Penghu Islands, Taiwan and the International Ocean Fireworks Festival

Last week I spent 4 days and 3 nights in the Penghu Islands off the eastern coast of Taiwan.

As I mentioned in my prior post on Kinmen Island, one of my goals this year back in Taiwan was to explore more of Taipei as well as Taiwan. Penghu happens to be the second of the outer islands that I have visited.

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Great Penghu Ocean Bridge 澎湖跨海大橋

Penghu Islands is an archipelago off the coast of Taiwan consisting of many small islands. The main island itself is comprised of 4-5 islands linked by bridges, the longest and most famous one being the Great Penghu Ocean Bridge (澎湖跨海大橋) that links XiYu and BaiSha island. The bridge itself is a major attraction and was the first bridge of its kind to span such a large body of ocean in SouthEast/ East Asia. Penghu itself is not as historically significant or culturally rich as Kinmen, its mostly a resort and nature island. The main draws to Penghu are its natural rock formations, snorkeling and scuba diving, sailing, beaches/ beach activities, rock climbing, biking, and the annual International Ocean Fireworks Festival. The food in Penghu is also quite good, lots of fresh seafoods and the breakfast options here are insane with an entire street aptly named “Breakfast Street” lined with various shops serving all sorts of delicious breakfasts (more on food below).

The people and atmosphere here is very laid-back and friendly, just like Kinmen, they embody traditional Taiwanese values as well as the famed Taiwanese friendliness/ hospitality.

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Breakfast Street aka WenKang Street

 

Penghu International Ocean Fireworks Festival

Definitely visit during the fireworks festival as it is so worth it. The festival usually occurs between mid-April until end of June, with fireworks displays happening every Monday and Thursday night at 9PM, though if you are lucky you may come across an added show that private companies often sponsor. Each fireworks display lasts at least 15 minutes and is quite honestly one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen, surpassing any at Disney resorts, the Taipei 101 NYE fireworks, any beach fireworks Ive seen and much more. And what I find most interesting is that every time the crowd was basically 99% local Taiwanese, maybe a few groups of mainland tourists here and there too, but I probably saw less than 10 foreigners attending this incredible festival. The pre-show music, dance, and small stalls of food are very mediocre, but its wise to show up to the beachside venue early to grab a good spot. I would recommend you stand or sit near the temple by the main stage to get a full view of the fireworks, standing right by the water is too close to the fireworks. The fireworks themselves are designed by teams from various countries spanning multiple continents.

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Penghu Bay rainbow bridge
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Fireworks

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Sites and Actvities

Penghu is kind of like Santorini meets the Galapagos meets Taiwan. There are many natural rock formations and water activities to do in Penghu. The various islands and small valley/cliffside towns are very cute and quaint. I recommend traveling through the islands via motorbike/moped, as its convenient to find parking, easy and safe to get around. You can also bike around. Each of the smaller islands have mopeds for rent as well. To get between the outer islands of Penghu you just need to go to the various ferry terminals and purchase tickets. Tickets can also come with activity packages from the tour operators. You can do full day water activities (banana boating, snorkeling, fly-boating…etc.) a mix of water activity with a guided island tour on moped, or just simply get a boat ticket and do the rest on your own. I recommend a bit of both as having things organized makes it so much easier and saves a lot of time. For snorkeling or diving, I really recommend doing a bit of research ahead of time to see if there is a private company that can do small-medium sized group trips, because most packaged tours offer snorkeling with 50 people where the a lifeguard pairs with 10 people and floats them out to sea on safety rings, not very fun, but the sea life and coral in QiMei Island were quite nice, JiBei was a complete let down. Another disappointment was that the operators drop chum in the water to attract the fish towards the tourists.

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Small town in XiYu

 

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: early morning arrival in Magong, breakfast on breakfast street, drive along main Penghu Island and hit the main sites from Magong to XiYu (takes around half a day), dinner and walk around Magong city, head to Penghu Bay for fireworks.

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Whale Cave (could not figure out the namesake) on XiYu
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DaGuo YanWu rock cliff on XiYu
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YuWengDao Lighthouse on XiYu
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Erkan Chen Historic Residences on XiYu
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Central Street in Magong
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Magong TianHou Temple

 

Day 2: early start, sail to JiBei island from the BeiHai Tourist Center, package includes 7 water activities, return to Magong, spend afternoon walking around Magong, explore Huxi, dinner.

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Water activities in JiBei Island
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Four-Eyed Well in Central Street, Magong
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BeiLiao Recreation Area more commonly known as Moses Parts the Sea 摩西分界, only accessible during low tides

 

Day 3: early start, sail to QiMei Island (where Penghu’s most famous, though not natural, rock formation is, the double-hearted stacked rocks) from the NanHai tourist center, package includes snorkeling and island tour on moped, return to Magong, dinner, head to Penghu Bay for added showing of fireworks.

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Rock shaped in a pregnant wife waiting for her fisherman husband 望夫石
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Lion Rock

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Little Taiwan rock
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Double-Heart of Stacked Stones, these man-made formations are used to trap fish 爽心石滬
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sunset at Rainbow Bridge

 

Day 4: sunrise in HuXi, breakfast, purchase Penghu specialty goods, depart Magong for Taipei at noon.

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Sunrise at the GuoYeh GuanRi recreation area in HuXi

 

Food

Penghu is known for its variety of fresh seafood including squid, sea urchin (though getting rarer on menus as it gets listed in the endangered species list for Taiwan), various fish and shellfish. It is also famous for a black sugar cake 黑糖糕 (the best is from a shop called ChunRen 春仁)but this must be ordered in advance and picked up on the day of departure as it can only be kept for 2-3 days and 1 week in the fridge; variety of Cactus products and foods, and scallop XO Spicy sauce. The other thing that surprised me was the breakfast selection, breakfast street was the place to be in the mornings with most of Penghu’s most famous restaurants and eats right there. A small note of sea urchins, make sure the restaurant or stall catches them themselves or buys from a trusted vendor and that its the large kinds, its illegal to catch small/ baby sea urchins. Sea Urchins may no longer be served starting next year as the local species have become endangered due to overfishing.

We searched the Taiwanese blogosphere for the best foods in Penghu and tried most of them, and indeed we werent disappointed, please find restaurant names and food adventures via the photos below (I’ve included the English and Chinese names of the restaurant and dishes):

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Bicycle Douhua 豆花(dessert beancurd) along Breakfast Street.
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ZhongJi ShaoBing 鐘記燒餅:ShaoBing with pasley egg and youtiao九層塔燒餅油條, and shaobing with XO sauce chicken XO醬雞燒餅
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BeiXinQiao Beef Soup 北新橋牛雜湯: Beef soup 牛雜湯
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BeiXinQiao Beef Soup 北新橋牛雜湯: Crispy Pork pie 餡餅
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Yi-Jia 易家:Cactus Ice Cream 仙人掌冰
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Fresh sea urchin right by Whale Cave 馬糞海膽
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QingXin Restaurant 清新飲食店: lightly boiled squid with ginger vinegar 小官
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QingXin Restaurant 清新飲食店: oyster omelette 蚵仔煎
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QingXin Restaurant 清新飲食店: Fried deep sea prawn, limited orders and cannot reorder 炸甜蝦
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QingXin Restaurant 清新飲食店: fried squid balls 花枝丸
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Almond Tea inside one of the Erkan historic residences 杏仁茶
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海燕窩 Seagrass jelly juice (sea bird’s nest) at Erkan
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XiYu is known for their peanuts, this is freshly ground peanut pastry
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XiaoLaJiao LuWei 小辣椒滷味: famous spot for braised flavors (braised assortment foods) in Magong City. Located on ZhongHua street.
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YuGuan Chinese Mesona 玉冠仙草冰: The best Grass jelly shaved ice I have ever had, perfect after a day in the sun.
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LiYang Cake Shop 麗楊手作伴手禮: Cactus Mille Crepe
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XiangTing TuMoYuGeng 香亭土魠魚羹: Soil Fish paste noodle soup
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MaLuYi 馬路益燒肉: Fried braised pork with fried squid cutlet, doesnt look like much but its so good and a very popular spot with lines over an hour long.
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GanYi Medicine Shop 乾益堂藥膳蛋: Chinese medicine and tea boiled eggs, very flavorful, right next to the four-eyed well.
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ZhengGang Lemonade, very fresh.
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: Sea Urchin stir-fry scallion eggs 海膽炒蛋; quite possible the best restaurant we ate at in Penghu located in HuXi, near the airport.
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: fresh Penghu oystrers 新鮮海蚵
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: seafood fried rice 海鮮炒飯
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: Seagrass fish ball soup 海草魚丸湯
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: Pumpkin Seafood rice noodles 金瓜炒米粉, hands down the best dish on our trip, aromatic and full of flavors of the sea and land of Penghu.
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A-Shuang Restaurant 阿霜小吃部: Shrimp and Squid pancake 蝦餅
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ErXin Rice Ball 二信飯糰: Delicious breakfast rice balls, comes in meat or vegetarian and you can get white or purple or dual-color rice.
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Grandma’s Rice Dumpling 阿婆肉粽: QiMei is famous for their rice dumplings, this is the most renown one.

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JiaJia coal BBQ 嘉嘉炭烤: assortment of goods that you pick and choose and have the owners coal BBQ it to your liking.
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YiFeng DouJiang 益豐豆漿店:youtiao danbing 油條蛋餅
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Penghu Harbor Noodle Shop 澎湖漁港麵店: Mixed noodle and rice noodle soup 米粉湯麵

 

Where to Stay

The most high-end hotel available might be the Four Points by Sheraton in Magong, but most people who travel to Penghu opt to stay in one of the hundreds of bed and breakfasts or Air BnB style accommodations scattered across all of the islands. The place I stayed in was ok, nothing to complain or rave about, especially at the price we paid (our entire trip including our meals and flights and transportation came down to around NTD$11000).

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A Penghu Ama in Erkan outside her mom-pop shop selling candies and drinks as well as the peanut pastry.

Things to Note:

  • Penghu remains a very local destination as such the English tourist infrastructure is quite lacking. Though street signs are in both Mandarin and English, most tour operators and vendors dont really speak English or encounter foreigners often. So just be a bit prepared for an added effort of communication.
  • Sunscreen sunscreen sunscreen, the sun in Penghu is intense and I burned within the first hour despite lathering some sunscreen all over myself.
  • All four domestic Taiwanese carriers (Mandarin Airlines, Uni Air, Transasia, Far Eastern) operate multiple daily flights between Taipei Songshan Airport and Magong Airport, some also have flights from Taichung, Kaohsiung and Kinmen.
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Overview of Magong City on takeoff from Magong Airport

 

Safe Travels!

Garythegastronomictraveler

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