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September 22, 2017

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Penghu: Taiwan's own island retreat

We had traveled by five different modes of transportation—plane, car, boat, bus, and truck—to end up where we were now. As soon as we eagerly pressed our noses to the window of whatever vehicle we were in, certain that we had finally reached our destination, our tour guide would usher us onto the next truck/boat/etc., leaving us wondering if we were going to spend this entire trip switching from one vehicle to another. But, finally, we got there.

The wind blew strongly, whipping our hair into a frenzy, and the skies were cloudy and threatened vaguely of rain. Nevertheless, when the call of, "Who's next?" came, we were rearing to go. We jumped aboard our final moving vehicle—a banana boat—and held on tightly as we roared out to sea.

Moments later, our driver glanced behind him, and with one sharp turn flipped the boat, dumping us into the surprisingly warm, turquoise waters.

We were on Jibei(吉貝) Island, just one of the many small islands that make up Penghu (澎湖) County, located off the western coast of Taiwan.

After living in Taipei for about 8 months, we hadn't traveled much farther than Danshui (淡水). Taipei was starting to feel claustrophobic, and we had heard that Penghu, with its sleepy seaside towns, stunning views and slower pace, would be a perfect way to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Accessible from northern Taiwan only by plane (about 45 minutes from Taipei), Penghu is made up of 64 islands. Out of those 64, only 20 are habitable. Makung Island is the largest and most populated, though don't expect anything much in the way of a nightlife (though it does still have the ubiquitous McDonald's and Starbucks, along with a few karaoke joints).

What you will find are lots of tiny mom-and-pop type restaurants specializing in all manner of seafood. We enjoyed many a meal with fresh (as in just plucked from one of the several tanks outside the door) fish, clams, and scallops—just to name a few.

When you eat the seafood, you can actually taste the ocean—the salty brine, sometimes even the gritty sand. According to a local tour guide, the ocean water around Penghu is saltier, making the sea life more flavorful.

Shortly after arriving in Penghu, we took the aforementioned different modes of transportation to Jibei Island. Though it was a bit of a hassle to get there, the trip was definitely worth it. Best known for its golden beach that stretches on for several kilometers in an arch shape out to sea, Jibei has been likened to a Hawaiian tropical resort.

There are also many water activities available—we chose to ride the banana boat and rafts attached to wave runners that speed out a few kilometers out to sea in a giant, thrilling loop.

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