Taiwan itself is an island, but there are even more islands close by to explore. Among the most popular are Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, Green Island, Lanyu (Orchid Island), and Xiao Liu Qiu. Penghu is an archipelago of about 90 islands between Taiwan’s main island and China in the Taiwan Strait. Less than an hour flight from western Taiwan, also accessible by ferry, it is quick to visit from the main island. It is a great getaway for people interested in the ocean, seafood, and water sports. Despite its rising tourism in the past few decades, a lot of fishing villages are still around and remain rooted in their traditions.
When to go
Most visitors come to Penghu in the warm seasons from April to September. In July and August, typhoons could arrive anytime so we booked lodging with reasonable cancellation policy (we visited August 17). In the winter, the wind gets really strong and is not suitable for regular water activities but there are way fewer tourists – locals love this time of the year to have restaurants to themselves. Next time, I would probably go at the beginning or the end of the prime window if possible.
We were lucky to have family friends who live in Penghu show us around for all three days. Given the length of our trip, we stayed mostly on the main island.
Walking around Tianhou Temple (澎湖天后宮)
Starting from Shuncheng Gate (順承門), we walked up to the gate that is the remains from the Qing Dynasty. From there, an old veteran village hosts two small museums of Taiwanese singers from Penghu and famous in the 80’s and 90’s – Yu-Sheng Chang (張雨生) and An-Bang Pan (潘安邦). The houses in the village are harder to find nowadays, some commercialized for tourism purposes. We walked back to the gate, passed a weird beach with bunch of garbage and many wild dogs, and visited the oldest temple in Taiwan. Tianhou temple was first built in the
Qing dynasty as a source of spiritual harbor for soldiers. There are multiple gods and goddesses in this temple, and people come here praying to different figures for their wishes – Confucius for excellent exams, the Goddess of Child Birth for smooth pregnancy, Mazu and other well known gods for anything in general.
Sunset & fireworks at Guanyin Pavilion (觀音亭)
Every year there is a fireworks festival in Penghu, normally from mid April to late June (Mondays and Thursdays, April 18 to June 27 in 2019). After the fireworks festival, they still do it on a few other weekends in the summer. The fireworks takes place above the Rainbow Bridge, and the best viewing spot according to locals is at Guanyin Pavilion. Quite a few photographers came prepared with tripod and remote control, we came a bit later but managed to get a pretty good view. What a shame I knew little about taking photos of fireworks at the time, and only got some snapshots (later I learned about using Bulb mode to shoot fireworks).
Qimei island (七美)
On the second day, we woke up early for a boat ride to Qimei island. It was about 1 hour on the water, and I took some medication to combat motion sickness.
Two Hearts Stone Weir (雙心石滬)
This is probably the most iconic landmark on Qimei island, or even in Penghu. In the old days, fishermen set up traps with rocks and reefs that formed the double hearts. At low tide, fish are caught within the hearts. Its romantic heart shape later became a symbol of eternal love, with hearts settling in the ocean.
Hua Zhai (花宅) – Village of Old Houses
The village is one of the best preserved in Penghu, founded about 300 years ago during the Qing dynasty. The houses were built with basalt, a prevalent material on the island. We walked through the village, saw a few really old houses, fruit trees, and wells.
There are a few vista points on Qimei island with a scenic ocean view. We saw many kinds of rock formations, and cactus flowers along the platform.
Moses Parts the Sea (摩西分海)
I found this ocean spot very unique, the water scene changes throughout the day based on the tide schedule. When we went in the morning during low tide, the curvy path was widely revealed. It would be a fun idea to go earlier and observe the emergence of the path (perhaps with time lapse). The view here is beautiful, a great place to discover creatures in intertidal zone, with wind turbines around.
Night squid fishing (夜釣小管)
It is a popular activity in Penghu, fishing neritic squid at night. This type of squid is drawn to boat lights in the water, and that is how fishermen attract them. We got on the boat around 6:30pm, and sailed off the dock deeper into the sea. The waves could be intense and a bunch of people fell sea sick in the latter half of the trip. Somehow everyone had trouble fishing the squid, the whole boat still got zero of them when rain started falling down. Two members of the group persisted throughout the heavy rain with raincoats on, and finally one squid was caught, twitching and attempting to escape. The crew prepared way more squid beforehand for the worst and cooked everyone squid soup with rice noodle from their makeshift kitchen.
Penghu Living Museum (澎湖生活博物館)
This was our first stop in Penghu, also a perfect break from the searing sun. It was a great opportunity to learn about history and culture of Penghu. There are three floors of exhibitions, and I enjoyed the mix of text, images, models, and real objects a lot. We also had a tour kindly offered by a volunteer, who is a Penghu native. It was not very crowded when we went, and I hope more of these stories about Penghu could be read.
Tongliang Great Banyan (通梁古榕) & Bao-An Temple (保安宮)
This great banyan tree has been loyally residing in front of Bao-An Temple (保安宮) approximately since the temple was founded. The tree has grown widely enough to offer shade over the plaza with benches around. We had a nice stroll from the temple throughout the plaza gently covered by the banyan tree. I thought of Anping Tree House in Tainan, though the connection between the tree, temple, and people feels stronger here.
Penghu Cross-Sea Bridge (澎湖跨海大橋)
Walking distance from Tongliang Great Banyan Tree, we reached one end of the famous cross-sea bridge. They built the now 2500 meter (8202 ft) bridge in 1971 to connect two islands, Baisha (白沙) and Xiyu (西嶼). Due to constant turbulent water in the area, boat rides are challenging between these two islands. It is the longest bridge in Taiwan. We saw cyclers crossing the bridge, I hope to do it one day as well.
After grabbing cactus ice cream and heading east across the cross-sea bridge, we reached a small island Xiyu. Here we visited a few spots in the afternoon.
Whale Cave (鯨魚洞)
Similar to how horoscopes were named, locals found this rock formation like a whale and called it “Whale Cave”. Sea water eroded the column rocks and left a hole in the rocks, making the shape like the head of a whale. It was a nice walk along the path, observing these interestingly shaped rocks over the decades.
Daguoye Columnar Basalt (大菓葉柱狀玄武岩)
During Japan colonization days, they discovered this wall of basalt columns while digging the ground to build a harbor. I have not seen giant basalt rocks this close before.
Erkan Village (二坎部落)
With the Chen family house in the center, this village has been a historical heritage and preserved its architecture with local elements. The Chen family moved to Penghu from Kinman near the end of Ming dynasty (before Qing dynasty). A few generations later, two Chen brothers left for Tainan running a traditional Chinese medicine business, became successful, and returned with glory to rebuild the Chen house in Erkan village. In the village, we had tofu pudding for dessert at Er Ma (二馬豆花). I found this village quite lively with more vendors compared to other old villages we had visited in Penghu.
Jibei Island (吉貝嶼)
We did not have enough time to visit this island close to Penghu main island. Many people come here for water activities, and there are also spots to hit on the land.
Shanshui (山水海灘) /Aimen Beach (隘門沙灘)
Given our short stay, we only visited one beach, Aimen Beach. However, during the whole trip I felt surrounded by water even if not on the beach.
Every meal we had in Penghu was not without seafood, which locals are so used to and proud of. Our family friends took us to these restaurants with other friends of theirs from Penghu. All family style, seafood all so fresh and delicious.
A traditional restaurant that keeps its old styles, the dishes use local ingredients from Penghu – yam, Feng Ru tea, squid, and more seafood and vegetables. The squid was cooked in a simple way, but its freshness and their way of cooking made it a dish to remember. Here we also met the previous mayor of Penghu, he said with a sigh that he enjoyed life without politics much more, just helping and hanging out with people in his own way.
Upon entering the restaurant, it felt a bit crammed with live seafood tanks at the entrance. The stairs were narrow, and the floor not the cleanest, but the seafood was intensely good. I found my favorite dish in Penghu here, uni (sea urchin) fried rice. Already a fan of fried rice, uni added a unique texture and flavor. I have not been able to find a restaurant with uni fried rice after getting back to Taiwan main island, and still think about the dish at times.
This is a restaurant everyone in Penghu knows about, frequented by previous Taiwan president Chiang Ching-Kuo when he visited Penghu. Also, their distant family opened a famous tea shop chain in Taiwan of the same name (清心福全). We had so much seafood here.
We met another previous mayor of Penghu here, with a very different personality from the other previous mayor we dined with in the first restaurant. This previous mayor used to be a doctor, was very progressive and wanted a lot of changes from the corruption before he ran. After being successful with the second term as mayor, he got charged with “corruption” from his prior medical practice along with 7 other nurses, two of them unfortunately passed away from the pressure of lawsuit. A trial found he was not guilty, but shortened his second term and he returned to his medical career after, living a simpler and happier life practicing medicine in Penghu.
Cactus Ice (仙人掌冰)
Penghu locals made ice cream out of cactus fruit, which renders the dark pink color. We grabbed cactus ice at Yi Jia (易家) after walking around the banyan tress, and before heading across the cross-sea bridge.
We got takeout from this grass jelly shop to the fireworks at Guanyin Pavilion, and they have seats inside as well. There is generous amount of traditional toppings – red beans, tapioca, and taro balls over shaved ice and grass jelly. A perfect ice dessert on a hot summer day!
Locals love this lemon juice joint, according to our family friends. They kindly bought a few bottles of lemon juice to our dinner, and it was really refreshing especially with seafood.
My family and I took a quick flight from Taichung (RMQ), and it was just 40 minutes in total (actual flight time is probably 20 minutes). The domestic airports in Taiwan are pretty easy in terms of checking in and bag checks. We just had to arrive about 1.5 hours before, and the price was around 60-100 USD round trip in late August.
1-4 airlines operate flights from Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Chiayi and Kaohsiung to Penghu Magong airport on the main island. There are also flights to Qimei (七美) island from Taipei and Taichung.
There are ferries from central and southern Taiwan (Chiayi and Kaohsiung) to Penghu. The ride is about 1-2 hours, and could get quite some waves. I personally get motion sickness easily, and would strongly prefer to fly given similar or even shorter travel time.
Between Penghu Islands
Ferries run between major Penghu islands everyday.
On Penghu Main Island
The main island is not too big, the drive on the island is rarely more than 45 minutes. Scooter or car rental would be the easiest way to tour around, and same for all the other Penghu islands.
Our tour guides (family friends) offered so much hospitality during our three days in Penghu. We tried some Penghu restaurants in Taipei later, but the variety and freshness are not quite the same. I remember the locals I met from seafood dinners in Penghu, they live happily on the island with the ocean as their backyard. They catch clams on the beach five minutes from their house, and cook them shortly after or give them to friends and family. The people are close to each other, and offer a hand whenever needed. I long for this sort of community, and would love to come back for more seafood, ocean view and island explorations.