The moment the final remnants of summer fall away with the last of the autumn leaves, we begin dreaming of warm breezes and turquoise waters. Whether you’re the traveler who dreams of easy-journeys to The Dominican Republic where beaches are as plentiful as affordable package deals, or the vacationer with a wanderlust for exotic locales off the Mediterranean sea, The islands of Penghu is a destination you would do well in fast familiarize yourself with. Set to the west of Taiwan, this collection of small islands are each one a distinct embodiment of uncharted paradise.
Repose is included in the airfare to Penghu; be it the coral reefs of Jebei island you choose to explore, the nests of the endangered green turtles protected on Wanganyu island you visit, or the Bohemiem nightlife cloaking Magong City — the only city of the collection of islands — you seek out, there is a stillness to life in Penghu.
We arrive in Magong city via a TransAsia Airways clipper from the local Songshan Airport. A quick hour and a bit, the hop over to Penghu is barely long enough to get into my new novel. My boyfriend and I have done little research before our trip, and aren’t exactly sure what to expect from the region. All we know is seafood is the dish of choice here (a fact everyone in Taipei likes to share when hearing you’ll be visiting the region), and the beaches are a mix of heavenly white sand and stunning volcanic terrain. What we discovered over our stay is that these sequestered islands comprising Penghu are Asia’s best-kept secret; a tropical Eden that makes the storied beaches of Bali look like a theme park.
City life takes on a costal stride in Penghu, and merges cosmopolitan living with outdoor pursuits. From a harbour swim in view of the Siying Rainbow Bridge to a visit to natural scenic spots such as Tongliang Banyan Tree and the Columnar Basalt (towering formations rendered by volcanic lava) to a day of ultimate leisure at Aimen beach, nature’s wonders are at the city’s front door.
With autumn heavy in the air, and winter around the corner, it’s almost time to plan your annual escape. Opt for an eastern journey to Penghu, and untold culture and beauty will follow.
Where to Stay
Magong city’s popularity with local tourists from Taiwan and mainland China is apparent in the abundance of hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations on the island.
While many of the areas B&Bs offer ocean views, cozy beachside living isn’t typically their mandate. Taking a cue from area hotels, room décor is more concerned with appearances of luxury, then homespun seafarer motifs. Even if a hotel is in your budget, young travelers looking to bask in beach bum culture will find a haven at The Mahalo B&B, located steps away from Shan Shui beach. An Endless Summer mentality infuses the space with rooms named after famed surf spots around the world, and the Penghu Surf Club below offering board rentals and lessons.
For urbanites wanting a more centrally located home base, MF Hotel is within walking distance to major attractions such as the Siying Rainbow Bridge, and around the corner from restaurants and bars.
The bare essentials are dressed up here with trendy turns in design that lend a loft-like feeling to the hotel. Hot breakfast is included in the room charge, and served in the downstairs café area. If deli sandwiches in the morning aren’t your thing, then stick to the Chinese breakfast option. A ham and cheese sandwich (that tastes and looks like pastrami) in the a.m. isn’t quite the breakfast of champions, but congee with a selection of traditional small plates may just
Dock Side Grill – Guan jing chang ti BBQ
In Taiwan, skewing meats and seafood for the grill is a popular style for street eats. If hungry for this fare, but not in the mood to stand and eat, head to Guan-jing-chang-ti BBQ where visitors wanting to try this traditional cuisine, will find a fun do-it-yourself option. Packed come nightfall, the atmosphere here is lively, with chirpy groups circled around the masses of BBQ pits sprawled across the dock. Cold beer, a mixed plate of freshly caught seafood and a hot grill is a seaside meal on level with a late dinner combination of tapas and sangria.
Adventures on the Ocean – Caiyuan Leisure Fishery Farm
Lunch becomes recreational when on board a boat stocked with fresh oysters, personal BBQ pits, and karaoke (plus enthusiasts).
Get your ticket at Magong Harbour Port (bottom end of Zhong Zhen Road), where cruises depart to the aquaculture farms of the Hsiyu Township, south of the city.
The fun begins when you arrive at the Caiyuan Leisure Fishery Farm — erected in the middle of the water — visitors will board another boat attached to a floating dock once arrived. Here, all-you-can eat oysters and catch and release fishing await. With many of the passengers aboard these day cruises aged 40 and above, the karaoke flows with infinite zeal.
Seafarer’s Delight – The Xingyue Bay Restaurant
Simple traditional cuisine become mythical at the Xingyue Bay Restaurant on the outskirts of Magong City.
Seafood is the star player here, with local favourites including abalone, octopus and various whole fish options dominating the menu. If you’re more a carnivore than a pescetarian, this is not the spot for you, but if fresh seafood including items you’ve never sampled before such as trochidae (from the snail family) and mantis shrimp (they’ll make you believe in aliens) are on your dining wish list, this barebones mom and pop restaurant is sure to deliver one of the best meals you will experience on the island.
When in Penghu, staying on one island makes no sense with so many extraordinary spots to explore close by.
Visitors will find numerous adventure options inside the terminal of The South Sea Visitor Center, where daily cruises to the Penghu islands depart.
Ourselves we opted for a 2-island hop to Wang-an and Qimei island. At the latter, tourist gathered to snap shots of the Twin-Hearts Stone Weir, traditionally crafted out of the area’s basalt and coral reefs, these historic formations were used as traditional traps for fishing. No longer in use, the weirs now are exclusively preserved for tourists. Be conscious of tides when planning your visit to avoid missing out on the rare view.
Travelers who book a visit for the summer months may catch the Penghu Stone Weir Festival, deliciously timed with the region’s Gourmet Carnival, during which the ancient weirs are put back in service to catch fish for the carnival-goers.
Beautiful though the stone weirs of Qimei are, the rolling landscape of Wang-an’s is awe-inspiring. Once docked here, we grab a scooter (rental fees are included in the cruise package), and ride over to Wangankou Beach. Driving on the island’s near deserted roads tracing the coastline, paradise seems a little less lost.
At the beach, a paragon of tranquility is laid before us. The turquoise waters are empty of swimmers, as is the stretch of white sand beach void of sunbathers. With the general visitor more worried about getting a tan than not, beaches here and across the other islands are free of crowds.
In the great search for the ultimate beach getaway, this remote island is a treasure still to be discovered.
For drinks & small bites: Freuds
After our failed search for bars in Taipei that didn’t have bottles of Hennessy on display in glass cases (we drank mostly in the alley-side sake bars of Little Tokyo), we had near given up on finding a watering hole comparable to the locals we frequent back home by the time we reached Penghu. Halfheartedly we continued the hunt our first night in Magong City, and we’re met with more options than our thirst could handle.
A busy weekend spot, Freud’s dimly lit, Western-styled decor attracts hipsters that prefer Ipads over surfboards. Bottles and mixed drinks are reasonably priced, while menu items (available late night) are hearty snacks including a delectable mixed platter of braised meats and stewed eggs worth skipping dinner for.
For lounging till dawn: Havana Café & Pizza
Eating pizza while in Taiwan isn’t something we planned on doing, and something we’re a little embarrassed to admit we did. It was at least though after we had had dinner at a local seafood restaurant.
Staying for more than one drink is inevitable when stretched out in the seats at the Havana Café & Pizza, and equally as impossible is avoiding talking with locals there who insist you try the bar’s thin crust brick oven pizza. We gave in to the peer pressure and weren’t disappointed.
Reggae music, and the relax mood that comes from using surf boards as art, in addition to cheap drinks, keeps patrons here past closing time.
Special thanks to Johnson Hu & the Penghu Toursim Bureau.