Saturday, August 09, 2014

Biking Lanyu

This week I went to Lanyu for the first time, to enjoy one of the best experiences Taiwan has to offer with one of my closest friends, Drew Kerslake, and his lovely family. I have long wanted to go. Traveling with Drew was special because he's been on the island many times and first started coming in the 1990s, meaning that people there know him, and he knows many things about Lanyu that few outsiders know. What a wonderful introduction! Already planning my next trip.... (Andrew's beautiful and informative post) Click on READ MORE (image intensive, may be a few minutes loading up).

ROUTE NOTES: Don't be silly, there aren't any route notes. Just enjoy the pictures. We started the trip at Houbihu marina in Kenting, where we fortified ourselves with dramamine and braced for the two hour trip to Lanyu.

The weather leaving Kenting wasn't all that good, but the play of light and cloud over the low Kenting hills was a sight to behold. Fortunately the bad weather stayed in Taiwan and didn't bother us.

Drew is ready for Lanyu.

Slowly Lanyu hove into view. I stood on the upper deck the whole trip, keeping my eyes on the horizon, breathing clean air, and watching the flying fish. No seasickness for me, but in the puke pit below people were throwing up absolute gales of vomit. Most of them would have had a much better trip in the air out on the deck.


Unloading a scooter from the ferry.

Drew in full on "Dad on Tour" mode.

Initial impression: can we stay a day longer?

The Lanyu hostels all provide transport from the port. Here is the view out our front porch.

Here is where we stayed in the village of Imarod. Our homestay fell through so we had to make alternative arrangements on the fly. All I will say about this place is that I really really really recommend a homestay.

Nearby shops. The workers in the bars and shops were often students working on Lanyu for the summer.

This shop I really liked.

Drew's daughter, Kit. She's a miracle of joy and energy.

We went to visit a local hostel owner who is a longtime friend of Drew's.

There is a strong movement on the island against the nuclear waste being stored there.

Fields of taro dominate the low areas. The locals raise chickens, goats, pigs, taro, and fruit, and catch all sorts of fish.

A farmer at work in his taro fields.

Nothing like hanging out, downing a few cold ones, and looking out over the turquoise waters of Lanyu.

In the evening we went for a walk after a tough day of hanging all afternoon. Lanyu's cats are wonderfully relaxed.

The ruins of a traditional house. Drew pointed out how they were dug into the ground as protection against typhoons.

Dinner: fresh caught fish, fish soup, and veggies.

This was probably the best fish I have ever had.

Day 2. Morning. Riding time.

Yaken restaurant, where we ate every day. We made a point whenever possible of patronizing shops run by locals.

Drew rockets off.

Catching the coast.

Joyce trailed us on the scooter, with the ever alert Kit at the fore.

A view inland. Note the anti-nuke graffiti.

The road winds along the shelf.


Heading through Yeyou town.

Relaxing in front of a shop.

Pigs are commonly seen among the houses.

Hordes of young tourists flock to Lanyu in the summer.

A local fruit, resembles a pineapple but is totally different.

The island has three major bikeable roads. Here the second one crawls up that cliffside to the lighthouse at the top.

The entrance to the road is marked by a wrecked earth god temple built by the old soldiers assigned to the island by the KMT, and smashed by angry locals.

The grade of the road to the lighthouse is really easy, probably never over 8% and usually about 5%.

Views are staggering. A bit too staggering, I have no head for heights and had to retreat. But Drew finished it out, you can see the pics in his post.

We resumed our ride round the island. Here Drew captures the point where the road goes through a natural hole in the rock.

Going through the tunnel.

Around every curve....

...amazing rock formations...

...people hanging...

...sea and sky...

...and breathtaking beauty.

Someone swimming or fishing.

It is only 38 kms around the island, but it took hours since we stopped so often to take pictures.


We stopped at a small village to chat up some of the people standing around. Traditional boats drawn up on the beach.

Traditional boat in boathouse.

Drew pointed out that one of the great things about Lanyu is that the road travels through different microclimates, each with its own different vegetation.

But it's always lovely.

Roadside coral formations.

The coastline is studded with marvelous formations of hill and rock and coral. Round each curve is a different one.

The old garrison buildings.

You climb a low ridge and see this bay...

...then drop into another village, Dongshing (?).

The first shop on the right is a well-known cafe whose owners host 22 cats and serve the best mango slushies on the island, topped with whipped cream. I skipped lunch and had two slushies instead.

The village, with traditional boats. These are often still used by locals.

Taro fields.

A collection of traditional homes. Drew goes to visit an acquaintance there.

A bus stop.

Drew heads for home. The island in the distance is Little Lanyu, a few kilometers from the main island of Lanyu.

Coral formations line the road everywhere.

Round this corner is...

...the infamous nuke waste dump. What kind of human being would you have to be to put a nuke waste dump on this beautiful island? Since Drew will likely have a lot to say about it, I will refrain. Consider the four letter words as read.

After we arrived back at the hostel, I went to nap and enjoy more slushies, while Drew went to climb up to the weather station, a feat whose awesomeness became apparent to me the next day when I scootered the road. In the evening Drew's friends took us to Evan's place around the north side of the island. Some of you familiar with Taitung know her -- she started Casa, the well known watering hole there. Drew told me that she had tried to enter the US with her boyfriend but was denied a visa as an "immigration risk." No, I kid you not. God save us from such hellish risks as an attractive woman who is hard working, intelligent, ambitious, speaks four languages, and has started a couple of businesses.

Sadly, as we ate, the Coast Guard search and rescue teams came out. Apparently a tourist was fishing nearby and was swept out to sea. His body was found two days later.

Day 3. After breakfasting we headed for the grassy field around the corner from Imarod where we were staying. Our hostel provided scooters for us, included in the room fee.

Hiking with the family.

Which way do I wear this thing?

Drew located some pottery shards in a scrape near the path. There were many such scrapes, and judging from the metal on rock marks we observed in a couple of places, they'd been made by pothunters in search of artifacts to sell. The field is the site of the old village.

The rocks are spectacular, and there is good snorkeling in the area.

Drew leads the tour.

The coastline looking toward the villages of Imarod and Yeyou.

Joyce and Kit went off, and Drew and I continued to the main event of the morning: the climb up to the crater lake. The Taitung government put in these wooden stairs at the trailhead over the objections of the locals, according to Drew. Observing their condition, Drew remarked that the locals might have used the maintenance cost as an additional argument against building them, except that it was obvious what the government's maintenance plan was...

The stairs offered spectacular views of the ocean and the Lanyu garbage dump.

The trail enters the forest and the stairs stop. Here Drew is showing a boat tree, for making boats. The root by his foot will become the prow/stern of a boat.

Climbing, climbing, climbing.

After you cross the ridge, you descend into a gully. Drew watches as a group of hikers threads the gully.

Drew searches for the path.

At last, the lake.

A damselfly rests. Didn't see many great bugs on Lanyu, sadly.

All sorts of interesting plants.

Lots and lots of skinks....

...and lizards.

I was studying a web nearby when Drew spotted...

...this beautiful snake.

At last we returned. The trip, about two hours, involves much laborious climbing and muscles I seldom use. I was beat.

We stopped next at the old village near the trail head.

The village has been developed as a minor tour site, the path in is paved in stone, and there are signs. No explanations yet.

The remains of a house.

After lunch we decided to circle the island again by scooter and then drive up to the weather station.

We stopped at a local cave which used to be a local aboriginal shrine.

One joy of a scooter is being able to explore roads that might burn up your energy on a bike. Unfortunately this road ended early.

The light became fantastic as we drove.

Battleship rock.

The light and rock were unreal.

If you follow the road over that hump and go downhill, there's a concrete barrier on the left side painted white. Beside that is a small road. Turn left there.....

...for excellent views of this bay...

...and the parking lot for this set of rock formations.

Drew went to have a look.

A field of coral.

We popped in at this shop to the right and got some drinks.

Then we headed up to the next village where we picked up the road to the weather station. As you climb the views become ever more spectacular.

Like this....

...and this.

When you reach the top of the saddle, there's a right turn. Then you begin a steep climb to the weather station. Drew actually biked the whole thing the day before, a feat which awed me. The road up to the weather station consists of 25-35% grades which are absolutely brutal. My scooter could barely make it up with both of us on it. That Drew did it on a bike with a road gear setup is beyond belief.

The views from the top were staggering, as was the wind.

Drew pointed out that we were looking down on the volcano we'd climbed that morning.

Picture taking at the top.

Buildings from the old Japanese era station still remain, with bullet marks from where US carrier aircraft had strafed them in WWII. Here Drew points to one.


Just past the weather station we hit construction on the descent back into Imarod. The construction workers were kind enough to re-assemble the road temporarily so we could all pass.


Back to Evan's for another round of tacos and quesadillas.

Day 4. In the morning we walked around town. Here is a traditional boat, up close.

Then it was dramamine time. Back to Houbuhu marina and Taiwan.

I checked out the port while we waited for the ferry, which, as it turned out, wasn't going until the afternoon.

Loading a scooter.

Waiting for boat go.

A couple was shooting their wedding pics at the old lighthouse next to the port.

This crowd is waiting for the three hour ferry ride to Taitung.

The Taitung ferry enters the harbor.

Drew with the rock formation known as the old man behind him.

Good-bye, Lanyu. I'll be back.
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Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I'm jealous that you got to hike up to the crater. Brendan had fallen off a cliff on a hike so soon before our Lanyu trip that the doctor prohibited hiking and we never went.

PeterW said...

A truly fantastic post, Michael. Thanks for sharing!

TodD said...

Excellent photographs Michael! Looks like a really nice place to visit.

Anonymous said...


I've always thought that Lanyu (the Orchid Island) were just a small, sun-grilled, flat island. Thanks for knocking that misconception out.

There is some eastern-mediterranean air in terms of Lanyu's bold vegetation colors, bold house paints and the hilly coasts.

Some of the coast lines remind the east coast lines of the "mainland" Taiwan.

Its bio-diversity is not as straightforward as I mistakenly presumed.

A picture beats thousands of words. A very informative and beautiful post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

1. Beautiful photos and commentary, thanks for sharing!! The photos look even better on your flickr stream.

2. I remember watching a Taiwanese TV travel show a few years ago. As they were swimming/snorkeling in the waters off of Lanyu, you could see there were many sea snakes in the water. Did you hear anything about that? How is the water for swimming? Any idea about the currents?

3. I posted a picture of Lanyu here if anyone is interested. I believe the nuke waste dump is at the very bottom. Also some vintage photos of Lanyu can be found here.

Diall said...

Awesome trip.