Exploring Taiwan Penghu (澎湖) Island Archipelago with Qiito & TransAsia Airways (復興航空)11 May, 2013
Having explored parts of Taiwan during our 14-day round-the-island trip around Taiwan back in 2008, PassportChop is back in Taiwan again – this time exploring the Penghu Archipelago off the coast of Taiwan main island. Penghu 澎湖 (also called the Pescadores) is an outlying island archipelago located in the Taiwan Straits between Taiwan and China and is under the jurisdiction of Taiwan. Penghu is a large archipelago incorporating the Penghu, Paisha and Hsi Islands, between mainland China and Taiwan. The entire archipelago encompasses 64 small islands- with a combined coastline of more than 300 kilometers.
Our Penghu journey began with a red-eye (overnight) flight from Singapore to Taipei Taoyuan Airport with TransAsia Airways. The TransAsia Airways flight depart from Singapore for Taipei daily at 1am and arrives at Taoyuan Airport at about 5.15am (4 hours+ flight; no time difference between Singapore and Taiwan) – this departure time is perfect as it helps you save one day vacation leave (as you can leave work at around 6pm and still have some time for last-minute pre-trip packing before the flight) and allows you to arrive in Taipei with one whole day to start your shopping!
Do check out TransAsia Airways Facebook page for regular fare promotions – I remembered seeing a few buy one get one free Business Class promotions a few months back. We flew business class to Taipei during this trip and it was very comfortable – the seat can be converted to a 180 degree flatbed and we napped for 2 hours plus (allowing us to start our journey refreshed!). Inflight meals at TransAsia business class was just as awesome – Eggs Benedict for supper is totally unexpected especially for airplane food; poached eggs are hard enough to make with a proper kitchen so we were very impressed when our Eggs Benedict tasted great! You can read more about our flight experience (both economy and business class) with TransAsia Airways in the next post.
Getting from Taipei Taoyuan Airport 桃園機場 to Taipei Songshan Airport 松山機場
Upon arrival at Taipei Taoyuan Airport 桃園機場, we had to make our way to Taipei Songshan Airport 松山機場 for our domestic flight to Penghu 澎湖 with TransAsia Airways. If you plan on making the same journey i.e. arrive at Taoyuan Airport from Singapore and then depart for Penghu Magong Airport via Taipei Songshan Airport, the following are some points to take note of:
- Once you have cleared the Taiwan customs, proceed to the basement of the airport where the bus ticketing counters and bus terminals are.
- Look out for bus routes to 松山機場 at the bus ticketing counters (there are a number of companies e.g. Freego (飛狗巴士), Kuo-Kuang (國光客運), 長榮巴士, 大有巴士). If you are arriving via TransAsia Airways from Singapore, you can just follow what we did i.e. go direct to Kuo-Kuang (國光客運) ticketing counter and purchase bus tickets to 松山機場 (125 NT). We arrived at Taipei Songshan Airport 松山機場 from Taipei Taoyuan Airport 桃園機場 in slightly less than an hour.
- Do not take the Freego (飛狗巴士) to 松山機場 as the bus routes do multiple drop-offs within Taipei city and if traffic is heavy, your journey could be significantly delayed (although theoretically both bus companies claim that the journey to Songshan Airport is the same at around 1 hour). The Freego (飛狗巴士) service is good if you intend to drop-off within Taipei city.
- Taxis from Taipei Taoyuan Airport 桃園機場 to Taipei Songshan Airport 松山機場 are significantly more expensive (10 x more than the bus fare at around 1300 – 1500 NT) so if you have the time and want to save some cost, take the bus.
- If you bought both your international (Singapore to Taipei) and domestic (Taipei to Penghu) flights together, TransAsia Airways will require a minimum 4 hours transit period between both flights. Purchase a flexible fare so that you can change your flight timing upon arrival at Songshan Airport. Our Penghu flight was scheduled at 10+am but we arrived at Songshan Airport at about 7.20am. The friendly TransAsia Airways check-in counter staff helped to change our flight to 7.50am where we took a small propeller TransAsia Airways plane to Penghu Magong Airport 馬公機場 (flight journey time is 1 hour).
Besides flights from Taipei, Penghu is also accessible by plane from 5 other domestic Taiwanese airports including Taichung, Jiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Jinmen Island. During the summer months you can also take the ferry from Kaohsiung which takes 5 hours and 5 minutes.
Arriving at Penghu Magong Airport 馬公機場 and Transportation Arrangements
Upon arrival at Penghu Magong Airport 馬公機場, do proceed to the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration Tourist Visitor Centre (look for the yellow booth with an “i”) for help in your trip planning if you need it – there are a great collection of brochures and maps available and the visitor centre staff are friendly and very helpful.
A taxi ride from the airport to the city of Magong is charged at a fixed cost of 300 NT (about S$10) – the visitor centre can arrange for a taxi for you. However, if you are able to telephone and book a taxi ahead of your arrival in Mandarin Chinese the cost drops down to 200 NT.
Do note that most taxi drivers do not speak English and they do not use meters in Penghu (even if you can see a meter in the taxi) so make sure to ask the cost to your destination before you set off in your taxi.
Many Penghu Bed & Breakfast, Minsu (民宿) and Hotels offer pick-up and drop-off to and from Magong Airport and the Harbour Ferry Terminal so check with them when you are booking your accommodation in Penghu.
What to Do and See in Penghu
Penghu’s main islands included the administrative divisions of Magong City (馬公市), Huxi (湖西), Baisha (白沙), and Xiyu (西嶼) as well as the Southern Islands of Qimei and Wang’an. The map below summarises our routes during our 4-Day 3-Night Adventure in Penghu – you can also download our Penghu-Taipei itinerary if you are planning a trip to Penghu archipelago.
Taiwan is one of Singaporean’s holiday destinations – not surprising considering the great shopping and food available at Taipei and many other parts of the country. Penghu is more foreign to Singaporeans because it is typically not on the tourist circuit around Taiwan. I am quite surprised that some of our colleagues and friends had actually heard of the beauty of Penghu. They were just unsure about how to get here and what to do there.
We did some quick research on Penghu before the trip and found that most of the resources and blogs on Penghu are written in Traditional Chinese – this could be challenging even for us (as we were taught in Simplified Chinese). Thankfully, there is Qiito.com which is like Pinterest but for travel photos with additional functionalities e.g. we were able to “collect” some of the travel tips and travel photos specific to Penghu into a quick itinerary which we referred to on the go.
When we mentioned to our colleagues and friends that we are going to Penghu 澎湖, some will mention the song 《外婆的澎湖湾》made famous by Taiwanese singer Pan An Bang (台湾歌手潘安邦) back in the 1980s. I googled and the lyrics of the song precisely described what Penghu is all about – 陽光, 沙灘, 海浪, 仙人掌, 還有一位老船長 (The Sunlight, Beach, Sea Waves, Cactus and an old Boat Captain). Over the next few posts, we will be sharing with you more on the beauty of Penghu. Feel free to download our suggested Penghu-Taipei itinerary if you need a quick reference. The following pictures is a quick walkthrough of what to expect in Penghu.
Day 1: Around the Penghu Main Island – Historical Structures and Food
We explored the Penghu main island during Day 1 where we visited attractions in these areas Magong City (馬公市), Huxi (湖西), Baisha (白沙), and Xiyu (西嶼). One of the interesting sights is the 通樑古榕 an old Banyan Tree that is over 300 years in front of the Baoan Temple in Tongliang Village. It is the oldest and largest tree in Penghu and despite all wide the tree seemed to cover, it actually all came from the same trunk.
Penghu is also known for its many local delicacies in addition to fresh seafood. Some of the must-try include Brown Sugar Sponge Cake (黑糖糕) and Pink Cactus Fruit Sorbet Ice Cream (仙人掌冰).
Day 2: North Sea Jibei Island 吉貝島 Exploration + Free Flow Oysters, Seafood Porridge and Fishing at Qing Wan Sea Farm 青灣海洋牧場
For day 2, we checked out Jibei Island 吉貝島 where we got to walk on the famous 吉貝島 Sand Spit and checked out the cheap sea sports activities at the island and explored the island on scooter. Following which, we proceeded on a cruise around Magong Harbour where we landed at Qing Wan Sea Farm 青灣海洋牧場 for free flow of oysters (BBQ it yourself) and free flow of seafood porridge (already cooked!). We also did some fishing at the farm.
Day 3: South Island Island-Hopping Tour 南海觀光碼頭→桶盤嶼、虎井嶼、望安嶼、七美嶼
Departing from the South Sea Tourist Centre (南海遊客中心), the South Island Island-Hopping Tour 南海觀光 will bring you to 4 islands where you will stop for an hour or more to explore the islands’ attractions. One of the more memorable one is the double heart stone weir (雙心石滬) at Qimei Island 七美嶼.
Day 3 Evening: Penghu Fireworks Festival 西瀛虹橋海堤觀賞煙火施放
Fireworks every Monday and Thursday night from April 18 to June 24 2013. There will be dance and song performances at the stage near 觀音亭 at 8:00 PM and fireworks will be featured at 9:15 PM (opening firework: 9:00 ~9:20 PM.) This festival will last for two and a half months from April to June.
Day 4 at Penghu is a more chilled out one where we visited the village (澎湖毋忘在莒) where 潘安邦 lived as a child and his inspiration for his song 外婆的澎湖湾. We then took the TransAsia Airways flight back to Taipei for some shopping before our flight back home.
We would like to thank our friend and guide, Sammi from the 澎湖國家風景區 Penghu National Scenic Area Administration, Tourism Bureau, MOTC for showing us around beautiful Penghu 澎湖 (also known as Chrysanthemum Island 菊島).
Getting around Penghu
Rent a Motocycle/Scooter/Car
There are many motorcycle/scooter/car rental shops along Zhong Zhen Road 中正路 (near the ferry terminal). There are a number of such rental shops just outside MF Hotel Penghu 和田飯店. Rental shops generally require a Taiwanese driver’s license, though many accept ARCs (Alien Resident Cards), International Driving Permit, foreign driver’s licenses and possibly passports. Some shops may accept Singapore Class 3 driving license (even for scooter rental) but you will be taking a risk as you may be unfamiliar with operating a motorcycle. Ask around and try a few shops if one declines to rent to you.
The average cost of renting a scooter for the day (24 hours) is 350-400 NT (excluding petrol) depending on the season. If you want to rent for longer try to ask for a discount. Make sure you drive safely and wear a helmet as the police will give you a ticket. Do not park illegally especially along Zhong Zhen Road 中正路 as the police are quite strict on this too.
Small cars can be rented for NT1300 a day. Most rental agencies require an International Driving Permit or Taiwan licence for cars. International Driving Permit is not a valid driving licence in itself. It is a translation document for your driving licence. Therefore, you will need your driving licence along with it and a form of identification, such as passport, while driving overseas, especially in a country with foreign language. Singaporeans can apply for the permit (S$22) from AAS – http://www.aas.com.sg/.
Rent a Electric Scooter
Some of the shops offer electric scooter which are more environmental-friendly. Users can use smart EasyCards to pay for recharging at the smart charging stations around Penghu. Touring the Penghu island from one end to the other would take about three full batteries. A full charge takes about two hours, but there are stations for quick charging where it only takes about 20 minutes to give a battery a full recharge.
Rent a Bicycle
Many hotels and guesthouses have bikes for their guests e.g. Green Homestays 綠的旅店民宿. You can also rent a bicycle for about 150NT per day from shops along 中正路.
Travel by Public Bus
There are two bus lines that traverse the archipelago, but they only run about once an hour from the main bus station in Magong (a few streets off 中正路 – on the corner of Min Zhu and Zhōng Xing Roads). There are local buses that have regular service routes from Magong to Siyu and many of the villages in between. The public bus service are rarely used by tourists so it might be hard to find bus timetable and fare information. Public buses are free for Penghu residents.
Travel by Taxi
Taxi drivers prefer flat rates to using the meter. A trip to just about anywhere on Penghu will cost 200 NT to 300 NT. You can also arrange for full-day taxi tours around the island for 2500 NT to 3000 NT a day.