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In Penghu Waters

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
By Tricia Chen, The China Post


Being an island enveloped in large bodies of water, Taiwan naturally comes with a culture that features aspects related to the sea, such as ocean life, beach culture or even bridge building.

A 50-minute flight from Taipei brings you to the Baisha Township, situated on the northern part of the main, most populated Penghu Island called Makong. The town is home to the aquatic-heavy side of Taiwanese culture.

The name of the township, Baisha, means “white sand” in Chinese and derives from the white beaches running several kilometers along that part of the island's north and east coast.

Offshore from Baisha Township is Little Baisha Island, where extensive coral reefs can be found. It's famous as a paradise for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling.

Even though many people mainly visit the area for its beautiful, soft white sand and bright sunny weather (the tourist season tends to be between April and August), Penghu possesses much more to entice visitors any time of the year.

The first must-visit site in town, the Penghu Aquarium, proves the point.

A Peek At Of Penghu's Aquatic Life

Set up by the Fisheries Research Institute, Penghu Aquarium was opened to the public in 1997, occupying an area of 2.5 hectares. The area of the neat two-story building adds up to approximately 4,600 square meters, and can admit up to 500 people.

The aquarium is divided up into three exhibition zones, each with a theme in the order of seashore, coral reefs, and the ocean – leading visitors from the shallow to the deep.

All aquatic creatures in the aquarium originated from the waters in an 800-kilometer radius from Baisha town, which includes the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, reflecting the varied marine world of the Penghu region.

Not far past the entrance of the aquarium brings visitors to the Reef Tank, where three green sea turtles swim and swirl in circles, not far removed from the old sea turtles that appeared on screen in Pixar's “Finding Nemo.” I never got tired of watching them.

Note: Feeding is strictly prohibited (even if you sincerely believe they're asking for food).

Several cases display different live corals up close, fascinating visitors with the wide range of life in the waters surrounding Penghu Islands.

My favorite part of the delightful aquarium is the transparent semicircular underwater tunnel that has a 2.8-meter diameter and is 14 meters long. Built under the big Ocean Tank, the tunnel provides visitors with a 180-degree view. It puts forwards a convincing impression of floating through water alongside the underwater creatures – I jumped when a guitarfish swam by.

Other local animals living in the Ocean Tank include salt-water fish and some shark species. Feeding shows take place in the big fish tank and are available for public viewing twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Note: Feeding session times are subject to change, depending on the season and water temperature.

Once through the glass tunnel, visitors arrive at a corner of the aquarium with long benches facing the other side of the Ocean Tank. It's perhaps the most calming spot of the building where you can sit back and embrace the underwater beauty.

Rare ocean creatures and a discussion of marine issues, such as frequent sea fishing and ocean ecology, are displayed on the second floor. A touch pool, designed for children, allows visitors to feel some sea creatures, such as the cute starfish.

The open space outside the building is creatively designed with beautiful gardens and gigantic eye-catching statues of various sea animals, including a huge shark's jaw and amiable-looking dolphins. A kid's playground lightens up the atmosphere while a few big sculptures of lobsters and crabs animate the parking lot.

Even though the aquarium is not the biggest in the country, the assortment of marine life there makes up for its small size.

The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is NT$200 for adults, NT$150 for students, and free for children under 110 centimeters tall.

After seeing what's underwater, let's go take a look at what's on top.

A Never-Ending Bridge?

Over the water, connecting the islands of Baisha and Siyu is Penghu's Cross-Sea Bridge, also known as the Trans-Oceanic Bridge. Locals have often referred to it as “the Great Bridge” as well, for its magnificent combination of form and function.

Not only does the bridge make one of the prettiest Penghu Islands accessible, the 2.5-kilometers long span is also, impressively, one of the longest trans-ocean bridges in East Asia.

The bridge crosses Houmen Channel, which the locals consider dangerous due to its depth and rapid tides; many ships were wrecked here before the bridge was built.

At the entrance of the bridge sits a graceful arch that has long held symbolic meaning. Whilst traveling on the bridge, I was overwhelmed by the amazing ocean view on both sides.

Locals said the most romantic sunset views are often being captured here; the view of a golden yellow sky merging with a dark blue sea is astonishing.

In the evenings, when the caution lights on the bridge twinkle, you see from a distance a sea of shining stars.

Note: It gets very windy here at night (even in summer), so make sure you bring a light jacket!

The next stop is back on Penghu land in an old village of Baisha Township.

Not A Forest, But A Tree

Tongliang Village, situated south of town, is a 5-minute drive from the Great Bridge. The village is popular destination because of Bao An Temple, but even more so because of the 300-plus-year-old Great Banyan located in front of the temple.

The Great Banyan's 90 some aerial roots have, over time, penetrated the ground and grown into many trunks, covering approximately 660 square meters of the area – visitors often mistaken the place as a miniature forest with dozens of trees. Standing in the garden, I felt like I was under a massive green umbrella, keeping me in the shade and away from the strong wind.

This giant tree is the largest and oldest in Penghu County. Locals apparently began to respect the temple a lot more because they believed the gods made the Banyan strong, healthy, and long lasting. The magnificent tree adds value to Penghu County, making it another good reason to visit the dynamic Baisha Township.

How to get there:

By air- Flights are available from all Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Chiayi and Kaohsiung. A return ticket for the 50-minute journey is approximately NT$3,200 per person from Taipei.

By sea- Four-hour ship rides are available from Chiayi and Kaohsiung. A return journey costs about NT$1,500 from Kaohsiung.

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