The Penghu Archipelago

In Beaches and swimming spots, Coastal Scenery, Cultural relics, Geological curiosities, History, Outlying Islands, Penghu County (Penghu archipelago), Temples and local religious beliefs, Traditional festivals by Richard13 Comments

Stone fish trap on Jibei Island

All the accessible islands of the Penghu archipelago are described in detail on pages 17-61.

All the accessible islands of the Penghu archipelago are described in detail on pages 17-61.

I dunno…. After two trips (separated by a decade), I’m not sure how much I really like Penghu.     I still have a love-hate relationship with Taiwan’s largest set of offshore islands. For sure, Penghu looks wonderful in photos (as I hope my attempts here go some way to showing), and there’s no doubt about it, Penghu is an amazing place. I just wish its development had been handled with a bit more sensitivity.    The islands are a disconcerting mixture of strange beauty and thoughtless ugliness. Much of the culture for which they are famous has gone or has been heavily diluted in the understandable rush to make money on tourist custom from Taiwan. Two villages of traditional  houses remain (one each on Xiyu and Wangan islands) but the houses are moldering away after decades of neglect which is only now starting to be addressed. The coral walls which once protected farmers fields from the strong winds that sweep across the islands for half the year are largely gone in most places (although they survive fairly intact on little Xiamen island), replaced with the kind of ugly, utterly functional kind of architecture familiar from Taiwan itself. Unsightly flotsam (such as polystyrene and empty plastic bottles), dropped overboard from ships in the Taiwan Straits washes onto the sand or shingle beaches of picturesque coves all over the archipelago.   Despite the photos gracing the tourist literature for the islands, Penghu is a very far cry from the rustic calm and unspoilt beauty of Lanyu or Matsu.

OK, perhaps we’re off to a bad start here; the often thoughtless development of the islands  disappointed me on both my visits, and it’ll  never be one of my favorite areas of Taiwan, but there’s plenty to see and do here, lots of beautiful corners, some fascinating cultural and culinary gems, and plenty of scope for the curious to get off the tourist routes and explore, which makes Penghu thoroughly worth three or four days of anyone’s time.

Forget the dull interior – the best of Penghu by far lies along the coastline of its 60-plus islands.   Penghu is justly famous for its glorious beaches. Kenting doesn’t stand a chance  – Penghu has far and away the best in Taiwan. I’m not really one for laying on the sand, but the long sand spit on Jibei island, the beaches of the southern and southeastern coast of the ‘main’ island (actually a string of islands strung together by a series of bridges), the magnificent long stretch of golden sands on the southern Wangan island, and several small but enchanting coves on various other islands are really very, very nice.

   For more curious visitors, the extraordinary basalt cliffs that line the coastline of many of the islands offer almost endless opportunities for exploring. The Penghu coastline, at its best, is extremely beautiful, and second only among Taiwan’s outlying islands to beautiful Matsu, Green Island and Lanyu. In many places the volcanic basalt that makes up all but one of the Penghu group has cooled into cliffs of countless ‘columns,’ a striking formation that in Taiwan is found only here. The formations of Yuanbei, Bird island, Tongpan and Hujing are probably the most impressive among the more accessible islands of the archipelago, but there are also a few fascinating areas on the main island.

    The island clifftops are often colonized by short, cropped grass or low-growing scrub, and there are countless bracing clifftop walks, with glimpses of dramatic cliffs of basalt columns and strange formations with names such as the Skirt Rock or the Ink Stone (both on beautiful, quiet Yuanbei island). The best view of some of the most impressive coastline around the islands is from one of the tourist boats that run daily sightseeing/water-sport day trips around the so-called Northern and Eastern Seas in season, but in many places  the scenery can be easily seen from the clifftop above, and it’s possible to climb down safely in some places.

.

.

.

.

So, that’s my impression of Penghu, after a pair of visits and seven days exploring twelve of the 64 islands in the chain. It’s probably not an idea shared by most who come, and I’ll be the first to admit there’s lots to enjoy here, and some wonderful scenery to boot. Try, however, to get away from the main islands and explore some of the smaller islets. Personal favorites are Yuanbei, Tongpan and the stunning east coast of Qimei, but for the adventurous there’s scope getting further off the beaten track (Hua island, for instance, served by just three public ferries weekly).  Penghu, for all it’s failings, is the best place in Taiwan for an island hopping holiday. I’ll be back next year, and with another fifty odd islands left to explore, there’s still plenty left to discover!

.

.

.

Beautiful coastal scenery on Yuanbei island

The scary precipice at Xilong Cave, the finest natural feature on Wangan island, is often missed by visitors to nearby Mt Tiantai, which at 54 meters one of the highest hills on Penghu

Flowering prickly pear cacti are very common on Penghu, giving the landscape a very distinctive look

The Skirt Rock on Yuanbei island

.

.

.

.

A cove on Bird Island

The 800 meter-long sand spit at Jibei is remarkably unspoilt, considering one of Penghu’s most popular water sports sites is just up the beach

Close-up of the basalt columns that make up the Stone Inkslab, Yuanbei island

Yueli Bay Beach on Qimei island

The rock formations at Fenggui, on the southwestern tip of the main island, are a famous and popular sight in Penghu; unfortunately, the area is backed by an ugly village, the houses coming right up to the edge of the rocks, which these days only look really good from sea level, as seen here

Wangankou Beach (an important egg-laying site for green turtles), on Wangan island

Chixi basalt columns

Tiny Xiagang cove, on Qimei island

The amazing basalt column cliffs on Tongpan island, although not tall, are among the most famous in the archipelago

The Skirt Rock, Yuanbei island

Comments

  1. I enjoyed your photos and article on Penghu…

    Like the rest of the country, development in Penghu is not particularly well thought through and villages are marred by the ugly cement and tiled architecture seen all over Taiwan. It is sad to see the decline of the traditional housing, but there are many very positive things being done to restore heritage homes and improve the environment. Progress here is slow but there is increasing importance placed on protecting the natural environment and traditional culture. Penghu is setting off on a new low-carbon plan which is really exciting for the islands and will hopefully bring sustainability to the forefront of local culture and business.

    Asha

    vitalpenghu.wordpress.com

    1. Author

      Thanks, and glad you liked the blog! In hindsight, I was probably a bit harsh about Penghu! There is so much I liked about the islands, and you’re right, they are doing a lot these days to try and imporve the preservation fo what’s left. They’re work on environmental protection is especially good, with the Wangan Island turtle visitor center and the strict nature reserve islands which are off-limits to the public. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll certainly be back to explore more of the archipelago next spring!

  2. i will be going to Penghu for three days and two nights, what would you recommend doing in Penghu such as islands to visit or places to go?

    btw i love the pictures and info on your blog!
    -Minna

  3. Hi,
    It looks amazing!
    Any ideas about spending a few days on Penghu during Chinese newyear? good idea or bad idea?
    And I’m also interested in your recommendations for a 3-day 2-night stay.
    Mariska

    1. Author

      Hi Mariska,
      I’ve never been to Penghu in winter, although I know people who have lived or been stationed there at that time and the consensus of opinion is that it’ll be pretty nasty at that time of year – very windy and cold. IF you fancy an island, you’d certainly be better off heading down to Xiao Liuqiu or Green Island. The first should have quite good weather even in February, and friends that have been to Green Island in the winter say it’s quite bearable. Unfortunately both islands may also be very, very busy. On second thoughts I’d probably steer well clear of Xiao Liuqiu at least over the holiday: it’s bursting at the seams these days on weekends and really quite unpleasent (as we found out in October!) – it’s far nicer on weekdays and away from busy holiday periods. My travels around Taiwan over Chinese New year have rarely been crowned with success. About the best time I’ve had here was climbing in the high mountains, as it often snows on Yushan and the other giants down south, yet there’s a good chance of clear, blue sky. Now I don’t even bother, and head abroard for a couple of weeks until the madness has died down. In a sentance, Chinese New year isn’t a great time to be travelling in Taiwan, I’m afraid.

      Sorry I can’t be any more helpful!

      1. Thanks for the info. I am also a bit sceptic about the weather at Penghu in january. But like you say, other islands and pratically all of Taiwan is very crowded. But because of my job, I only have the chinese newyear off and no possibilities to extend a trip abroad during that time. And with the high prices of flights that are currently still available… it’s hardly worth while to go abroad for just 1 week.
        But I want to do something with this precious time off… So if anybody has any tips… you are more than welcome!
        Any experience with Hong Kong during CNY?

        1. Author

          Well, Penghu will probably be quiet at that time of year, and I’m sure would have a wild beauty all its own then. Unfortunately you might be confined to the main group of islands (Xiyu – furthest from Magong – is by far the most scenic), but try to take a transport bpat out if possible to either Tongpan, Yuanbei or Jibei islands; all fairly close to the main island (so you won’t have to suffer for too long) and all absolutely lovely, Good luck! Hong Kong? I’ve been there many times in the winter and it’s always great fun, if a little chilly. You may have problems getting a flight now though – they book up really early! Good luck!

  4. Hi, I would like to ask if one night or two nights in Penghu will be sufficient to play? Can u send me ur itinerary in Penghu?
    Thanks!

    1. Author

      Two nights would probably be the minimum for a reasonable introduction to Penghu, especially after paying all that money for the return flight! With that time you could either spend the full day in between on the beach at Shanshui south of Magong, take a day trip package to the beautiful South Sea Islands (Qimei, Tongpan, Wanggu and Hujing), or maybe join one of the organised water-sports day trips in the north or east sea islands. The evenings would be free to explore Magong (assuming you stay in the town) wandering around and eating delicious the street food. Have a great trip!

  5. Thinking of visiting Penghu islands in October 2015 … is the weather alright? ferries operating normally to commute to other islands from Penghu? Please advise. Thanks 🙂

    1. Author

      The weather should hopefully still be fine then – the northwest monsoon (which causes all the trouble in Penghu) doesn’t really get strong until December, so fingers crossed you’ll get some great weather without the crowds. The transport boats (the name given to the scheduled ferry services rather than the tourist boats) operate all year subject to weather conditions. Hope you have a great trip!

Leave a Comment