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Introducing Lanyu

The Tao people call their island home 'Pongso No Tao' (Island of the People), while the Taiwanese started calling it Lanyu (蘭嶼, Lányǔ, Orchid Island) post-WWII, after the flowers that have since been picked to near extinction. A volcanic island covered with a carpet of tropical rainforest, Lanyu lies about 65km southeast of the city of Taitung, making it the southernmost outpost of Taiwan.

Lanyu's status as a far-flung outpost isn't merely geographical, but cultural as well, as the island is by far the least Chinese part of Taiwan. The Tao people are of Australasian descent, speak their own distinct language, and have a culture well removed from that of the people 'on the Mainland' (as they sometimes refer to the Taiwanese).

The tropical island is sacred land to its inhabitants, but it had been mistreated for decades by a larger colonising neighbour. The opening of the island to tourism in the 1960s, coupled with controversial government policies, has seen the Tao struggle to retain their culture in the face of increasing outside influences. The Tao are well aware that most Taiwanese visitors view them as an oddity, so any visitors to Lanyu should take note of these sensitivities.

Summer is high season on Lanyu, and plane tickets are hard to get and accommodations scarce and more expensive. After mid-September, however, and in the spring, Taiwanese visitors are few and far between (especially during the week), despite the fact that the weather leans towards the idyllic end of the scale.

Lanyu is made up of two steep, jungle-covered mountains which are surrounded by a thin strip of coastal land with six villages on it. The 37km road circling both mountains can be driven in about 1½ hours; a shorter, twisting road winds between both mountains from just south of the village of Hungtou on the west coast to the village of Yeyin on the east. This road also branches off to reach the weather observation centre atop Hongtoushan (Red Head Mountain).