Good day from the Pescadores, fellow islanders, mainlanders and everything inbetweeners. Today I’m starting the first of a five part series, guiding you along five meaty expeditions through Penghu. We’re going to get out hands dirty, our engines hot and our eyes saturated with sun and sea and glorious blue skies. These are the quintessential Penghuese trips, ranging from chilled out afternoon beach bumbling to multi-day island-hopping odysseys. Obviously there’s going to be way much to cover in a single post so we’re going to tackle these expeditions one-by-one, beginning with a day trip. Let’s go on…
The Long Ride: From Magong City to Baisha and Xiyu
Grab your sunscreen, swimwear and scooter keys folks. Today we’re going for a long ride. If you want to attempt this expedition in winter, you’d be better renting a car as the entire route is exposed to the brutal North Wind. The same goes if it’s the middle of summer and you’re particularly sun-shy. There’s little to no shade along the way, meaning the sun will be beating down on those knees and shoulders mercilessly. Plan accordingly. All set? Awesome.
Starting in Magong City, orientate yourself at the Dolphins (see the map below). We’re going to leave the sprawling metropolis in our rear view mirrors as we take the 203 out of town and head east into the rising sun (you did forgo drinks in Freuds and get up at the crack of dawn right?). You’ll soon reach the village of Dongwei, where you’re going to turn left. On the corner there’s a nice little cafe called Millagarden, a good place to stop for a spot of breakfast before continuing past 7-11 along a pleasant tree-lined road. As the early morning sun flickers across your visor, savour this last bit of shade. As you crest a gentle hill you’ll see a splash of ocean ahead as the first of today’s bridges carries you away from Magong Island and on to Zhongtun.
Little Zhongtun is a baby island, mostly overlooked by visitors and noted only for its spectacular windfarm, slender white giants twirl their arms against the brilliant blues of sky and ocean, graciously helping Penghu towards its carbon neutral future. Tip your hats to these benevolent titans as you speed on by, or take a brief detour to explore the Windfarm Park. There’s a hidden geocache in there somewhere, if that’s your thing, and some beautiful views looking back toward Magong and out to the various small islands and atolls.
The next island you’ll be gracing with your presence is Baisha, which means ‘White Sand’. And, true to its name, there are lots of hidden beaches here. The prize for exploring a little is your own private bay; it’s very unlikely you’ll encounter anyone else. If you do, flash a friendly smile and ask them if they’re following the Islander Expeditions too. After you’re done bonding over your shared good taste in blogs, take a dip in the azure waters and leave them in your dust. This is your expedition, after all. Other points of interest here include the North Sea Visitor Center, where you can take a boat to Jibei. But that’s a story for another time, as Jibei deserves a dedicated trip, and we have other fish to fry. You’ve probably been noticing the signs to the Great Bridge by now. That’s our next destination. There are a few different roads to take through Baisha, feel free to meander. There used to be a cool little aquarium in Baisha Township, but sadly it closed a few years ago, due to the lack of visitors. See? Aren’t you glad you’re using the hippest, most current guide to Penghu now? You just saved yourself at least ten minutes of confusion and disappointment.
Just before you get to the Great Bridge, take a quick diversion to Tongliang, home of the Big Banyan Tree. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, sure. But the shade offered by the impressive sprawl of tangled branches and roots is the perfect place to enjoy a cactus fruit ice cream and take a break from that big ol’ sun. Join the oldies for a snooze under the tree, buy a snack and say hello to the friendly temple rooster. Seriously. He’ll be upset if you don’t.
Leaving behind big trees and roosters, you’re now ready to cross The Great Bridge. At 2.5km long it was Until Recently the Longest Trans-Oceanic Bridge in South East Asia (how’s that for an almost impressive title) this is your gateway to Xiyu Island, where we’ll be spending most of our day. If you’re crossing in winter, expect fierce crosswind gusts that will do their best to blow you and your scooter into the churning waters below. If you don’t have a full-face helmet your vision will be reduced to a watery blur. Did I ever tell you you should always wear a full-face helmet when riding a scooter ? No? Well, you should. Also, while I’m on mum duty, I ought to point out that jumping off the Great Bridge is a very bad idea. The water may look inviting and the drop not-so-intimidating but there are ridiculously strong currents around and between Penghu’s islands. And, as the locals here say, in Penghu wind, nobody can hear you scream. So don’t be daft.
Assuming you survived the Great Bridge, give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve made it to the fourth and final island of the day (not bad considering you haven’t taken a boat or plane, right?). Xiyu is a big place, and seeing everything might not be feasible in a day. Start off with a refreshment break at the 7-11 just after the bridge and plan your assault on its hidden treasures (Xiyu’s, not 7-11’s. This is not an invitation to raid their tills you nutter!). Start with Whale Cave, a section of spectacular coastline sadly lacking in actual whales but abundant in cool geological formations you might remember from distant geography classes. The titular cave isn’t a cave at all but a stack where erosion has formed a natural archway. It looks like a bit like a whale? Sort of? Not really? Oh well. To get to Whale Cave, go through the village of Xiaomen, which also offers a few options for lunch, including, most famously, local sea urchin (depending on season and whether it has been overfished this year). To be honest, I’d give it a miss. Aside from the dish’s questionable ecological impact, it tastes like sea water and grit and doesn’t come close to filling you up.
Back on the road again, continue to sweep majestically west (it’s the only way) and perhaps take a gander at the aptly named ‘Dream Beach’. Check the tides though, at high tide there’s nary a jot of sand to be seen. Low is the way to go here. The water is shallow and if you brought your snorkelling gear, there’s some nice coral to float over. Across the road, on the opposite coastline, is the tourist hotspot of Erkan, an ‘Ancient Village’ of one or two hundred years, depending on who you ask. It’s pretty enough, with its narrow streets and traditional coral houses but be warned, in summer it will be overrun with hordes of tourists who spill off their air-conditioned buses just long enough to get in your way and ruin your photos. Go here early or off-season to see it at its best.
Next up, nip to the Basalt Cliff at Daguoye, if you like. I’ve included it because it’s one of the classic Penghu views but in all honesty, it’s a bit underwhelming and looks more impressive in photos than in real life. Point, shoot, move on.
As the long road nears its end and winds up towards the final headland, is Neian, a gorgeous beach and reason alone to make the trip out to Xiyu even if stacks, sea urchins and coral houses don’t do it for you. It’s perfect. See my post ‘Top 5 Beaches’ for more information and a picture, or just trust me. Neian is the bomb. You may well end up whiling the rest of you day away here, but in case you want to push on to the end, you should check out the quaint fishing village of Waian, bathed in amber as the sun hangs low in the sky and then make your way to Xiyu Lighthouse for the sunset. It’s Penghu’s most westerly point and makes a fitting end to your journey. After filling your lens with orange, cactus filled glory turn yourself around and begin the long ride home. Actually, at cruising speed without stops it’ll take you about 45 minutes. Not too bad really. Enjoy the cool of evening Penghu blowing through your hair. Not really. You’re wearing a full-face helmet, remember?
That’s all from me. As usual, there’s lots I’ve missed out and in Penghu, exploration is always rewarded. Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite spot. If you’re enjoying this blog or finding it helpful, please leave me a comment and subscribe. That would be brilliant. Stay tuned for more Islander Expeditions, Penghu Top 5s and Sun-Addled Soliloquies. I’ll leave you with a few more snaps from the Long Ride.