Thursday, July 28, 2016

5 Days in Penghu

penghu tourist map

A mere 45-minute flight from Taipei City's Songshan Airport and we were in Penghu, one of Taiwan's smaller islands, just off the West coast. We went from the bustling city ** insert dramatic deafening sounds of cars, scooters, people talking, honking horns here** to this quiet island **insert sounds of ocean waves breaking on the shore, people on vacation laughing and chatting happily everywhere, birds chirping, angels singing** in less than an hour. Exactly what we needed; an island getaway for some peace and quiet.

The Husband had been to Penghu a few times before, but it was my first visit to this island. All I asked for from this 5-day mini vacation was a break from the city, sand under my feet, sun on my skin and ocean water up my nostrils (okay, didn't really ask for that last one, but it happened non the less..)

Shanshui beach
Shanshui beach (miserable, isn't it?)

How we got there

There are quite a few flights out of Songshan Airport (TSA) in Taipei City to Penghu's Magong Airport (MZG) every day. We opted for an evening Mandarin Airlines flight, as we still don't really trust TransAsia after all their recent aviation disasters. The return flights were very affordable (about 4000TWD per person if I remember correctly.) You can book the tickets online, at the airport desk or at any 7/Eleven in Taiwan. There are also flights to Penghu from most of the other domestic airports in Taiwan.

I loved that it wasn't a mission to get there, because it didn't involve a lot of travel time (you only have to check in about 40 minutes before your flight) and the flight itself wasn't even a full 45 minutes. Technically, it can take less than 2 hours door to door if you live close to the airport in Taipei City. We had arranged with staff from the B&B in Penghu to pick us up at the airport (which they did for free). I read online that taxi fares from the airport to most areas in Magong, the main island of Penghu, is about 200 to 300TWD, and you can just catch a cab from the curb outside the arrivals hall.

The drive from the airport to our B&B at Shanshui beach (in the Southeast of Magong) was about 15 minutes. The driver even stopped at a 7/Eleven for us so we could buy a few drinks and snacks for the evening.

Shanshui
Beach bound

Where we stayed

The Husband and I both wanted this trip to include lots of lazy beach days and swimming, so we booked the first 3 nights at The Tile Dome B&B right by the big swimming beach, called Shanshui. The place was clean and spacious and a stone's throw from the beach (literally about a 20 meters' walk from our door). The stay also included breakfast every morning (which we could pick every evening for the next morning and they delivered it to our doorstep). I thought the place was quite pricey for what it was, but I noticed that that was about the standard for accommodation all over Penghu.

Tile Dome Hotel
Tile Dome B&B

Shanshui beach view
From the Tile Dome B&B overlooking Shanshui beach
After our 3 days by the beach, we took a taxi to our next accommodation. We decided to also spend some time closer to Magong City, so I booked the Oasis Hotel for the remaining 2 nights. (Unfortunately they had a mix up with the booking system so we could only stay there for 1 night, but they kindly booked a room for as at a really nice place nearby for the last night.) Oasis Hotel stood out to us because of the pool up on the rooftop, overlooking the ocean. The place itself was very new and modern and the rooms were lovely. The staff went above and beyond to make our stay there comfortable and they were very friendly. The only bad thing about the place is the location. It's isolated and definitely not in walking distance of the city. Oh, and the breakfast was average.

Oasis Hotel Penghu
The rooftop pool at Oasis Hotel

How we got around

It is absolutely essential to rent a car or a scooter while you are there. Even if you are planning on staying in one area, you will probably need to travel a little to get to a convenience store or a place to eat. For this, you will need a valid Taiwanese driver's license or an international driver's license. Apparently in the past it used to be easy to rent a scooter without a license, but they've become more strict in the past couple of years. The Husband and I didn't have valid licenses, but he still managed to rent a scooter from someone he knew from one of his previous visits to Penghu. It's easy to rent a scooter, just ask the staff where you are staying to organize it for you.

Penghu Great Bridge
Driving over the "Penghu Great Bridge"

To rent a scooter costs about 350TWD a day, and it's less than 100TWD to fill up the tank. If you rent one, make sure you get good helmets (they should give you two) and be very careful when driving. If you're not used to driving a scooter, just practice a little before taking on the bigger roads.

Taxis are available, but they don't just appear from around every corner like in Taipei. Whenever we needed a taxi, the staff from where we stayed called one and they showed up in under 10 minutes. 

What we ate

Penghu is famous for its seafood, but none of the food really blew our hair back. Not that there's something wrong with it, we just aren't big fans of oysters etc. It was hard finding food actually. We tried a few restaurants here and there, and had a few 7/Eleven meals, too. If you're really desperate, we did spot a McDonalds and a MOS Burger in Magong City. We did try some of their cactus ice cream though. It sounds weird, but it was actually really tasty.

cactus ice cream
Local cactus ice cream

What we did

Initially we just wanted to relax by the beach, but after doing that for 2 glorious days, we got a little antsy and did a scooter trip around the island. We stopped at all the famous sites along the way, took photos, and enjoyed the scenery. It took us about 4 hours to do the entire journey from Shanshui beach all around the island to the "Xiyu Lighthouse" and back. It can be done faster, for sure, but we took our time and stopped often to stretch our legs. 

On this scooter trip we stopped at the "Fenggui Blowholes", Aimen Beach, another nice swimming beach (I noticed they had a lot of watersport activities going on there). We also passed pastures with cows, picturesque harbors and lots of temples. 

cows

temple

Fenggui
Visitors admiring the "Fenggui Blowholes"

Aimen
Aimen Beach
As we headed north, we stopped by the "Zhongtun Windmill Power Park" and passed over the "Penghu Great Bridge" which is true to its name. Many people stopped there to take pics of the bridge that seems to go all the way to the end of the Earth. After that we stopped at a place called "Whale Cave". (Sorry, no whales here!), but there were some cool geology sites like "Xiaomenyu" to admire, and this seemed to be a place where people made a pitstop for lunch.

windmills
Zhongtun Windmill Power Park
Xiaomenyu
Xiaomenyu
Whale Cave
Walking to the "Whale Cave"

As we headed onwards, we stopped at the "Erkan Ancient Residences". Let's be honest, I had seen stunning pics of this place on Instagram so we "had to" stop there. We spent quite some time there taking photos and enjoying fresh pineapple juice. After that we headed for the "Xiyu Lighthouse", the earliest lighthouse recorded in Taiwan's history, and the last site on our trip. We only stayed there for about 10 minutes because by this time it was noon and the sun was beating down on us.

Erkan
Erkan Ancient Residences

Erkan
Erkan Ancient Residences

Yuwengdao Lighthouse
Xiyu (Yuwengdao) Lighthouse

As we made the turn to head back, we stopped in "Wai-An Harbor", with its quaint fishermen's village. We were tired, hot and sweaty as we finally made our way home. I think it took about an hour of non stop driving to get back to our B&B at Shanshui beach. 

Fishermen's Village
Wai-An Village
During our 2-day stay closer to Magong City, we enjoyed walking around the city visiting all the tourist sites. We went to see "Mazu Temple", "Zhongyang Old Street", the "Four-Eyed Well" and the "Military Housing Culture Area". 

Mazu Temple
Mazu Temple

Zhongyang Old Street
Zhongyang Old Street

Four-Eyed Well
Four-Eyed Well

Military Housing Culture Area
On our way to the "Military Housing Culture Area"

Military Housing Culture Area

Military Housing Culture Area
Military Housing Culture Area

Some extra info

I have to point out that almost no one speaks English in Penghu. Although most of the signs are in English and Chinese, we rarely encountered locals who could communicate with us in English. Luckily The Husband can speak Chinese, so we were fine. But I doubt that I would have been able to manage this trip on my own. So keep that in mind when you're thinking of going there. I wouldn't say it's impossible, but you might have to download some kind of translator app for the occasion. 

Sunset
A Penghu sunset

Locals in Penghu are laid back and extremely friendly and helpful. I assume they aren't used to having Westerners around frequently because they were curious about us, and they loved chatting with The Husband. We felt very welcome!

It was extremely hot while we were there, so make sure to lather on those SPFs (my legs definitely paid the price and looked like overcooked hot dogs after our scooter trip..). We really enjoyed the sunshine and clean air. The locals mentioned that it can get very windy and unpleasant over the cooler months, and that's why there are almost no tourists during the Winter. Even though we went during Summer, the high tourist season, the beaches were almost deserted during the day and the streets were never crowded. 

In general, we had such a lovely time there. It was the perfect little getaway from the city and I will go back in a heartbeat. There are still more smaller islands of Penghu that I want to go and explore. If you have any questions, or if I left anything out, please contact me and I'll be happy to help you plan your trip.

Shanshui beach
Full time beach bum

Happy travels!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Let's Catch Up!


I'm still here! Yes, I'm totally aware of the fact that I haven't blogged since March.. I'll just blame the usuals; work, life, my dog, laziness, Obama.. So there you go. But now Summer time is here, which means school's out and this teacher can have a life again. Now I really don't have any excuse to not sit down at the computer and have a little chat with my cyber homies.

So much has happened since March, and I think a good ol' catch up session is in order, don't you? I'll start with "The Move". Can I just take a second to complain about how much I HATE moving, please? I HATE IT!!! Okay, now it's out of my system. After living in our dream apartment for a little over two years, we unfortunately had to move because our landlord sold the place and the new owners wanted to live there. (I secretly hate them.. Just kidding... it's not a secret.)

Finding that perfect apartment, that you absolutely love, in Taipei is like finding a unicorn. But after searching for a few weeks, we did find one that we really liked. Not exactly "the unicorn", but more like one of those cute small horses with the long hair. We are basically in the same neighborhood, the place is nice and modern, and we are much closer to the subway. I'll take it.

In May, my dad came to visit us in Taiwan for three weeks. My mom couldn't join this time as someone had to take care of the fur children at home in South Africa. It was his first time in Taiwan, and Asia, and we had a fantastic time. It's been a while since I've seen my dad, and we got to catch up and spend a lot of quality time together. He loved Taipei and bravely navigated and explored the city by himself on most days (we still had to work). We also had a little road trip together to Taroko Gorge, one of the most beautiful parts of Taiwan, in my opinion. His visit here has probably been one of the highlights of my year so far.

Probably the biggest news is that I quit my job. You know that feeling when you just absolutely NEED a change? Well, after six years of teaching at the same school, I reached that point and decided to go for an interview at another job. It wasn't an easy decision, because I truly loved my job and everyone there. But I had to do it for myself. I'm happy to say that I got it, and start this new chapter at the end of August. I'm beyond excited for the new challenge and scenery. Also, my commute will now be 10 minutes, instead of 50 minutes. *high fives all around!*

I'm probably forgetting a bunch of things, but these are the "standouts" that just popped into my head. Oh, and before I forget, The Husband and I had a little island getaway a couple of weeks ago. We went to Penghu, a small island off the coast of Taiwan, for some R&R. I'm going to write a separate post all about that trip, because I've gotten so many questions about it and I think it's a good idea to share my tips and experiences. Don't worry, you don't have to wait another four months for it.. You can expect that post some time this week, I promise!

I hope you are all doing well and having a nice Summer? Or a somewhat bearable Winter if you're down under. Let's keep in touch, follow me on Instagram, where I post most often. Goodbye!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Week in Dubai

If you've been reading my blog for a while you're probably thinking, "Dubai, again? Really?" Yep, that's right! The Husband and I recently went to Dubai AGAIN, which marked my fifth visit there. I don't have some crazy obsession with the place, don't worry, it's just that two of my siblings happen to live there.. (and I definitely don't mind the fantastic shopping...). Also, it works well as a hub for my family to get together, as my parents live in South Africa, my oldest brother in the States and The Husband and I are all the way on the East side in Taiwan.

Over Chinese New Year break, we made our escape from the miserable weather in Taiwan and headed west for some sun, family time and relaxation in the desert. The weather, by the way, was fantastic! Over the past few years, I've visited Dubai during the summer, which I probably don't have to describe to you? Hello, this is the desert. This time, we could actually do activities outside without turning into human jerky. I highly recommend visiting the UAE in the winter months, your options of activities are much more vast than in the scorching summer months.

My mom also flew in from South Africa to spend the week with us. FOMO? (Just kidding, Mamma!). It was lovely having her there, too! Unfortunately my dad couldn't make it, as he had to work and was also in charge of taking care of the fur children at home.

Burj Khalifa Emirates
I was lucky to get this shot of an Emirates airplane flying over the Burj Khalifa.

We weren't even in Dubai for 12 hours before the mother ship called me home; The Dubai Mall. One of the largest shopping malls in the world, and one of my favorites for a proper shopping spree. And it's not just the shopping; The Dubai Mall is right next to the Burj Khalifa and The Fountains, so that means lots of Instagram opportunities and incredible scenes to admire. We also stumbled onto the Wanderland Exhibition by Hermès, which was incredible as we got to see 30000 items, including pieces from the Emile Hermès private museum.

umbrellas ceiling
A sky of umbrellas decorated the ceiling at The Dubai Mall

I loved all the quality time I got to spend with my family. We don't get to see each other that often, so when we do, we make it count. We were basically laughing, eating and drinking 24/7. I truly treasure my time with these silly folk I call my family.

Cheesecake Factory drinks
Having lunch, and good times, with the family
This time around, I was set on going out into the desert. I haven't been yet, because in the summer months it's just too damn hot. So I was delighted when my sister's friend offered to take us on a desert safari in his Hummer. We went dune bashing in the desert outside Abu Dhabi right before sunset, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating! Although people often spot wild camels in the desert, we weren't so lucky. We did see a few in a gated area, but I couldn't pet them. Entire vacation ruined! 

After driving over dunes and holding on for dear life, we stopped and had a champagne picnic, overlooking the sunset on the horizon. It was magical, and I highly recommend doing this when you're in the UAE.

Desert Safari Abu Dhabi
In the desert outside Abu Dhabi

dune bashing abu dhabi
Desert for days

It was my first time visiting Abu Dhabi (about an hour's drive from Dubai) and I just HAD TO go see the world famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I didn't know how "grand" it was until I got to see it with my own eyes. It's mandatory for all females to wear an abaya to cover your shoulders, legs and head. (By the way, entrance to the mosque is free, as so is the abaya rental.)

The mosque took my breath away! The bright white walls, the detailed tiles and gold trimmings, contrasted with the bright blue sky, was magical. I probably took a thousand photos, and really, the photos can't do it any justice. We spent hours there, admiring the details and grandeur of the structure. We even got to go inside! The interiors reminded me so much of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, although luckily the carpet didn't smell like the one in the Blue Mosque did... By the way, the carpet in the main prayer hall is insane; it's the biggest hand-knotted carpet in the world and measures 5627m2 (60570 square feet). It is absolutely beautiful! 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque exterior

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque columns
Beautiful decor and details of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The majestic interior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Another place I got to visit this time around was the Dubai Marina. I've heard my siblings mention it many times, and thought that it was just a residential area. I was surprised when we got there to see that it was actually a very impressive area with a beautiful beach, lots of 5 stars hotels, restaurants and a walkway. We walked along the beach and soaked up some sunshine. We explored more of the area and had delicious seafood there.

The Dubai Marina

Dubai beach
Soaking up the sun in Dubai

The day before we flew back to Taiwan, we went to The Westin for their famous Friday Bubbalicious brunch. Now, this is not your regular run-of-the-mill Eggs Benedict and mimosas brunch. This is an EVENT that locals and tourist can't get enough of! It's on the pricey side, but the hotel offers a spread that you can't even imagine, and the alcohol is included in the price, too. (I couldn't help but think of all of my friends whom would have LOVED this experience!)

The hotel opens all of its restaurants, and guests can sit outside under the palm trees in the sun. Each table has a server who makes sure your champagne glass is filled to the brim at all times. The buffet selections were overwhelming, to say the least. Delicious Chinese, Thai and Indian dishes, a sushi bar, an outrageous seafood spread, cheese, cheese and more cheese, Mexican and Mediterranean food, chocolate fountains and and and... We literally ate and drank for 4 hours straight. Needless to say, we were all five kilograms heavier and not sober when we rolled out of there in the late afternoon. Another awesome experience that I'd love to do again!

sushi dubai
Sushi madness

seafood buffet
Fresh seafood

Although we only spent a week there, we did so much that I felt we were there for a month. I don't think I'll ever get sick of visiting the fam in Dubai, we have a blast every time. And there's still things that I'd love to do... Next time, I want to go for afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab, and I'm still obsessed with the idea of taking a hot air balloon ride over the desert. Also, I still haven't been to all of the souks. And last, but not least, I want to pet a camel, dammit. So badly!

Dubai winter
Winter in Dubai

You can read the ramblings of my previous trip to Dubai here.

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