As far as beginnings to vacations go, our first day on Penghu will forever be hard to beat. Lounging around on isolated beaches, floating in the warm, clear surf, and exploring a tiny island in the Straits of Taiwan on our own scooters were experiences so memorable that if our trip would have ended there, we still would have felt fulfilled. So waking up tired and sunburned (sunfried? sunbaked? sundestroyed?), we all decided to head to a beach, set up shop, and let the day take care of itself.
Looking at the map the night before, we had spotted two possible options on the southern part of Penghu’s main island, Shanshui Beach and Shilin Beach. Both beaches seemed promising. In all the descriptions we read, both beaches seemed quiet, clean, and generally shunned by locals during the summer heat. We settled on Shanshui because it boasted a few surfing clubs and we thought that we might take a lesson while we had the chance. The promise of a few restaurants and umbrella rentals sealed the deal.
Feeling confident from our successful navigation of the bus system on day one, we opted to do the same on day two. Once again, the people at the bus station were extremely helpful and patient with us and made sure we got on the right bus. The ride to the beach took about thirty minutes and we counted all the 7-11s we passed in order to track our progress on the map, which inexplicably noted the location of every convenience store on the island. The signposts along the way are written in both Mandarin and English, so we were able to hop off the bus at the right stop with minimal problems.
The surf club situated just across the beach was a positive sign, but as we walked past another unaccountably giant temple and down the two short blocks to the beach, we noted a conspicuous absence of people and open businesses. I’m not sure if we there too early in the day or too late in the season, but there was almost nothing as far as food options and amenities go. We scoped out the beach and, remembering our still developing sunburns from the day before, decided to search for an umbrella. This proved to be a difficult task due to the complete lack of operating businesses. We took a walk eastwards down the road that runs parallel to the beach and stopped in a fancy looking hotel. A guest who spoke a little English translated for us and advised us to head back the way we came to a small bed and breakfast by the beachhead. On our walk back the opposite direction we managed to find the Mahalo Surf Club, a business owned and operated by an Australian who came to the islands and never left. They had individual umbrellas, but nothing for the three of us. We were once again pointed back down the street towards a white building with no signs. We walked onto the building’s porch and were flummoxed by the multiple doors and lack of directions. Morgan ended up just sliding open a random door which alerted a little old lady to our presence. She rented us the sole umbrella that was stored in the alley behind her house and we finally went to set up shop on the beach.
Unlike the beaches of the previous day on Jibei, Shanshui is a coral-free coastline composed of fine sand. It has an unused feel to it thanks to some unkempt, creeping wildflowers that are slowly working themselves closer and closer to the shore. When we arrived at noon, there were about five other people along the entire, kilometer long beach. We chose a spot far enough away from the other people to seem isolated, but close enough to the exit to make hassle free food and beer runs. Setting up the umbrella, laying down our hotel towels, and opening our books took all of two minutes and we settled in for the next four hours.
We read and swam in turns for the first few hours, relaxing and doing our best to stay out of the sun’s brutal and unforgiving rays. After awhile, however, we got restless and hungry. An initial food search yielded only beer, so we happily lubricated our increasing hunger with a few tall boys. After killing the beers, we spent some time in the growing waves, doing our best to body surf. Casey and Morgan were so enthusiastic about the surf that they decided to go and rent some boogie boards from Mahalo. Boogie boards cost 250NT ($8) for the day, and surfboards cost 500NT ($17). They ended up coming back with not only the boards, but also some giant tuna sandwiches that the very helpful, English-speaking woman at the surf shop put together for us (The tuna sandwiches cost us 120 NT. Mahalo also offers chicken sandwiches and pizza for around the same prices.) Four slices of toasted white bread, one fried egg, two layers of tuna, mustard, and lettuce later, Casey and Morgan picked up their boogie boards and jumped in the water. I focused on finishing my book until the famous Penghu wind picked up enough to make the umbrella unusable and slightly dangerous.
After battening down the goods, I again exposed my bright red shoulders to the sun and joined the fun in the waves. We all traded the boogie boards back and forth, had contests to see who could boogie the farthest, and generally scraped up our knees on the seabed over the course of an hour or so. While we were having our fun in the sun, random groups of entirely Asian tourists would briefly walk onto the beach, snap our pictures, and then leave once again. Throughout our entire afternoon on Shanshui, the number of sun-worshippers never exceeded fifteen. The complete absence of a crowd on this beautiful beach was, and still is, a bit perplexing. But we didn’t complain.
Around four, we all came to an unspoken agreement to head back to the city. After discovering our wait for the bus would be a long one, we opted for a taxi back to Makong. The woman at Mahalo once again came to our aid and called a cab. The ride back to our hotel cost us only 200 NT ($7). We showered, cleaned up, and all passed out for a short afternoon nap because relaxing on the beach in the summer sun is damn hard work, as everyone knows.
We decided to have a quiet night as our experience of the bar scene on Makong the night before was both underwhelming and wallet deflating. Having eaten nothing but seafood for the previous 48 hours, we opted to check out Mos Burger, the local Taiwanese fast food option. We all tried different items and agreed that the food was decent, especially the deep friend salmon sticks. It was certainly our least memorable meal of the trip, but at least it was still a little unique. Bellies full, we headed back to the hotel and the girls watched me try to record a bizarre ginseng commercial that featured the silhouette of my beloved Wisconsin. We sat through a lot of TLC programming and I never did get the footage. Winding down the day, we made plans for Taipei and got ready for our flight in the morning.
Getting to Shanshui Beach:
A taxi ride should cost you no more than 200 NT. If you want to opt for the bus, the main bus terminal is located at the intersection of Minzú Rd. and Minsheng Rd. in Makong. The ride will cost you 29 NT and take around 20 minutes. Bring a map with you to the terminal so you can show the very helpful staff where you want to go, assuming you can’t speak Mandarin. Also, ask your hotel staff, or anyone else, for bus times. Departures are not frequent, with buses running every half hour to an hour, and sometimes less.