Exploring Taiwan’s Green Island

Thousands of tiny islands adorn the Pacific, and these remnants of volcanic eruptions have evolved into tourist hot spots, with prime diving and scenic beaches. It is here tourists lay their hats to kick back and relax (which for the typical Taiwanese tourist means traveling in groups of 50, each renting a scooter, taking a token photo at each landmark, and getting back on the ferry to return after one day). But this post is not about the flaws of Taiwanese tourism, nor how some of them are destroying the environment by expelling copious amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or killing the coral by walking on it whilst snorkeling (in inner tubes!) because most can’t swim.

Okay. I’m getting off my soapbox now.

Last weekend Dom and I made our way with some friends to Green Island, located 21 miles off the eastern coast of Taiwan. We left our apartment on Saturday before dawn, and a train, taxi, and ferryboat later, we arrived.

Camping gear and packs on our backs, we set out to find transportation, and ended up renting 5 bicycles for $150NT ($5US) a person. Our trusty steeds for the weekend were slime colored, clown sized bikes, but most importantly, they were efficient and earth friendly. (The island’s circumference by road is only 102miles, so traveling by bicycle is realistic).

As the five of us peddled down the road on our “green monsters”, we breathed in the fresh air, and enjoyed the silence. No traffic noise or pollution here;  just the coast, green mountains, and plush vegetation. Perfection.

Abandoned boat on Green Island.

Abandoned boat on Green Island.

Green Island is home to one of only three salt-water hot springs in the world, and shortly we came upon them. We pulled in, and a man with an orange, betel nut stained mouth approached us and mouthed off something in broken English that I could barely make out, but he did give me a map which proved useful.

It was due to our friend, however, that we found the perfect patch of real estate to call home for the night. Jeremy led us up a steep hill, across a grassy field, and to the edge of a massive cliff with an epic view of the Pacific Ocean.

Camping doesn’t get better than this.

After setting up our tents, we rode into town in search of food. Green Island is inhabited by deer -probably more deer than people-so we had our hearts set on venison.  Earlier in the day, we bumped into the only other westerner on the island, and he recommended a place called “Monica’s Restaurant”.

We started out with some type of white fish sashimi, which was buttery and tasted like it had been caught that day.  Afterwards, a plate of venison and noodles was served. Venison is my favorite meat, and I was stoked for the opportunity to eat it. I was disappointed, however, by its taste. The venison back home in Texas has a hearty, gamey taste, and this just tasted like bland beef. I don’t like beef, so I didn’t really dig the dish too much. But the meal came at the right price- $250NT and that included a beer.

We didn’t beat nightfall, so our bike ride back to the campsite was in the dark. No street lights or light pollution exist on Green Island to illuminate the roads, so it was up to my headlamp to guide all 5 of us. The road back to the site was windy and alongside a cliff, so we really had to be careful. Additionally, we had to take heed of the passing motor vehicles coming our way, which was also a struggle because our bikes had no reflectors or bike lights.

Most of us managed to make it back to the campsite unharmed, but we did lose two good men- a bottle of Shiraz, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Upon entering the hot springs, we received stares and glares. You would have thought they had never seen a foreigner before. In good spirits, we made a game out of it; when someone stared at us, we stared right back at them until it got extremely awkward. Just another reason for the Taiwanese to think Westerners are bat-shit crazy.

Less than two minutes after entering the hot springs, a man came up to us and pointed to his head. After a quick game of charades, we realized we needed shower caps if we wished to enjoy the pools. Seeing as no one wanted to buy an overpriced shower cap in the gift shop, we took our sarongs and wrapped them around our heads, resulting in all of us looking like Nairobi Kings and Queens. It was brilliant. But yet again, just another reason for the Taiwanese to think we had lost our marbles.

The springs were refreshing, and after about 3 hours we all had pruned fingers and toes, and our bones were jelly, so we decided to return to the tent for some star gazing and wine drinking before going to bed.

But before we even left the springs, the rain started to fall, and the wind began to howl.  Now, at this point, the rain doesn’t really bother me anymore. It is actually a blanket of familiarity, and if it didn’t rain while I was camping in Taiwan, I would probably feel a bit disoriented. The fact that we were camping on the edge of a cliff, however, did concern me a bit, but when we reached the top of the cliff, we all agreed it was safe.

But to assuage any lingering doubts, we drank a little more wine to put us at ease.

The next morning, Dom and I bought some eggs and boiled them in the hot springs for breakfast. We enjoyed a few hours of partly cloudy weather, and then the rain started, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day.

At this point, we were almost ready to leave the island, but Dom and I felt unfulfilled because we had yet to conquer it. So in spite of the rain-there comes a point when you can’t get any wetter-Dom and I hopped on our ridiculous rental bikes, and cycled around the whole island. I’m happy we did, because I witnessed one of the most memorable views of my life. On the highest point of the island, I took in a panoramic view of the Pacific, and its mighty volcanic rocks bathing in the ocean.It was one of those travel moments that will stick with me until I die, or actually lose my marbles.

Which according to the Taiwanese tourists on Green Island, I already have.

How to get to Green Island:

Green Island is the perfect place to escape the congested mainland of Taiwan. For those of you working in Taiwan, it can easily be done in a weekend.

From Kaohsiung: Hop on a train to Taitung (approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes and $360NT), take a quick taxi ride to the ferry dock (10-15 minutes $375NT), and then take the ferry (50 minutes $920NT round-trip) to Green Island.

From Taipei: Train to Taitung is approximately 4 hours and 40 minutes, and the average fair is $785NT

Transportation on Green Island– If you wish to rent a scooter on Green Island you must have a motorcycle license. No exceptions. They are very strict because an American without a license died in an accident last April.

*Tips-

1. Make sure to purchase your train tickets in advance at Kaohsiung Main Station, as the tickets to Taitung are popular. Visit Taiwan Railway for train times and prices, but don’t rely on the website to order tickets. I found that many times tickets were sold out online, only to be available at the station.

2. When you arrive in Taitung, go to the Visitor Center at the train station, and they will point you in the right direction. The lady there spoke English, and she even reserved our ferry tickets for us. (Our ferry left Taitung at 11:30 AM on Saturday, and departed Green Island at 2:30 PM on Sunday).

3. Free camping can be found on the grounds next to the hot springs, and at the elementary or middle school.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Take only photographs, and leave only footprints ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Comments

  1. Enoch Castleberry says:

    so jealous, i never made it out to Green Island or Orchid Island. how did you lose the two “men”?

    • My friend Jeremy had them in his satchel, and both managed to fall out. I think the universe was trying to tell us something. Not sure what, because it definitely couldn’t be “stop drinking so much wine”. There is no way the Gods would want that.

  2. Prabhat says:

    Awesome article :). I am thinking of heading to green island and your secret camping spot looks amazing! I will just go to green island to camp at this spot :). Any tips on how to find this place would be appreciated!
    Thanks
    Prab

    • Right before the hot springs, you will see a parking lot. At the back of the parking lot there are stairs going up the cliff. At the top of those, walk all the way to the edge overlooking the almighty Pacific and you will have found it! Happy travels!

  3. I’ve been reading several of your posts the past couple weeks since arriving in Taiwan with my girlfriend, and I’m glad I found this one. We are going to take about 10 days before she starts her teaching job to go explore the east coast, and camp mostly. Wasn’t quite sure where to on the island until now. Thanks!

  4. Thanks so much for your Green Island camping tips. My group of three are planning to camp in Taroko Gorge then head to Green Island and I wasn’t sure about the camping there. Are there fresh water hot springs on Green Island as well as the saltwater ones? Do you have any knowledge of camping in Kenting? Thanks again for your post, fun and informative!

    • The Southern Nomad says:

      I spent some time camping around Taiwan and in Kenting there is several camp grounds. We paid 200nt a night on Chinese New Year. And there is a amazing campground in Taroko that is mid way up, sits on a look off over the river.

    • And Nan, I can’t remember if there are fresh water hot springs in Green Island. In Kenting we camped in the public schools. We always had good luck there; no one seemed to mind 🙂

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