Penghu County | Taiwan

Just 45 km (28 miles) west of Taiwan’s main island, Penghu County’s 90 islands and islets have been inhabited by Han Chinese people for over 1,000 years. Because of water shortages and pirate raids, for long periods in the county’s history more people left this sometimes-windswept archipelago than settled here. Even now, when regular flights mean the islands are less than an hour from Taiwan’s main cities, the population is a mere 107,000. Some outsiders still refer to the islands by a Portuguese name assigned in the 16th century: Pescadores, meaning ‘fishermen’.

High summer and the shoulder months of June and September are excellent times to visit Penghu, but even in the colder months there are often windows of decent weather ideal for watersports. Thanks to world-class conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing, some promising young athletes have emerged in Penghu.

Striking coastlines

The islands get their distinctive geology – indeed, they owe their existence to – undersea volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. When red hot lava met the cool ocean, it solidified to create hexagonal basalt columns somewhat like Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. These can be seen in several places, notably Tongpan Island, so named because it resembles the lid of a barrel. Between these rocky outcrops, there are several excellent beaches, such as the ones at Shili, where sand dunes and calm, blue water stretch for more than a kilometre, and Aimen, very near the main airport. Jibei Islet has a remarkable tongue-shaped sandbar. If you visit that islet, which is a short ferry journey from the main islands, be sure to look for the fish-trapping tidal weirs that rings its shoreline.

The almost deserted village of Erkan has the archipelago’s best collection of traditional residences. A few are delipidated but many are still magnificent; several were built by villagers who’d made their fortunes selling herbal medicine in towns on Taiwan’s main island.

One of the county’s most-photographed sights is the Double-Hearted Weir, a fish trap just off Qimei, the fifth largest of Penghu’s islands in terms of land area, with a population just under 4,000). Created by piling up chunks of coral and basalt, but requiring little maintenance once complete, it works by ensuring that fish who swim in at high tide can’t escape when the tide ebbs. There are scores of similar weirs throughout the archipelago, but none are as large and elegant as this landmark.

A few of the islands lie within South Penghu Marine National Park, the newest of Taiwan’s nine national parks.

A beguiling capital

These days, Magong is home to more than half of Penghu’s population. The county capital boasts Taiwan’s oldest Mazu shrine, as well as two historic wells. Tianhou Temple contains superb woodcarvings by artisans brought in especially from the Chinese mainland in the 1920s, as well as relics which date from the Dutch attempt to occupy Penghu at the beginning of the 17th century. It’s arguably among the country’s finest places of worship.

It’s easy to see why Four-Eyed Well – near to the temple but probably even older – has that name. The four apertures are no bigger than portholes. Locals still draw water from this well; the goldfish which inhabit it are, they say, proof that the water is very clean. In the same neighbourhood, Ten Thousand Soldiers Well dates from 1683, when Qing Dynasty troops paused here during their invasion of Taiwan.

Because getting to/from Penghu County involves booking seats on a domestic flight or catching a ferry, and accommodation gets solidly booked during peak periods, excursions require careful planning. To organise a restful and rewarding trip to Penghu, get the ball rolling and contact Life of Taiwan today.

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