Two days on Penghu

My first trip to some of Taiwan’s offshore islands…

Three people walk along Zhongyang Old Street at night.
Zhongyang Old Street, Magong, Penghu. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

Taiwan has a bunch of offshore islands including Kinmen (金門縣), which is just 10km from mainland China.

Kinmen’s been at the frontline of tensions between China and Taiwan since the Chinese Civil War, and still has a heavy military presence—along with historic quirks like giant speaker towers, for blasting propaganda across the sea.

Meanwhile, the Penghu Islands (Pescadores/澎湖縣) are a little closer to Taiwan, and a little less militarized. This week, I met a friend from New Zealand in Taipei, and we flew to Penghu for two nights:

Aerial view of Taipei, with Taipei 101 in the center and Songshan Airport beyond.
We departed from Taipei Songshan Airport, near the center of this photo. We had to show ID cards or passports to check in, to clear security, and to board the plane. An on-board announcement said because Songshan is a joint military–civilian airport, taking photos was prohibited.
An army vehicle drives past the entrance to a military facility.
On Penghu’s main island, our hotel was across the street from another military facility.
Our first Penghu meal was dinner at this cheap-and-delicious vegetarian restaurant in Magong City. Penghu’s an archipelago of 90 islands and 100,000 people. Two-thirds of them live in Magong. During our off-season visit, it was a relaxed and quiet place where people drove scooters at 40km/h in the 50 zone. (A little different to Kaohsiung, where people drive 70km/h in the 40 zone.)
A woman working at a guava stall on a street in Magong.
We had guava with plum sprinkles for dessert. Regular guava’s my favorite fruit in Taiwan, but this was my first time trying pink guava. (Not a fan.)
Magong Harbor from across a traditional tiled rooftop.
This is Magong Harbor on the main island. Penghu’s a great place to explore by scooter: We rented a 125cc Kymco GP from the hotel. The hotel owner was surprised to see my Taiwan Driver’s Licence. (He was also unnecessarily in awe of my Taiwan Gold Card ID. But at least he didn’t think it was fake, which once happened at a police checkpoint…) The Kymco GP wasn’t designed for someone my size, which meant my knees stopped me fully turning the handlebars. So, over two days and 150km, we explored Penghu without rounding sharp corners.
An abandoned village of concrete houses.
This is the first of two abandoned villages we came across without actively looking. When I’d parked the scooter near here, a local asked (in English) if we needed help. I was able to reply (in Chinese) “thanks, we have no problem, we are just looking around.”
An abandoned building constructed of concrete and coral blocks.
Some of the abandoned buildings were partly constructed of coral.
A slightly-crooked tiled floor in an abandoned building.
Others had tiled floors…
Interior of an abandoned house. Some roof supports have collapsed and there are vines growing through the windows.
…And collapsing interiors.
Abandoned village on Xiyu Island. The buildings are constructed of stone and coral.
This second abandoned village was on Xiyu Island, the last of four Penghu islands connected by a string of cross-sea bridges.
A large black dog looking at the camera.
This village came with a friendly dog. He guided us through the village, all the way to a half-buried plastic bottle. We were less excited about it than he was.
A roofless abandoned building made of coral. A vinyl armchair sits in one corner.
In the village, the majority of walls were made of coral.
Inner courtyard of an abandoned stone and brick house, with a large clay container in a doorway.
I was surprised to see the clay amphora in this doorway. In New Zealand, artifacts like this would’ve been smashed or stolen years ago.
House brightly decorated like a yellow submarine.
Immediately next to the abandoned village, we saw a definitively-not-abandoned yellow submarine house (sans explanation).
A scooter parked next to a bridge, with wind turbines on the island in the distance.
Of the cross-sea bridges connecting the four main islands, two had wind breaks, which made life easier for those of us driving at 40km/h on scooters. Each day was around 20ºC (cold by Taiwan standards), and very, very windy. It wouldn’t have been safe to ride much faster.
Penghu Great Bridge.
Penghu Great Bridge is 2.5km long. It was the only bridge without scooter lanes. Riding at 40km/h, crossing it took a long, cold, never-ending four minutes.
A golden sandy beach and calm turquoise water beyond.
Penghu’s famous for its many beautiful beaches. We drove by a few of them. This small beach was between two large scupltures: one of a crab, and one of the letters ‘O’ and ‘K’.
Exterior of Ecoffee cafe on Xiyu Island.
On Xiyu Island, while looking for somewhere for lunch, we found Ecoffee on Google Maps. The pictures showed a lot of food options, but when we got there, we discovered they only sold coffee and eggs.
Exterior of 7-Eleven convenience store in Wai-an Township, Penghu.
We didn’t find another cafe, and eventually had lunch at a 7-Eleven in Wai-an Township. Getting up to leave, I realized I’d left the keys in the scooter. My friend scolded me for my relaxed attitude, and hurried me to retrieve them. (Despite earlier observing the abandoned-village amphora, he couldn’t accept that Taiwan’s as safe as I claim.)
A fishing boat tied up at Wai-an Harbor.
There was a small fishing harbor was across the street.
Wai-an Township on Penghu Island.
Wai-an Township comprises many flat-roofed houses and a large, ornate temple.
The Wai-An Fake Cannon, a large cannon-like shape made of concrete built in a hollow on a flat plateau.
On a plateau above the township, is the Wai-an Fake Cannon—a decoy built during World War II, when Taiwan was under Japanese control. The base is 5 meters wide, and the concrete barrels 6 meters long.
Yuwengdao Lighthouse.
Nearby, we saw the Yuwengdao (Xiyu) Lighthouse. Designed by the British in the 1870s (pre-dating Japan’s colonization of Taiwan), it is Taiwan’s first prefabricated building and first Western-style lighthouse.
Information sign about Penghu Tiger Eye Stone Weir.
We also stopped at the Tiger Eye Stone Weir, constructed to catch fish in 1941. However…
A scooter parked near a rocky foreshore.
…When we visited in 2023, it was almost entirely under water. A grandpa, perhaps disappointed himself, pointed at the sea and nodded unhappily. Lacking the Chinese skills to say anything of value, I demonstrated solidarity by pointed at the sea and nodding unhappily, too.
Erkan Historic Village, Penghu.
Next up, another village. This one, Erkan Historic Village, isn’t abandoned. It’s being slowly restored, and is full of tourist shops, art studios, and stores selling dried seafood snacks.
An alleyway in Erkan Historic Village. There are historic stone buildings on either side.
Erkan was great for exploring on foot…
Two cats resting on a rusted cart in Erkan Historic Village.
…And great for cats.
A fish statue at the seaside, facing out to sea, with the word ‘welcome’ on its side.
Riding around the islands, we often came across cartoon sculptures; mostly fish. This was one of the best.
Penghu Tianhou Temple obscured by scaffolding at night.
Back in Magong City, we went to see Penghu Tianhou Temple (澎湖天后宮). Established in the 1400s, and rebuilt in the 1500s, it’s the oldest temple in Taiwan. But on our visit, it was closed and largely concealed by scaffolding.
Three people walk along Zhongyang Old Street at night. There are traditional wooden buildings on either side of the narrow street.
Nearby, we wandered along Zhongyang Old Street (馬公中央老街), a picturesque lane that’s apparently heaving with tourists in summer.
A giant statue of the goddess Mazu at night. The angle of the photo and the lighting on the statue makes it appear like Mazu is holding a cellphone up to her face.
A few minutes out of Magong, we saw this giant statue of Mazu (媽祖), one of the most prominent goddesses in Taiwanese culture. The statue’s 48 meters tall, roughly equivalent to a 16-story building. From this angle, it looked like she was busy on her phone.
Near Mazu, our final stop was the famous Xiying Rainbow Bridge (西瀛虹橋). It’s a 250-meter-long pedestrian bridge that reflects rainbow colors across the bay. I didn’t enhance this photo—this is exactly what it looked like in person. The effect is so enchanting I don’t know why it’s not widely emulated.
The next morning at Magong Airport, we bypassed the ‘Arts And Literature’ section and proceeded to the boarding gates. (Once again, we needed to show passports or ID cards to check in, pass security, and board the plane.)
Aerial view of central Kaohsiung, taken through an airplane window. Landmarks including 85 Sky Tower, Kaohsiung Exhibition Center, Kaohsiung Public Library, and China Steel Building, are clearly visible.
A 30-minute flight later, we were landing in Kaohsiung. I loved Penghu, but it felt great to be back. (Also: you can see my apartment in this photo.)