Thursday, June 9, 2011

Destination: Penghu!

Penghu: the Hawaii of Taiwan. Or is it the Hawaii of China? The Hawaii of Japan? Oh heck, it's an island (or collection of), it's tropical, it's hot, and I give this weekend destination 4 out of 5 GOLDEN CAITLIN APPROVAL CUPCAKES. I think it's time we moved on from stars and thumbs and embrace what really matters: baked goods.
And I thought Taiwan was all smokestacks and milk tea waste!

This weekend is Dragon Boat Festival weekend. The story goes that a depressed Chinese poet in exile jumped into a river and people tried to paddle out to save him, but alas: he was gone. This weekend, we celebrate the holiday of the suicidal poet, and we get Monday off!

James and I have been trying to get away for a while, so we booked tickets to Penghu last week, knowing that we would leave on Sunday morning and fly back Monday evening - a short trip, but long enough, and all we could find considering its a remote destination where you can only fly in and out (or ferry) from a select few origins in Taiwan.  

Penghu, we read, is famous for a few things: relaxing holiday destination for Taiwanese, sea turtles,  coral beaches, brown sugar cakes and cactus. Oh yeah, wild growing cactus that gets turned into juice, mochi, and of course, ice cream, which really is the best stuff going. It stands right next to Tucker's Zinfindel ice cream, at the top of my "You need at least a cone of this a day" list. How could we resist?

You need at least a cone of this a day.
Sunday morning: Bus to the airport at 6:00 AM. Arrive at the check in counter to check in early, only to find out that James had booked our tickets backwards and effectively, we had no tickets to Penghu on Sunday - we had a ticket to Penghu on Monday and a ticket to Taipei on Sunday. (James later admitted he forgot you put the name of your origin first on the website, then your destination. It doesn't help that everything except the price was in Chinese.) FREAK OUT!

But this is Asia, land of beautiful and helpful-English-speaking flight attendants, and they quickly switched our tickets to some empty seats and within five minutes, we had run to the terminal and sat down on the plane right before they closed the door. It wasn't until we were in the air that we realized we had no flight back, but it didn't really matter. 

A quick plug for Asian airlines: they rock. So far I have used Mandarin Airways and Tiger Airways and they have been helpful, adorable, on time, and always give free tea. You go, foreigners!

Back to the story: arrived in Penghu at 8:00 AM to a burning sunny day. We had booked a room at the Penghu Breeze (last second vacancy) and this included airport pickup. James got off the phone with our ride and exclaimed "Wow, she's awesome. She has such great English!" It turns out, the liason for the Breeze is Ginger, American customer service extraordinare, and she also drives a mean stick shift diesel van. We really got lucky. 

A quick and painless scooter rental later and we were out on the road. We cruised into downtown Magong and were pleasantly surprised with the lack of people and the abundance of old and beautiful Chinese buildings. (I'm not going to lie, I thought Taiwan might look like this everywhere, but out here in suburbia Taoyuan, I think everyone is determined to modernize in an ugly, funky way.) Magong is adorable. There's a big seaside park with a temple, play equipment, grass, and stairs into the ocean where everyone can swim together in the bay. 

How often do you get to stay in one of these?
Pressing on: we drove the main road. We passed everything. The big tree, the windmills, the famous cactus ice cream shop (not necessary, they are everywhere.) We had lunch in a side-of-the-road shop, because honestly, Penghu is not crawling with restaurants. They are far and few between, and if you see one, eat there. Because you will be hungry, like we were. 

It was when we checked into our awesome old guesthouse room on the beach that we noticed: whoops. 4 hours and 2 applications of sunscreen wasn't enough. We were annihilated. We did damage to our skin that only 12 year olds can manage. Oh well. Aloe is cheaper than sunscreen, but that doesn't excuse our behavior. Kids, wear sunscreen, a hat, and an overcoat in the Penghu sun. You'll thank me for it. 

And being so sunburnt didn't make the beach as much fun as it could have been, although it was still incredible. I have been to the Caribbean, Thailand, Mexico and Hawaii and I have never seen ocean water this clear or clean. I have never seen a beach so moderately populated on a holiday weekend. In essence, it was beautiful. Some pre-teens asked me to take a photo with them. Even on Penghu, we're still novelties. 

The night was fabulous. It's been months since James and I have been able to watch a sunset, drink a bottle of wine, and do absolutely nothing. Penghu is good for this. If only we hadn't had to jump on the first flight out the next morning, on stand-by, we would have done it again...and again!
The Jist:

Go to Penghu. Just do it. It's less than $4000NT round trip. It's less than an hour from Taipei, and if you have to do it in 24 hours like we did, still do it!


Bring sunscreen and put it on every hour.
Bring mosquito repellent, mosquito coils, mosquito outdoor spray, and a mosquito net. There are billions of them, and they want you to remember your stay.
Drink water...and then drink wine or beer. It's a tropical island!

Bon voyage!

1 comment:

  1. CPK...

    Makes me wish I was on the beach. Another great tale and another corner of the globe under your belt. Keep up the exploring and the subsequent storytelling.

    I love you - dad