Top 10 alternative things to see and do on Penghu

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(Photo courtesy of Penghu National Scenic Area Administration)

Penghu is a small archipelago of around 90 islands located in the Taiwan Strait midway between Taiwan and China.

All of the islands that make up Penghu are only 141 square kilometres in size and the largest is also home to Penghu’s main island, Magong (馬公). Penghu has always been popular with visitors thanks to its tropical paradise feel and unique attractions. But in the wake of the air crash just outside Magong airport in 2014, in which 48 people died, and the subsequent collapse of TransAsia, the airline operating the flight in question, Penghu has suffered a slight slump in visitors.

But it is still possible to fly to Penghu from a number of airports around Taiwan and there is plenty of reason to do so. The best time to visit is in Spring or Autumn, when the winds are not too strong and neither is the sun. Popular attractions include the various natural rock formations that can be found around the islands, the annual fireworks festival, and the many fantastic beaches. But there is also lot to see that is a little more off the beaten trail and to give you a taste, here is my rundown of the top 10 alternatives things to see and do on Penghu:

  1. Post something in an underwater mailbox

(Photo courtesy of Central News Agency)

Last year saw the opening of Taiwan’s only underwater mail box Suogang Village (鎖港) in Magong. Visitors who are so inclined can purchase a waterproof postcard which they can then dive down and post into the box. It will then be collected by local divers and sent through the Taiwan postal service as usual. The mailbox itself is 1.6 metres tall and set in a concrete base about 6 metres down. It is located around 150 from the shore close to Suogang Village. It is an undeniably tacky tourist trap, right down to the artificial reefs that have been created around the mailbox. But it is a fun and unique thing to do and something both you and the postcard recipient will remember for a long time.

 

  1. Try some Cactus Ice Cream at Qingwan Cactus Park - 青灣仙人掌公園

(Photo courtesy of Penghu National Scenic Area Administration)

Penghu is not the first place you might think of as being a natural environment for cacti, but actually this dry and windy climate is ideally suited to these desert-dwelling plants. The Qingwan Cactus Park, which is located in Qingwan, to the southwest of Magong specialises in the cultivation of cacti and is place where visitors can see and learn about them and the other plants that thrive in Taiwan’s dry climate such as agaves and white lead trees. But it is not just the cacti that makes Qingwan a great place for visitors old and young. It is also home to a number of ostriches, which visitors can interact with. And it is the best place on Penghu to sample the unique Cactus Flower flavoured ice cream.

 

  1. Pay a visit to Chienyi Tang Chinese Traditional Medicine Store - 乾益堂中藥行

(Photo courtesy of JE Poirrier​/Flickr​)

The Chienyi Tang Chinese Traditional Medicine Store is located is a handsome building to the rear of the main Matsu Temple (澎湖天后宮) in Makung. The building itself was built in 1918 and has been a traditional medicine store for as long as people can remember. It retains the same appearance that it has had for most of its existence with shelves lined with glass jars filled with just about every sort of herb you can think of. On sunny days, you might see fresh herbs drying in the sun outside or on the first-floor balcony. If you are not feeling unwell, there are still things you can try as well, including a specially made herbal tea and their own recipe for tea eggs.

 

  1. See Huazhai Village before it is ‘restored’ - 澎湖花宅

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

Huazhai Village is a settlement comprising of more than 100 traditionally built stone residences. Stone is a rare commodity in Penghu and closer examination shows that actually many of the buildings are made up of coral held together with mud and lime. Records show there has been a settlement on the site since at least 1699, but many of the homes are difficult to accurately date, not least because of the level of degeneration. Much of the site lies in ruins, with just a handful of properties still intact and fewer still lived in. Indeed, World Monuments Watch has listed the site as one of its 100 most endangered in the world. Restoration plans are underway, which is understandable, but a shame because for me the ruined buildings are far more interesting and atmospheric to walk around than those such as the Tzeng Home, which are already fully restored. The site should be preserved as it is, but probably won’t be, and for that reason alone it is worth visiting now before it is changed beyond all recognition.

 

  1. Run the unique Penghu Cross-Sea Marathon - 菊島澎湖跨海馬拉松

 (Photo courtesy of Penghu.gov.tw) 

If you are looking for a really unique challenge, why not take on the Penghu Cross-Sea Marathon, in which runners compete on no fewer than four different islands. The race, which takes place in November, begins on the island of Siyu (西嶼) and passes over the Penghu Trans-Oceanic Bridge to Baisha (白沙) before heading on to Jhongtun (中屯) and finally the main island of Penghu. It is certainly one of the most scenic marathons in Taiwan and arguably the world. It is also a truly unique way to experience the natural beauty of the islands of Penghu and enjoy a real sense of achievement too.

 

  1. Visit the Tagong and Tapo towers (內垵塔公塔婆)

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

The Tapgong and Tapo towers are two stone towers located on the Xiyu island (西嶼) which are supposed to protect local residents from natural disasters. They were built in 1843 by a famous local family called Liu. Because at the time the village was frequently attacked, a feng shui master was invited from Tang Shan to conduct an inspection. He urged locals to build the towers immediately to protect them from these attack. Therefore, the Liu family led a group of local young men in moving large stones in place to build the towers. Today, they are  believed to have supernatural powers and are referred to by locals as the male and female tower (Tagog and Tapo). The two towers are not located exactly next to each other but instead about two blocks apart. There is also a third tower between them, which is not pointed out to tourists too often. This one is little more than a pile of stones around some stone poles and slightly resembles a pyramid. It is certainly less photogenic and therefore of less interest to most visitors here.

 

  1. Look and learn at the Wangan Green Turtle and Conservation Centre - 望安綠蠵龜觀光保育中心

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

The Wangan Green Turtle and Conservation Centre is located in the southeast of Wanganyu (望安嶼) and is dedicated to protecting and educating about the natural environment in this part of the world. The focus is on the local Green turtle population which were threatened for a long time but are now protected. Turtles still come ashore here to lay eggs and ecologists monitor and record their activity and numbers. The centre is not just focused on turtles though and there are also exhibitions on migrating birdlife, protected animals, and the many different types of flora and fauna that live on this archipelago.

 

  1. Check out Duxing 10th Village - 篤行十村眷村文化園區

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

Duxing 10th Village is probably the oldest military dependant’s village in Taiwan. It has been home to military families since as far back as the Qing Dynasty and was home to the military headquarters on Penghu during the Japanese colonial era. It was home to many senior military figures and their families and the buildings were suited to that purpose. There is plenty of Japanese style architecture to enjoy and a surprising amount of western influenced buildings too. These are the main attractions for overseas visitors, but not Taiwanese and Chinese ones. Instead, they are drawn because the village was home to two famous musicians. Chang Yu-sheng (張雨生), a popular singer and composer who died in a car crash in his prime, and Pan An-Bang (潘安邦), a famous folk singer from the 1980’s, were both born and raised here. You can visit Pan An-Bang’s house while the local Memorial Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the life of Chang Yu-sheng.

 

  1. Take in a Penghu Sunset

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

Penghu is perhaps the least developed part of Taiwan which makes it a great place to enjoy natural scenery and spectacles. As an island with few tall buildings, Penghu has big skies and little air pollution and is therefore a great place to take in a sunset, or sunrise if you are an early riser. From most places in Penghu it is possible to head down to the shoreline, or to higher ground, and enjoy the majestic site of the sun going down (or coming up) over the sea, casting a brilliant red light over the stunning scenery. It is something everyone in Penghu should try to do at least once while they are there.

 

  1. Sample the unique local cuisine

(Photo courtesy of Trip Adviser:https://goo.gl/TrQFSp​)

It will surprise few people that Penghu is well renowned for its local seafood dishes. But as with most places in Taiwan, you have to look around to find a good place to eat it and avoid the opportunists who market their mediocre fare as exquisite local delicacies. But there are still some great places to enjoy local dishes. The Jibei Seafood restaurant, which is located on Jibei Island (吉貝), doesn’t have the appearance of a great eatery, but actually the best places in Taiwan often don’t. But this restaurant does simple local seafood dishes with fresh local ingredients. And it does them very well. Portions and flavours are big, and the home-cooking feel adds to a really special experience. But it is not just seafood that is done well here. The rather curiously named Cauliflower Old Memory Restaurant (花菜干人文懷舊餐館), situated on Xindian Road (新店路) in Magong (馬公) is packed full of vintage furniture and deco to create a unique atmosphere. The menu is packed full of local dishes, many of which do not feature fish. If you do go, try the Suangua Chao Sancengrou (酸瓜炒三層肉), a pork dish with local Wangan pickles which is amazing with rice. If you want to know about more great dishes and the stories behind them, the restaurant owner is never shy to tell his tales.