Far away off the Eastern coast of Taiwan, lies the charming and isolated volcanic land of Green Island. Amongst the crystal clear waters where tourists flock to scuba dive and sit in one of only three seawater hot springs in the world, lies a repressive past. Political prisoners were shipped off here to the concentration camp of Green Island Prison to live a terrible life of thought and hard labour reform. The prison remains standing today and open to exploration. Read on to see what Teacake discovered.
Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule for 50 years until 1945 when China took back what they considered stolen. Under China’s control, Taiwan’s idea of a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending rapidly turned into a nightmare. The KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party), considering the Taiwanese to be too ‘Japanicised’ and ‘degraded’, began looting their commodities and resources. Taiwan’s economy went down the pan and in 1947, violent riots against the government broke out. Anyone suspected of going against the government was rounded up and executed (an estimated 18,000 to 28,000 people were killed), with the KMT stating ‘We would rather kill 99 innocent good people by mistake than miss a guilty one’.
Taiwan was under Martial Law from 1948 to 1987 with the KMT arresting all the ‘communist agents’ they could who they believed to be enemies of the state. Over 140,000 people were arrested with some 3000 to 4000 executed. Many served their sentences at Green Island Prison.
Two prisons were built on Green Island to accommodate the unfortunate who were arrested. The New Life Correction Centre (1951 – 1965) and Green Island Reform and Re-education Prison (1972 – 1987).
Walking through the Oasis Villa grounds today, you can still see the anti-communist propaganda painted across the walls and chiselled into the cliffs. The different messages here include, ‘Taiwan Independence is Poison for Taiwan’ and ‘Communism is misery for all’.
The Taiwanese have answered back and depicted through their graffiti that mind control and high-pressure domination were imposed on them by the government.
When prisoners arrived on the island, they had to walk along the coast past this rock shaped like an elephant’s trunk. It is nicknamed Devil’s Gate.
Further along the coast of the island, a path passes a pillbox which was used by the KMT as a solitary confinement cell dubbed the ‘water cell’. At the end you will reach a cave called Swallow’s Cave. This is where prisoners were forced to perform political plays.
Overall, it’s depressing stuff but there are some wonderful sights to be seen on Green Island. Teacake recommends seeing the prison first and then enjoying the rest of your time here scooting around, diving, hiking, sitting in the hot springs, trying to spot deer and checking out the abandoned village of Youzihu.
Bring your own scooter on the boat for 200 TWD one way or hire one here on the island (300 – 400 TWD per day). There is also the option to hire an electric bike, which I really would recommend: if you can help save the planet, do it! Riding around this 19 km island is a pleasure within itself. Enjoy the fresh air and views!
If you love diving, Green Island has some amazing spots. The water is unbelievably clear with beautiful coral reefs and a variety of sea life. I swam with Blue Safari Diving Center and as a solo female traveller, managed to hop on a boat and join a group who had already booked! Try and do the same if you’re travelling solo. I got a whole morning of diving (2 dives) and my own personal instructor who spoke excellent English for 3100 TWD = £64 / $94.
There are different trails you can take through the island. I’m going to be honest and say the routes and views are no way as good as Lanyu Island but if you fancy a stroll and some exercise, go for it. From near the lighthouse on the northwest side of the island, you can take your scooter up the mountains and easily do the Amei Hill Trail and back. Or, you can hike from the East side of the island up two different trails.
I love abandoned places! This abandoned village was the first settlement on the island. The old stone houses remain standing and being right by the sea, it’s a serene and tranquil spot to do some snooping around.
There’s two options. You can take a boat or you can fly.
Teacake took a boat from Taitung’s Fukang Harbour. Boats run hourly but the schedule can easily change outside of Summer time because of weather conditions. Use your hostel or hotel to help you book a day in advance or turn up early in the morning yourself and book. Tickets cost 460 TWD one way, plus an extra 200 TWD if you take your scooter there with you. The journey takes about 50 minutes. Warning: the ferry ride sucks. Expect to vomit at any moment.
Daily Air Corporation has three daily flights between Taitung and Green Island costing 1028 TWD and taking around 15 minutes. You’ll need to book several weeks ahead in summer and flights can easily be cancelled in Winter. You can book your ticket here but I’m afraid the website is only in Chinese.
Accommodation is generally quite expensive and gets booked up fast! There are some cheap options: you can try and get a bed at the Big Blue Diving Center in Gongguan on the north of the island or at Da Shack Hostel on the East of the Island. If you’re a last minute planner like me and want the cheapest option with some awesome comfort, stay with Julius and Lily at Hostel Green520. Their fairytale themed accommodation is top notch and just across the street from the Diving Centre! They are incredibly friendly and fun and gave me all the English Tea I could ever dream of. Thank you guys!
Bring cash! There is an ATM on the island next to the Post Office but it does not accept International Cards. If you want to spot deer, a night drive is recommended. Please be careful of crabs on the road too. Their numbers have drastically gone down since tourists have started whizzing around: keep an eye out for them on the road and keep Green Island’s wildlife alive and kicking.
Check out my unforgettable Lanyu Island experience here!