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Facts About Penghu in Taiwan
Ninety little islands make up the Penghu archipelago, off the Western coast of mainland Taiwan, longitudinally wedged between Taichung and Tainan. The island group may also be referred to as The Pescadores Islands of Taiwan, the name given to it by Portuguese explorers.
Unlike the Taiwanese mainland, Penghu’s geography has lent itself to the development of flourishing beaches, thanks to the intense wind that the islands experience in the spring and winter. These are commonly held to be the finest beaches in all of Formosa, with glistening white sand, coral reefs and transparent water. The heavy winds draw surfers and windsurfers from around the world.
Though the Penghu Islands of Taiwan have a rich history of piracy, imperialism and colonization, temples and traditional homes, along with the rich natural landscape, are the main feature of tourism here. That is to say, not museums and war memorials.
“Penghu is an ideal stop for the more action-oriented traveler, looking for beaches, swimming, biking, scuba diving and the like.”
Things to Do on Penghu
Here’s a list of some of the most interesting attractions on Penghu Island in Taiwan:
Visit Makung City
The primary urban area of Penghu is Makung (Magong) City, located on the main island. It has tons of hotels, a few cafes, old temples and sights, awesome seafood, and of course, proximity to the water.
One of the city’s most popular destinations is its Mazu Temple, accordingly celebrating the Chinese goddess of the ocean, who is charged with helping seafarers to safely cross the great blue. Penghu’s Matsu Temple is quite old as Taiwan goes, built in the latter part of the 1500s. Some argue that it is the oldest temple in Taiwan. Make sure to take some time to walk around the little alleys nearby the temple. One sight we particularly enjoyed is the Well of a Thousand Soldiers.
Other Makung Attractions
One of the nicest things to do in Magong City is to walk from the city center (around the McDonald’s) all the way to Shuncheng Gate to see the Makung Old Wall and catch a glimpse of the harbour. From there, you can head east toward Penghu Bay where you can follow a beautiful walking trail that will take you to the colorfulKuanyin Temple.
Coral is an essential aspect of the archipelago, and not just when it comes to the water or scuba diving. In fact, coral markets are a big tourist attraction, and shops in Makung City sell the stuff in all kinds of colors and varieties. Similarly, coral has been used for construction of walls and homes, and even forms entire beaches.
Snorkeling on Penghu
One of the clearest spots for snorkeling on the island is located at the far southern end of Shanshui Beach. Shops to rent snorkeling gear are hard to find and the stuff is usually very old, so bring your own goggles and fins if you can. Some hotels/hostels offer snorkeling equipment.
Scuba Diving on Penghu
Scuba diving is possible but not easily accessible. The institution isn’t as developed as the highly-exploited coral tourism on Green Island, but humble shops will assist you and lead you to abundant hard coral reefs if you are interested. Ask your hotel staff to help you contact a scuba diving center when you get there.
With over 300 kilometers of coastline, the islands offers not one but several beaches, each with distinctive characteristics. Scooter adventuring is the best way to find an ideal, secluded spot on the beach.
Most popular is Shanshui beach near Makung, which features the elusive, lusted-after feature of white sand. Further exploration reveals beaches made up of shells and your standard-issue off-white sand.
Aimen is the longest beach. Neian is popular for it’s shallow water. It’s possible to walk up to 300 meters away from the shore and only have water up to your chest. Neian is a favorite for beach volleyball.
Surfing, Kitesurfing, Windsurfing
Shanshui, Shili, and Longmen beaches are the top spots for surfing. The surf scene on Penghu is not as strong as Kenting’s or Fulong’s and that’s one of the reasons why riding the waves here is such a fun experience – you won’t have to fight with dozens of other surfers for a wave.
Wind surfers from all the corners of the world congregate here every fall for the three-day long Penghu Pro-Am windsurfing competition. Penghu has some of the strongest winds in the northern hemisphere, so you won’t be disappointed if you head to the Pescadores with your sail or board. June, July, and August are considered the three best months of the year for entry-level kite surfers / wind surfers when the winds are at their most serene.
Makung and the main island are the easiest spots to get around, but taking ferries can bring you to more secluded spots with even more of the untouched beach feeling that the main drag has to offer. Check out Qimei and Jibei Island if you’re thinking along these lines.
Getting Around Penghu
Make sure you organize an International Driver’s License before coming, otherwise renters might reject you. If one or two turn you down, keep looking as you’ll almost definitely find somebody willing to give you a motorbike for a decent price. One of the easiest ways to rent a motorbike on Penghu (or anywhere else in Taiwan) is to ask the staff at your hotel to help you get a set of wheels delivered right at the hotel. I paid 300NT for a 90cc scooter for 24hours. It was a dangerous piece of junk, but it got me around Penghu.
In Magong (and other smaller villages), walking is your best option if you want to see more not-in-the-guidebook spots and meet the locals.
If you must, you can take taxis, which won’t be expensive. If you plan to be doing lots of moving around, you could always offer the cabbie a full-day price, and he or she can haul you around as you please.
Bicycle rental is also a terrific way to see the small areas and fit in a bit of exercise. Many hotels and guesthouses have bikes for their guests. 150NT$ per day should be the maximum you agree to pay to rent a bicycle.
Where to Eat on Penghu
Perhaps quite obviously, Penghu’s cuisine is seafood-centered. Beyond that, there are a number of specialties that you won’t find in Taipei. Cactus fruit smoothies, pumpkin rice noodles and the famed baked brown sugar cake are all unique items that you should definitely try out.
Most seafood restaurants around Penghu serve plates of fried rice or fried noodles for as little as 100NT$.That’s what I usually order when I travel alone as it can be quite expensive to order a bunch of different dishes. Fried noodles with squid is especially delicious!
So… What are the best Penghu restaurants? Here are two good places to start:
A coffee shop in Makung that sells siphon-made cups of joe, for when you need a reboot after extended sunbathing or all-night-drinking sessions.
No. 1 Linhai Rd., Magong (Makung) City
Lai Fu Seafood Restaurant
The name says it all. The restaurant next door is also extremely popular.
No. 43 Sincun Rd., Magong (Makung) City
Penghu is a very popular Taiwanese tourist hotspot, so make sure to plan ahead when looking for hotels and hostels. You can make a reservation for a cheap hotel in Makung right from this page.
Penghu Sunrise Bed and Breakfast
This B&B / guesthouse is on the main island of Penghu, about 15 minutes from Makung City. They offer complimentary airport pick-up, complimentary breakfast, and free access to bicycles. Rooms start at NT$1,200 but will jump up considerably during heavy tourist times.
No.129-3 Guoyeh Village
Everspring Penghu Hotel
Crisp rooms with in this well-decorated hotel are spacious and will leave you feeling refreshed for a day full of activity. A bit on the pricier side with rooms starting at NT$2,500.
No.6 ZhongZheng Rd., Makung City
Camping on Penghu Island
There are tons of free, secluded camping spots on Penghu Island that it would be impossible to list them all here. Really, the possibilities for sleeping under the stars are endless. The best way is to simply get on your scooter with your camping gear and ride around the island until you find a quiet spot that inspires you.
You can definitely spend a night (or a week) in your tent on the most secluded beaches without worrying about the police, locals, or tourists. Just don’t start a huge bonfire. Barbecuing (Taiwanese style) should be OK on most beaches.
If getting wasted under the stars on a sandy strip of land lost in the middle of the China Sea sounds exciting to you, then you can read the next sentence… Penghu has some of the best nightlife in Taiwan!
Getting there: Start at any convenience store. Head for the closest beach. Find a quiet spot on the beach.
How much: 55NT$ per big Taiwan Gold Medal Beer
Tip #1: Leave your scooter at your hotel.
Tip #2: Bring a business card of your hotel.
Tip #3: Don’t go for a swim after the 3rd bottle.
Tip #4: If you make a fire, keep it small.
Tip #5: Chances are that there won’t be any 7-11 open in the middle of the night nearby, so do bring as much booze / smokes / chips / water as possible.
Tip #6: If you don’t follow Tip #1, throw your scooter key in the sea or bury it in the sand after your second bottle. It will be easy to get a new one the next day.
If you’re looking for bars, clubs, or discos, don’t go to Penghu. You’ll have better chances to find those in Taipei City.
Getting to Penghu
You will be traveling by air or ferry. The easiest and fastest way to get here is definitely by airplane as boat schedules and fares change almost monthly.
Travel to Penghu by Boat
Ferries will no doubt be cheaper, but the windy season might leave you grabbing for vomit bags. Boats leave from Kaohsiung and Budai near Jiayi. Boats are limited in winter. Expect to pay around 1000NT$ each way. The fares and schedules change all the time, so I recommend you contact the Taiwan Hangye Company for more precise information about boat travel to Penghu. You can reach them at 07-561-3866. Good luck for getting an English-speaking staff on the line.
Travel to Penghu by Air
Planes leave for Makung City daily from the following Taiwanese cities: Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Chiayi, and Taipei. By far the easiest way to get flight schedules, fares, or to book a cheap seat for Penghu is to contact Elizabeth Travel Service in Taichung at 04-2329-8277.
Working on Penghu
Teaching English on Penghu Island is possible, but you will have to be much more patient than you’d have to be on the main island of Taiwan as there’s only a handful of English schools where English / ESL teachers are needed. Also, most English teachers who make it all the way to the middle of the Taiwan Strait tend to settle for good, get married, and breed, so there’s not that many “seasonal teachers” in those parts.
Nevertheless, if your goal is to teach English on Penghu and you have a patient and perseverant personality, you will probably find something eventually.
Map of Penghu
The first thing you should do as soon as you get off the plane at Makung airport (after taking a pee) is to get a free Map for Visitors. The one I got last time I traveled to this island listed tons of attractions, restaurants, shops, hotels, and places to rent cars and scooters. I repeat, get your free map at the airport (or harbor if you take a boat) – it’s invaluable… and free!
Other Taiwanese Destinations You Might Like
Hualien: city by the sea, surfing, hiking, close to Taroko Gorge
Taroko Gorge: dramatic landscapes, abundance of wildlife, deep marble canyons, homeland to the Atayal aboriginal culture
Mt. Hehuan: Taiwan’s top hiking destination, located deep in the Central Mountain Range
Kenting: Tropical playground, cheap seafood, surfing, bikinis
Green Island: offbeat destination, saltwater hot spring, scuba diving, stunning natural scenery, fishing villages