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June 24, 2017

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Orchid Island: A vacation paradise for diving and snorkeling

When I first heard of Orchid Island (蘭嶼), I thought it would be a cross between Taipei's Wulai and southern Kenting, with scory of hotels, souvenir vendors, beautiful sceneries and marine life, plus remnants of aboriginal population performing their traditional arts for camera-clicking tourists. Given its remoteness, it did not possess enough appeal to make me embark on a trip and check it out personally.

Well, wrong I was, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. While visiting friends in Taitung I decided to make a short "been there, done it" trip to the island, and the only thing I can say about it is "marvellous."

Orchid Island is a 45 square km tropical volcanic island located off Taiwan's south-eastern coast, inhabited by the Yami tribe. And it turns out to be a vacation paradise with superb diving and snorkeling spots.

There are two options to get there —either a boat from Fugang (about 20 minutes from downtown Taidong), which takes about 2.5 hours and costs NT$1,000, or a plane that takes just 25 minutes and costs NT$300 more. The plane is definitely an appreciated comfort if you get seasick easily, as the sea is rough.

Once on the island, do not expect too much comfort. Believe it or not, there is no 7-11 there—perhaps the only place in Taiwan—and what you can order in restaurants depends largely on the supplies delivered from Taiwan proper. Accommodation is generally available in B&Bs, as locals have begun to understand possible fortunes coming from tourism and converted empty rooms in their houses to accommodate visitors.

The rooms are simple, and you generally share facilities with other guests and the host family, but you will get the feel of everyday life of locals, as you have a fairly good chance to get invited to share meals with the family. In summer and during Chinese New Year it is advisable to book in advance, as you might have certain trouble finding vacancies.

Off season, tourists and younger locals leave to make a living in Taiwan, and Orchid Island turns into a ghost island with only occasional sightings of elderly locals.

The most reasonable thing to do after landing is rent a scooter for NT$300-500, because it is basically the only way to move around the island other than walking or through the VERY infrequent bus service.

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