Unknown to many visitors, Taiwan consists of more than the sweet potato shaped main island. The little-known, under-promoted outlying islands are so peaceful and quiet that you can have a whole beach to yourself without paying a penny, ride a bike around an entire island with nearly no cars passing by, and get to know the laid-back locals in the quaint fishing villages.
The food is
often better than what you might find in Taipei, because the seafood is freshly
caught, the vegetables are locally grown and the chicken is free to roam.
Unlike the capital, no one locks their cars and passersby greet each other. The
old architecture alone is a photographer’s dream: grand 17th-century,
southern Chinese-style courtyard houses you otherwise do not find in China, and
elaborate village temples with impressive pointy eaves are all still lived in
or in use. The islands are also great for scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing,
swimming and bird watching.
archipelago consists of 90 small islands, but the key attractions are easily
reachable. The Twin Hearts Stone Weir, a stone maze shaped like two hearts, is a
smart and environmentally friendly way of catching fish that swim in during
high tide and are trapped when the tide recedes. The Basalt Cliffs, the best
example of Penghu’s beautiful rock formations, are imposing columns of basalt
rock that stick straight out of the ocean. Scuba divers have acres of coral
reef and tropical fish to explore. And save time for slow walks in the villages
to admire Penghu’s unique coral stone houses. These 400–year-old houses were
built by settlers from southern China’s Fujian province. With few trees on the
windswept archipelago and little money to buy wood, the early inhabitants
painstakingly collected dead coral stones from the ocean, dried them and
stacked them into beautiful homes. Some have been renovated, others remain
A few years
ago, Penghu residents rejected a proposal to build casinos on the island in favour
of keeping it peaceful and promoting eco-tourism instead. Being here feels a
little like being in a Taiwanese version of Anne of Green Gables, with a great aquarium.
Located in the northeast corner of the Taiwan Strait and closer to China than
mainland Taiwan, you can see China’s Fujian Province from Matsu. The island is
an interesting mix of culture, history and scenery, best known for its
Mediterranean-like stone houses that are built on its hillsides in villages
such as Qinbi (aka Chinbe). Tourists can stay in some of them, like at the Chinbe Hotel.
zigzagging through Matsu take hikers through small farms and quiet villages,
and offer panoramic views of mountains and sea. The War
and Peace Memorial Park’s museum, wartime tunnels and forts are a treasure
for history buffs. Battles between China’s Communists and Nationalists were
fought on Matsu even after the Nationalists’ troops fled to Taiwan when they
lost the civil war in mainland China in 1949. The museum tells stark tales,
like how Taiwanese soldiers were massacred in the middle of the night by swimming
Chinese troops, and how the Matsu residents’ bravely defended their island.
Memorabilia includes personal and false messages that were stuffed in artillery
shells fired by China to lure the Nationalists back to the mainland.
for sitting at the outdoor hillside cafés in Qinbi to admire the sunset and enjoy
today’s relative peace.
off the southwestern coast of Taiwan, is the only offshore island of the
outlying islands that is composed of coral. It is also one of the smallest and
most relaxing of the group. Activities include biking around the island, leisurely
enjoying a sea-view lunch and checking out the interesting rock formations that
dot the coastline. One of the most popular is Vase Rock. Donggang, a port town
where you can catch a ferry to Xiaoliuqiu, holds Taiwan’s largest festival each
April to honour Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea. The goddess – once, worshipped
mainly by fishing families, is now the most popular deity in Taiwan. The colourful
and highly elaborate festival, which thrives here and is only beginning to be
revived in China, attract tens of thousands of Mazu adherents from Taiwan and
other parts of Southeast Asia.
these islands are just a short, one-hour flight from Taipei’s in-town airport Songshan or a short boat
ride from the nearest coastal town. Plane tickets can be purchased at the
airport, but it is best to check the flight schedules and book tickets in
advance with agencies such as ezTravel (886-2-4066-6777,
ext 9 and then 3 for domestic tickets). Once you are there, you can get around
on foot, bike, motorbike or a hired taxi. Many bed and breakfast owners pick
you up at the airport or port and some gladly give you a lift whenever it is convenient
during your stay. For more information, including accommodations, check out Offshore Islands on the Taiwan Tourism
Bureau’s English website.