VIDEO: Penghu – Taiwan’s Mystic Outer Islands

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Guam – There’s a budding tourist destination in Taiwan and its virtually untapped market is ripe for development as we recently learned during a trip there.

It’s an outer island group called Penghu and it’s a treasure trove of immaculate fishing grounds, uncongested beaches, and uninhabited islands that vanish with the tide.

Now that foreigners are catching on to this mystic spot, its people are challenged with preserving their relaxed lifestyle while sharing their home with the rest of the world.

Life is quite simple in Penghu. For tourists visiting this quiet pacific island chain, Penghu evokes a nostalgic experience. It is primarily a fishing town where all sorts of delicacies can be found. And because there aren’t any large factories operating in Penghu, its waters are impeccably clean producing only the best quality fish. Thrust in the Pacific’s typhoon alley, Penghu is susceptible to powerful typhoons and is one of the windiest places in the region. But its people have learned to adapt to nature’s rough side. 

Some villages still practice centuries-old traditions of using limestone to build a fortress that protects their garden from the wind. For example in this fishing village made up of 90 homes, every house has its own vegetable garden protected by limestone. Penghu has many other cleverly unique traditions adding to its charm. One that it’s known for is its man made heart shaped rocks in surrounding waters. From the sky, they seem like a mere tourist attraction, but they actually have a purpose vital to their economy. When the tide comes in, fish and sea creatures are forced into the lagoon, and when the tide leaves, with only a small entrance, many are left behind.

The islands are truly a natural beauty with a mix of volcanic rock islands and even islands formed by dozens of typhoons that have passed through the decades. And while its people have always treasured their home, it wasn’t until recently that foreigners realized the potential this island chain had in expanding its tourism market. In 2010 and in subsequent years, leading travel guide magazine the lonely planet published an article naming Penghu as one of the most mystic places in the world. Speaking through an interpreter, Magistrate Chien Fa-Wang, explains.

“The western visitors, nowadays around two to three thousand annually, but actually it’s been increasing because actually two to three years ago,  there were very few of the western visitors coming to Penghu until the Lonely Planet, published one article in 2010 and the Lonely Planet mentioned the 10 most mystic islands in the world and Penghu county ranked seven on the list,” says Wang.

Because of this expected growth, there is a sense of urgency in redeveloping the islands to accommodate more tourists, such as building more beach resorts or casinos, and even a port that could hold cruise liners or ships. But Magistrate Wang emphasizes that while this could help Penghu’s economy and attract more Penghu natives to return from Taiwan, the people want to continue to preserve their environment and traditions.

“Actually the central government and Penghu county has started to plan to expand the port of Penghu so that the cruise in the future they can park here and have their visitors then in Penghu to tour around the island,” Wang notes.

“[We] would like to keep [out] tradition instead of being too commercial, we’d like to keep the original lifestyle of Penghu in tact so that those who visit this place can know the daily life of Penghu county. We’d like to promote tourism without damaging the environment so we focus on environmental protection and the ocean protection and also sustainable development of tourism,” he adds.

In a sense this expansion project is similar to Guam’s military buildup, expect in Penghu, it’s a tourism buildup. There has been some resistance in opening up their cherished home and lifestyle to westerners, but the local government has made it clear that they intent to keep their environment and culture in tact.