With an impressive combination of natural beauty, regional history, good local food, and tourist infrastructure, the PengHu islands, just off the south-west coast of Taiwan, offer a great island holiday escape.
By Stuart Hill
Located on the Tropic of Cancer, The Pescadores as they were called by the Portuguese, comprise 64 islands, while the largest populated islands PengHu, BaiSha, XiYu, QiMei, WangAn, JiBei have their own range of attractions, many centered around each island’s natural advantages.
One of PengHu’s most iconic images, and one somewhat over-used in Taiwan’s tourism campaigns, is the “two-heart stone weir” on the island of QiMei. The weir is a human construction made by fishermen to capture fish and other sea creatures.
The group of islands that form the PengHu archipelogo have long been sought out as base for fishermen and traders. Fairly inhospitable for tourists in the cold and windy winter months, in summer the islands shine with clear blue water, bright skies and clean beaches. Perfect for a range of sand and surf activities.
In fact, PengHu is the sea-side holiday destination you wish KenDing (KenTing) in south-east Taiwan could be. Here’s why…
THE TOP 10 REASONS TO VISIT THE PENGHU ISLANDS
1. Geological Beauty
Largely built on a foundation of basalt thrust up as volcanic lava, the PengHu islands have a number of spectacular sites that are evidence of the archipelago’s ancient geological history. The islands were created 8-17 million years ago.
With 64 islands in total, it’s not hard to find a favorite beach for sun baking, swimming, or just admiring the sea. This beach, located on the island of XiYu is made entirely of shells and coral.
As you can expect from an island community, many of the local dishes comprise some kind of seafood, such as fish, squid, seaweed, and shell-fish. Other local specialities include pumpkin rice noodles, shrimp rolls, and fish balls in soup. Goat meat and chicken is also popular and raised on the islands.
4. Old Architecture
PengHu’s islands have been occupied for centuries with or without any government sanction by fishermen and traders, especially from FuJian provinces in China. While some excellently restored and renovated houses are on show in the small village of EKan (ErKan Traditional Village) on XiYu (Si Island), it is not hard to find impressive examples of old houses in many of PengHu’s small fishing villages. Many are in serious disrepair, but still feature enough detail to make it easy to imagine their former glory.
5. KMT Military History
As with Taiwan’s other islands in the Taiwan Strait — Matsu and JinMen — PengHu still houses significant defense facilities. The houses in this photo are of military accommodation no longer in use, but have been opened for exploration by tourists.
6. European Colonial History
Occupying a strategic location along valuable Asian trading routes, the PengHu islands first attracted Dutch attention in 1604, yet the fort that was built in 1622 was removed to become the Dutch base in TaiNan. After the Sino-French war, the Qing government built the defences in this photo in 1887, having purchased the cannons from the British via Hong Kong.
7. The Sun
During the daytime the sun can be extremely intense, so sunscreen, a hat, even collared shirts are highly recommended to prevent sunburn. As the sun sets, PengHu’s many beaches provide a picturesque location to see the sun go down.
8. Wind Power
Strong winds all through the year make PengHu a good location for wind power generation. They also make the islands the perfect location for PengHu’s international windsurfing competition.
9. Local Festivals
The local PengHu government has attempted to host special events and cultural festivals to provide even more reasons for visiting. This photo was taken during PengHu’s fireworks festival held on the harbor front in the PengHu city of Magong.
10. The Sea
Located to the south-west of the Taiwan mainland, and spread across a 40 x 60 km area in the Taiwan strait, a key form of local transport is by boat. Ferries are available in various sizes to take passengers between each of the islands. However, the comfort of the journey will depend heavily on the weather.
PengHu Travel Tips
- Book flights before your accommodation. If you can get a flight, you can find a place to stay, but not the other way around.
- Get a tourist map from the airport or one of the tourist centers throughout PengHu
- Rent a scooter from your hotel or B&B — but bring a valid international driver’s license and your Taiwan Alien Resident Certificate (if you have one)
- Bring lots of protection against the sun. The summer sun is extremely intense, which is why many locals don’t go out in it during the day.
- Avoid the major crowds of summer by visiting, a bit earlier of later than high season. But be careful of the cold and windy weather of winter.
- Bring travel sickness tablets if you are unused to travel by sea, as much local transport is via smaller speed boats.
More info about the PengHu Islands:
The largest urban population living in PengHu resides in Magong city, a mixture of small-scale Taiwan town and functional commercial port. Here local art reflects the boating influence with buoys painted as cats.