First, a quick apology for my lengthy hiatus. My as yet embryonic blog has been neglected a little, I won’t deny it. In my defense, it’s summer and who can blame me for swapping out my overheating laptop for my surfboard? The waves have been kind these last couple of months and I have taken full advantage. There are photos to prove it. There are. They’re just on random tourists’ phones and memory cards. Anyway, I digress. We’re here to talk about AWESOME places to kick back in Penghu. After all, no island paradise is complete without a few oases, watering holes in this beautiful desert where you can get out of the sun for a little while, sip a cool beverage, meet cool people, check your amazing photos and update your social media so everybody back home knows exactly what they’re missing. Full disclaimer, I know most of the people who run these haunts, some are my friends and I am unashamedly funneling business their way. They’re not paying me (no kickbacks for this Islander, he’s in it for the LOVE) and to be fair, they are my friends because I love hanging out at their places and after spending so much time in their respective establishments, at some stage the proprietors felt obliged to talk to me. So, with that said, let’s dive in with…
The Beach Break (open 7 days a week in summer, from 11am til late)
I’m putting this one at the top because, in the unlikely event your phone or computer dies before you finish this article, or a freak tidal wave washes over your house, or you suddenly remember you have something more interesting to be doing on this beautiful day, you will at least have seen those three words. The Beach Break. It is essential Penghu. Quintessential. Which is even better than essential. Located just before you get to the beach in the seaside village of Shanshui, The Beach Break is part bar, part surf shop and the hub of the expat community in Penghu as well as the home of Penghu surfing. Run by the enigmatic Ted, a South African as skilled in mixing heady ocean-themed cocktails as he is shredding typhoon waves on a longboard, the Beach Break offers simple, unpretentious food and drink and simple, unpretentious company (depending on whether I’m there or not). Want to learn to surf, or just rent a board? Need some advice on how to get to the best snorkelling spots? Want to hire a sunbrella, or some beach toys for the kids? Or fill your cooler with cold beer? The Beach Break has got your back.
The place is a work of art, all the furniture and the bar lovingly handcrafted from driftwood and walls adorned with oil paintings daubed by Ted. As you’re waiting for an Angry Ocean or Sunsway Special, let your eyes roam over ‘The Wall’, where every drunken, half-baked, pseudo-philosophical nugget of wisdom that has ever been conceived by a patron of the Beach Break is recorded for posterity (Don’t write without permission). Admire the collection of surfboards and book yourself a surf lesson for the following morning. Pet the beach dogs, but be wary of Bear and his snaggletooth which he will try and spike your backside with when you’re not looking. Come down on a Saturday evening for the weekly Community Dinner and after the delicious home-cooked food (bring a dish or leave a contribution in the jar) you might be treated to an infamous Beach Break Jam, as instruments ranging from ukuleles and flutes to double basses and bongos appear in the hands of skilled and ever-so-slightly-tipsy musicians who, only moments ago, you assumed were nothing but sun-bleached beach bums.
As you may have gathered, I’m fond of this place. You will be too.
Fish Market (Open 10.30am – 8.30pm, Mondays off)
One of Penghu’s newest and trendiest offerings, Fish Market opened its doors earlier this year and, to the delight of this Islander, started serving delicious battered seafood loaded into sandwiches and tacos, drenched in homemade sauces and mayonnaise. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, the owner also imports craft beer to wash down all that fried goodness with. Not just any beer, but Samuel freakin’ Smiths Organic Pale Ale and Indian Ale, from the brewery just down the road from where I once lived in England. She even has pint glasses! Well, after one visit this Islander was sold, hook line and sinker. Mixed metaphors not withstanding, you owe it to yourself and your stomach to try this little gem. The owner speaks fluent English and will cheerfully talk your ear off as she runs through the menu, introducing you to the concept of cactus fries and tongue-tingling cocktails. Situated in town, close to the Old Street and Tian Hou Gong Temple (both worth a look), it really is the perfect lunch spot, with powerful air conditioning and more Jack Johnson songs than you can shake a stick at. Enjoy.
Ji Lin Chun Cafe
This one wins the prize for idlylic settings. A distinctive, beautiful coffee shop nestled deep within the wooded Lintou Park, where tall pines provide a sanctuary from wind and sun, Gilly is the perfect haven in both winter and summer. The interior is light and airy thanks to its glass cube design, offering views into the sun-dappled woods, while outside there are more tables on the decking overlooking Lintou Beach, a stone’s throw away. The owner, an elegant and friendly Penghu local, serves a variety of specialty coffees and simple food and there are a selection of books to peruse, a piano to tinker with and plenty of power outlets to plug your devices into; you might find yourself whiling away more hours here than you planned.
Freud 弗洛伊得音樂‧廚房 (Open 6.30pm to 2.30am)
I don’t actually go here all that often these days, but back when I first discovered Penghu I found myself asking the same question newcomers now ask me: What the hell do you do at night here? I posted a query to that effect on facebook and, funnily enough it was my dad who responded, all the way from England and after a quick google search I could have easily done myself, with the intriguingly named ‘Freud’. So there was a proper pub in among all the seafood restaurants and weird little KTVs, it seemed. After a few years and some extensive research into the matter, I can now confirm that it is the only proper pub/bar on the island. As such, it is by default the place I bring visiting friends, where the few chums I have here who aren’t outrageous cheapskates might celebrate the odd birthday, the scene of a couple of New Year’s parties I vaguely recall and, most memorably, the venue of my stag do.
You’ll probably spend a few moments standing nervously on the pavement outside trying to work out if its open or not, but push open the door and you’ll be met with the reassuring aroma of cigarette smoke and stale beer, dim lighting and smiling, heavily made-up servers in short skirts. There’s a decent selection of drinks to sample, including Belgian beer and the usual cocktails, but it’s all on the pricey side, expect to pay over 200NT for anything more exotic than Taiwan Beer. There’s food too, reasonable steak, fried seafood and assorted nibbles. If you’re looking for a place to wet your whistle after sundown, then Freud will get the job done. Bring plenty of cash and call a taxi when you’re done.
Shooting the Breeze 吹吹風精品咖啡館 (Open 9am-11pm)
Aside from winning the ‘best name’ contest, Shooting the Breeze has plenty to offer the discerning Penghu tourist and local. A coffee shop that also serves craft beer and brunch fare in a spacious, comfortable setting, it’s the perfect place to pop in whilst you’re seeing the sights in Magong. Plonk yourself down on a sofa, order a single origin coffee or a pot of herbal tea, and enjoy the view out over Guanyinting Park and Rainbow Bridge. If you’re visiting during the Fireworks Festival (April to June) Shooting the Breeze is also a great place to catch the display, they open up the roof and if you buy a ticket you can enjoy a seafood dinner while gazing up at the pretty lights in the sky. Tickets are a little expensive but the experience sure beats joining the crush down below and competing with a thousand smartphone wielding tourists for a bit of space to breathe.
Well, that wraps up another Penghu Top 5. As with all my lists, it’s pure, unadulterated opinion with no pretense at being objective or scientific. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong, or let me know what’s missing in the comments below. Or just say Hi, let me know what a wonderful blog I have etc. The map below will help you find the hangouts, note for some I’ve had to use the Chinese names as their English ones aren’t registered with google maps. Have fun hanging out.
And Happy Islanding.