dive trip ahead of time though as most operators offer just a morning and afternoon trip.
Once your plans are fixed, head into town for lunch to fuel up for your afternoon activities.
A two-tank dive will take up the rest of your afternoon while a snorkel trip should leave you with enough time to relax by the water and enjoy the sunshine. Green Island doesn’t much in the way of beaches as most of the shore is littered with pebbles or coral, but there are several benches dotted along the waterfront where you can relax with a drink to watch the sunset.
Don’t forget to arrange your bike or scooter rental for the following day so that you don’t need to waste time in the morning.
Day 2 | Exploring Green Island
Today is for exploring!
If you’re on a bike, try to get an early start so that you don’t feel too rushed as the day wears on.
After breakfast, head north to explore the island in a clockwise direction, stopping at all the attractions mentioned above. Places like the Memorial Park and Amei Hill will require detours of 1 to 2 hours so be sure to factor that into your timing. Finish your day with a long, lazy soak at the hot springs before travelling the final 5km back to Nanliao.
If you have a third day to spend on the island, consider spending another day diving or snorkelling, visiting the lighthouse or skip one of the longer experiences from Day 2 to enjoy today instead, like the Amei Hill Trail or Memorial Park.
There is accommodation scattered around the island, but I’d highly recommend basing yourself in or near Nanliao. Though the town is nothing special, it’s where you’ll find virtually all of the island’s restaurants, rental companies and tour operators which makes planning your activities far easier.
You’ll also quickly notice that accommodation on Green Island is far more expensive than elsewhere in Taiwan and doesn’t offer great value so bear that in mind if you’re on a tight budget.
Sanasai Inn | One of few budget options available on Green Island, Sanisai Inn offers comfortable capsule-style dorms with a light, powerpoint and curtain for each bed. The owner is very helpful and can arrange your ferry tickets ahead of time, bike and scooter rental, snorkelling trips and island night tours. A simple breakfast of toast and tea or coffee is also included. It’s a 15-minute walk to the centre and a decent option if you’re on a budget.
Slow Island Hostel | This small, friendly hostel in the heart of Nanliao is another great budget choice. Dorms and a single private room are available along with an excellent outdoor space equipped with pool table, hammocks and deck chairs.
Green Island Dolphin House | This simple bed and breakfast near the harbour is one of Green Island’s best-rated options with an excellent homemade breakfast, friendly staff and comfortable sea view rooms where you can watch the sunset from bed.
Hai Yin | This cosy, brightly coloured homestay is run by a lovely family who can help you organise your visit to Green Island. Everything from double rooms through to family suites are offered.
Island River | This modern new guesthouse is located just north of the harbour and offers a collection of bright private rooms and a spacious common area.
You can reach Green Island by either plane or ferry, both of which originate in Taitung.
There are three daily flights between Taitung and Green Island operated by Daily Air in a tiny propeller plane. It’s just a 20-minute flight and costs around $1,000 (€32). Very few tickets are sold to non-residents so be sure to book in advance and keep in mind that flights are regularly cancelled due to bad weather.
Green Island Ferry
First, you’ll need to make your way to Fugang Harbour which sits 8km north of downtown Taitung.
From the bus station, take bus 8103 which will drop you on the main road in Fugang Village from where it’s a 5-minute walk toward the harbour. It departs every hour and the timetable is posted at the bus station. The trip takes 45 minutes to an hour and travels via the train station. Be sure to have your EasyCard handy for the journey.
You can also take bus 8101 which will take you directly to Fugang Harbour but runs just a handful of times each day.
For the return journey, you’ll see the timetable for bus 8101 posted at the harbour bus stop, but if there isn’t one scheduled to arrive soon I’d recommend walking up to Songjiang Road where the 8103 passes at least 1 to 2 times an hour.
If you’re travelling from further afield, like Taipei or Hualien, it is possible to arrive and take the ferry directly to Green Island without having to overnight in Taitung. Take the train to Taitung and from the station simply take either of the above buses or a taxi directly to Fugang Harbour. Check the train times to Taitung here.
Now for the ferry!
Almost universally referred to as either the barf boat or vomit comet and with countless online anecdotes of the enormous swell encountered en route, the 50-minute Green Island ferry journey certainly has a reputation and can seem rather daunting.
As someone who gets both terribly seasick and anxious in big waves, I almost decided to skip Green Island entirely. But despite the bad weather, I’m still glad I went, and what’s more, I’d happily go again.
During high season, there are several daily ferry departures, while in low season there is often just the one service which can be booked out days in advance. You can check the timetable here but the form doesn’t translate well so I’d recommend asking your guesthouse to make the reservation instead.
Price | $560 (€17) one way, $1,120 (€33.50) return and you’ll need to show your passport when purchasing your ticket.
Tips For The Green Island Ferry
1 | Boarding begins 30 minutes before departure though pasengers may begin queuing up 45 minutes to an hour early. Get in quick for the best seats. If you get seasick, I’d recommend sitting in the centre of the boat, in the middle or back sections to minimise the movement.
2 | Book your tickets in advance during peak season and on weekends. During low season, you can occassionally book on the day of travel but as there is often just the one daily crossing, it’s a good idea to book a couple of days ahead. Most hotels and guesthouses on the island should be able to arrange this for you at no extra cost.
3 | If you get even vaguely seasick, do yourself a favour and take precautions before getting onboard. Even on a day with relatively small waves, the first passengers on my boat were beginning to hurl just 15 minutes into the trip. If the waves don’t get you, the sound and, god forbid, the smell, may be enough to send you over the line. I always take TravaCalm (similar to Dramamine) for seasickness, and aside from some drowsiness, they have never let me down. I’ve also recently been using Sea-Bands which seem to be an effective non-drug option. Noise-cancelling headphones and something to cover the smell, like a swipe tigerbalm under the nose, are also a good idea for especially rough days.
4 | If you’re a nervous boat-goer, check the swell before finalising your plans. After a white-knuckle boat ride in the Philippines earlier in the year and after hearing so many stories about the rough crossing, I was admittedly very nervous about taking this ferry. But by keeping a close eye on the swell reports, I knew what roughly size waves to expect and had the option to delay the trip if needs be. You can check the swell for Green Island and the mainland here.