Jebei Island: Penghu, Taiwan

Remember when you were a kid, playing in your grandparent’s study?  You would find that old globe, spin it at hard as you could, then close your eyes and point at random, promising that you would go to whatever faraway land your finger found.  This is, in some sense, what took us to Jebei Island during our stay on Penghu.  Picking a random name on a map led us to one of our greatest adventures while in Taiwan (as well as one of our greatest sunburns).

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After we arrived in Makong City and settled into our hotel, we attempted to plan our next day on the islands.  Knowing very little about the area, as there are limited resources about the region online, we simply pulled out our map and picked somewhere the seemed exotic.  Our criteria were simple: island and beach.  We quickly decided on Jebei Island, which is situated north of the main island, before heading out on our first night out on the town.

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The first stop was dinner, which included some delicious local clam and oyster dishes.  The clams were cooked in a brown broth and seasoned with a local variety of basil, which tasted like a basil/mint hybrid.  The oysters were served with a mix of wasabi and ginger.  Each dish was so fresh they seemed to melt in our mouths, and although the ingredients were simple, the flavors were extremely complex and danced on our palates.  After dinner, we set out in an attempt to find a bar.  Be warned, unless you are looking to be entertained by a hostess and pay ridiculous amounts of money for cocktails, skip the Makong nightlife.  There are several bars around the city center, but they were definitely not our style.  The best option for drinking, we found, was at a restaurant where you can eat slow and drink fast.

Oysters with ginger and wasabi

Oysters with ginger and wasabi

Fish ball and seaweed soup

Fish ball and seaweed soup

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The next morning we set out to find our island.  With some help from our front desk ladies, we decided to take a bus to the ferry terminal north of Makong.  The employees at the bus station were extremely helpful and made sure we got on the correct bus.  Just make sure you bring a map so you can point to the place you want to go.  The bus took us to the North Sea Visitors Center bus stop, and after a short walk, we arrived at the surprisingly busy ferry terminal.  Not knowing what to do, we walked up to one of the tourist desks.  Although the woman working at the desk spoke little English, she waved over an English speaker who was at the information counter (which are, thankfully, all over the place in Taiwan).  She presented us with the option of just the ferry, or a ferry and scooter combo.  Feeling adventurous, we decided to take the scooters for the day, which, with the ferry, cost us all of 500NT ($17) each.  The ferry was a pretty nice boat, and it got us to the island in about 20 minutes.  The crystal blue water spraying our faces and the secluded islands of sand along the way really gave the impression that we were off on an adventure.

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Makong Bus Terminal

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Walking to the North Sea Visitor Center

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Our ferry to Jebei

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After arriving on the island, we found our scooters.  The man who rented us the scooters asked no questions, gave a very brief demonstration on how to start the engine, and simply told us “Go!”  He even made fun of me for wanting to wear a helmet, but safety first for me (not so much for Morgan and Don).  If you’ve never ridden a scooter, do it!  You get a sense of power and freedom as the wind whips through your hair and you lean into your first curve.  It didn’t take long for us to get a feel for it and whip around the island.

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As far as things to do on the island, your options are somewhat limited, but the quality of the activities is fantastic.  Jebei Shawei, which is referred to as the “sand spit” in English, is a peninsula of sand stretching out into the blue waters of the Taiwan Strait.  When we were there, the beach was essentially deserted.  The further down the stretch of coral and sand we went, the fewer people we saw.  The end of the peninsula was like the end of the world.  With no view of civilization or people, we lounged in the water and watched the wind whip the sand around the beach.  While secluded, the end of the spit wasn’t the best place for swimming, as the water had quite a lot of seaweed and every time some touched my leg I was convinced a shark was coming to get me.

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Despite the creepy seaweed at the tip of the peninsula, the beach, which is composed of an odd mixture of small pieces of broken coral and sand, was amazing.  The water was, in every sense of the word, perfect.  It was cool, refreshing, clean, and unspoiled by trash and tourists.  Perhaps the one downside was the complete, and I mean complete, lack of shade, so make sure to bring a lot of very strong sunscreen.  Down by the “crowded” section of the beach, where the trees ended and the sand emerged, the few tourists on the island that day enjoyed themselves on banana boats and by parasailing.  While these pursuits are fine and dandy, we chose to spend our time playing coral catch and having awkward photo shoots.

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Another great thing to do is to simply see the island.  We scooted around the island three or four times throughout the day, and it never got old. The island is very small, so a trip around the island took only 30-40 minutes, depending on how often we stopped for pictures.  There are only a few roads (and by roads, I mean paved paths) on the island, so it was almost impossible to get lost.  My personal favorite was the costal road, which allowed us to see the different landscapes.  From the rocky volcanic coastlines to the sweeping plains, the island offered some breathtaking views.  Taking our time, we stopped often to visit temples or to hunt for sea creatures.

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As far as food options, there aren’t many.  The “downtown” area consists of maybe two seafood restaurants and one dessert shop.  Because the island sees so few Western tourists, the people working at the restaurant didn’t speak any English and the menus were written entirely in Chinese. Luckily the kindness of the Taiwanese people became apparent once again.  Instead of rolling her eyes at our inability to communicate, she began surveying other tables for English speakers.  A nice young Taiwanese man came to our rescue and ordered us his personal favorites, which included fresh oysters with ginger and wasabi, clams with basil, fresh baby squid, and a strange sea snail that we washed down with a Taiwan Beer. He also made sure to tell us to drink plenty of Taiwan Beer during our stay in Taiwan, which we did!

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The last ferry to the main island was at 5 P.M.  Sun-weary and sun burnt, we enjoyed the 20 minute ferry back to the North Sea Visitors Center.  We had to rush to catch the bus back to Makong, and were, once again, rescued with some help from a local.  We were standing at the wrong bus stop when an older man waved us over and walked us to the correct stop just as the bus was pulling up.  The bus stop back to Makong is on the street perpendicular to the7-11, for future reference.  Overall, our visit to Jebei was the high point of our time in Taiwan.  We left wondering why in the world more people don’t make it a must-see destination.  Morgan and Don agreed that while the beaches of Thailand and the Philippines attract larger numbers of tourists, the beaches of Jebei were far superior.

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Getting there:

The ferry leaves from the North Sea Visitors Center, which is on the north coast of the main island.  From Makong, we took a bus to the North Sea Visitor Center, which took 20-30 minutes.  Ask the bus driver to alert you when you are at the right stop, as the bus stop is a short (5 minute) walk from the bus stop.  Follow the signs to the North Sea Visitor Center.  A taxi should cost 200-300NT.  The ferry leaves every 30 minutes, with the last ferry back to the main island at 5pm.

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