Astute readers of my regular weekend column may have noted that there was no column last weekend, and this was because I was off for three days enjoying myself on Xiao Liuqiu island. MyTaiwanTour published a previous article on this barely discovered gem here a few months back, but this was the first time I’d gotten to experience the place firsthand.
Readers, brace yourselves, because you’re going to be hearing more about Xiao Liuqiu in the months to come. Because if Taiwan is Asia’s best kept travel secret, then Xiao Liuqiu is definitely Taiwan’s best kept travel secret. And if nearly two decades in travel writing has taught me anything it’s this: “best kept travel secrets” don’t stay secrets long.
讀者們，準備好你們自己，因為在接下來的幾個月你們會聽到更多小琉球的消息。 因為如果台灣是亞洲最好的旅遊秘密，那麼小琉球絕對是台灣保存最好的旅遊秘密。 而且，如果我從將近二十年的旅行寫作衹有學到一件事情，那就是：“保存最好的旅行秘密”不會是長久的保密。
So before the cat gets too far out of the bag, let me create some hype of my own by telling you why I’ve fallen in love with this island off the coast of Pingtung County, why I’m planning to spend a lot more time there in 2018, and you should too.
Xiao Liuqiu is wicked easy to get to
Compared to any of the other outer islands (including my one-time stomping ground, Penghu), Xiao Liuqiu is a breeze to reach. 45 minutes by car from the Zuoying HSR station to Donggang Harbor (which, by the way, boasts one of Taiwan’s greatest seafood markets, where a sashimi feast can be had for a fraction of what you’d pay nearly anywhere else), and the ferry out to the island takes about as long as a trip on the Staten Island ferry. Bonus points for the boat being calm enough to make a pre-journey trip to the seafood market not a regrettable decision.
與其他外島（包括我的一次性的樂園，澎湖）相比，小琉球是一件輕而易舉的事情。 從左營高鐵站乘車45分鐘到東港（順便提一下，東港是台灣最大的海鮮市場之一，其中的生魚片是其他地方的半價以下） 渡輪到島上需要大約只要一個史坦頓島渡輪之旅。 船上的積分足夠冷靜，所以先前往海鮮市場吃東西不會是一個令人遺憾的決定。
Proof that great travel experiences come in small packages
The island is small enough to be manageable on an electric scooter, which is a good thing as Taiwan’s wild west days in which rental shops rented 150cc motorcycles to anyone with money and a smile are long gone. These days you’ll need an international driver’s license with the proper motorcycle endorsement to get one of those, but electric scooters are still classified as low powered enough to require only the aforementioned cash and a smile. Electric scooters are pretty low powered (maximum speed of about 30KPH, which fits in with Xiao Liuqiu’s take it easy vibe), and you can get around the island about three times before swapping out the battery for a new one.
這個小島足夠小，可以在電動機車上去所有地方，這是一件好事，因爲台灣狂野的西部時代 （出租店有錢人和微笑的人就可以租一臺150cc摩托車）早已不存在了。 現在你需要一個國際駕照和適當的摩托車證明才能騎，但是電動機車仍然被分類為低功率，足以僅需要上述現金和微笑。 電動機車功率相當低（最大速度約30KPH，適合小琉球的輕鬆氛圍），可以在島上繞行三次左右，才需要換新電池。
We got ours from the Lu Nung (Green Power) agency, who were nice enough to pick us up right off the boat and give Stephanie a private lesson on scooter riding and betel nut. Stephanie said the lesson was helpful and the betel nut interesting.
Though it’s been compared to Okinawa, three days exploring the island left me thinking that Xiao Liuqiu is more a bite-sized microcosm of Taiwan itself, offering a variety of Taiwanese cultural experiences and natural splendors in an easy to navigate environment. We spent most of the first day riding around the island on our electric scooters, stopping for a late lunch of fried rice and seafood soup in the main town just by Baisha Harbor before exploring the town itself, a few long streets with a mixture of restaurants and still-closed bars, snack shops and retail stores. Exploring the lanes and alleys around the main street led us to a treasure trove of older traditional homes with stone walls being consumed by Banyan trees and a few small temples (a mere harbinger of things to come). We walked along the colorful waterfront and stopped into the lovely Coral Cafe for an afternoon cappuccino surrounded by gorgeous art while listening to cool jazz on genuine vinyl albums that any Portland hipster would approve of before heading back to the SunnyBay BnB to watch the sunset from our porch.
So yeah, great coffee, cool vibes & a relaxed atmosphere. What more could one ask from a tropical island?
Swimming with Sea Turtles
Yes, that seems like a worthwhile other thing to to ask for, and we spent a good chunk of our second day on the island doing just that in a secluded bay on the Xiao Liuqiu eastern coast. I’d heard about the diving in Xiao Liuqiu for years, but only recently had I learned that the island was a protected turtle sanctuary, and as such the coral reefs surrounding Xiao Liuqiu are quite literally swimming with enormous sea turtles.
Our guide (蟹老闆專業浮潛, “Crab boss professional snorkeling,” – they’re just down the road from the scooter shop) suited us up and brought us over to one of the island’s many promising snorkeling spots.
As we snorkeled in the reefs closer to shore, a dozen or so scuba divers were further out and under swimming in the deep. Stephanie spotted the first turtle. We’d been swimming above the reefs looking down at schools of tropical fish swimming below for about twenty minutes when she waved me over excitedly. I swam to where she was floating and saw it; its shell was about the size of a truck’s hubcap, and it hovered placidly, prehistoric maw snapping out every few seconds to make short of a fish, happy as a fat kid at an all you can eat sashimi buffet. We hovered above it for long minutes, our guide taking pictures of us and the turtle. Realizing its meal was being watched and recorded, the turtle swam out towards the deeper waters in search of a less public dining spot.
當我們在靠近岸邊的礁石裡潛水時，十多名水肺潛水員在深處游泳。 斯蒂芬妮發現了第一隻烏龜。 我們一直在礁石下面游泳，俯視下面游泳的熱帶魚類學校，大概二十分鐘，她激動地揮舞著我。 我游到她漂浮的地方，看到它。 它的外殼大約是一個卡車輪轂蓋的大小，它平穩地盤旋著，史前的魚肚每隔幾秒就會彈出一條魚來，魚兒很快就像一個肥胖的孩子一樣快樂，你可以盡情享受生魚片的自助餐。 我們長時間盤旋在它上面，我們的導遊為我們和烏龜拍照。 當時正在觀看和記錄下它的食物，烏龜向更深的海域游去，尋找一個不太公共的餐飲場所。
Though the waters were still warm enough for skin and swimsuits, we were glad we’d taken advantage of our guide’s offer of wetsuits after the first fifteen minutes, both because they kept our body temperature warm enough to keep swimming for about 90 minutes and they provided a nearly magical buoyancy that counteracted my lifelong fear of drowning. When we eventually became too exhausted for further swimming, we were especially glad for the protection provided by the thick wet suits on the short, wet scooter ride from the beach to Crab Boss Snorkeling Shop. (Special thanks to Crab Boss Snorkeling Shop for taking the photos below!)
雖然海水對於皮膚和泳衣來說依然溫暖，但是我們很高興在頭十五分鐘之後我們能夠利用導遊的潛水服，因為他們保持足夠的溫度保持90分鐘的水溫， 提供了一個近乎神奇的浮力，抵消了我終生害怕的溺水。 當我們終於疲憊不堪，無法進一步游泳的時候，讓我們特別高興的是，從海灘到螃蟹老闆浮潛店的短而濕滑的摩托車上，穿著厚厚的防水服提供的保護。 （特別感謝蟹老闆浮潛店拍下面的照片！）
Balancing tourism with environmental concerns
Xiao Liuqiu is a marine sanctuary, meaning that while tour guides bring people out to swim above (but not too closely to) the sea turtles and give demonstrations about the proper way to handle sea urchins (carefully; they’re all spiky and some are filled with poison), the turtles remain protected and any sea urchin you eat on the island has come from non-island urchin beds. But Xiao Liuqiu’s commitment to eco-tourism goes beyond this, and beyond the electric scooters that are quickly becoming the favored form of transportation on the island. On our second evening there we headed over to a party celebrating a weekend long cleanup event that had brought locals and volunteers together to collect trash from around the island (and, sadly, trash that had floated up onto the shore). The event had been going on all weekend, and culminated in a party with live bands, food & general festivities at Sanlong Temple, one of the island’s larger temples. The mood was festive, and most of the participants were exhausted from their work. One of the volunteers told me that the event was just a small part of the island’s overall plan to develop a cleaner, greener island.
More culture than you can shake a stick at
On the ride home from the party in Sanlong Temple we decided to sleep in the next day and do some temple hopping the following morning. Our plans for a late morning were soon challenged, however, thanks to my desire to spend an extra twenty minutes riding down a road we’d somehow missed during previous rides. Somewhere on the island’s quiet southern tip we passed through a small village that by all rights should have been asleep but wasn’t. Instead, folks were out assembling a colorful stage in front of a temple. Inquiring what was going on, Stephanie and I found ourselves invited to a traditional opera performance scheduled for 8am the next morning. It was an invitation that Stephanie, a student of Taiwanese art and culture, couldn’t refuse.
在三龍寺派對回家的路上，我們決定第天睡過頭，第三天早上做一些寺廟跳舞。 然而，我們很快就要對一個早晨的計劃提出挑戰，這要歸功於我希望再花二十分鐘的時間騎上一條我們之前錯過的道路。 在島上安靜南端的某個地方，我們經過了一個小村莊，這個小村莊這個時候應該是要睡覺，但沒有。 相反，人們正在寺廟前組裝一個色彩繽紛的舞台。 詢問發生了什麼事，斯蒂芬妮和我發現自己被邀請參加第二天早上8點的傳統歌劇表演。 斯蒂芬妮是台灣藝術文化的學生，因此是她不能拒絕的邀請。
The next morning after a strong mug of coffee each, we rode back to the village, which was way less quiet than it had been the night before, indeed far noisier than any small village should have been. The sound of morning birdsong was quickly replaced by that most distinctly Taiwanese sound, a Lu bian Guzixi, or roadside Taiwanese opera. The small stage from the night before was filled with several performers and musicians performing a play, and as we watched it seemed to me that they performed not for the benefit of the small early morning crowd assembled, but for the god inside of the temple facing the stage. A brief conversation (mostly shouted above the noise of instruments and sharp, high notes of the dialogue itself) revealed this to be true. The party was for the benefit of Matsu, who must have been by the end of the event as hard of hearing as Stephanie and I were halfway through.
第二天早上喝了一大杯咖啡後，我們回到了村里，沒有比前一天晚上安靜，確實比臺灣任何一個小村莊還要吵。 早上飛鳥的聲音很快被路邊古子戲或路邊的台灣歌劇所取代，也就是台灣最明顯的聲音。 前一天晚上的小舞台上擺滿了幾個表演者和音樂家，我們看到他們的表演似乎並不是為了早晨聚集的小人群，而是為了面對神殿內的神 。 一個簡短的談話（主要是音量高於樂器的喧囂，尖銳的對話）顯示這是真實的。 這次聚會是為了拜馬祖，她一定到最後跟我和斯蒂芬妮一樣耳聾。
Three Days was not enough
With only a half day left on our Xiao Liuqiu vacation, we spent the rest of the morning relaxing in our hotel until checkout time and the remaining time visiting some of the must visit sights of the island. We visited the Black Devil Cave and its attached art museum before scooting over to the Beauty Cave and its nearby pavilion. Riding back to the bike shop to deliver our bikes (and be delivered ourselves to the ferry that would take us back to the Mainland, we left unexplored a dozen or so beautiful and ostentatious temples, several beaches on which people were swimming, snorkeling & kayaking, simultaneously regretting that we’d not had time to visit these places and glad that we hadn’t, knowing that it gave us many reasons to return to Xiao Liuqiu sooner rather than later. And if that’s not the hallmark of a truly excellent vacation spot, I don’t know what is.
在我們小琉球的度假只剩下半天的時候，我們在酒店休息。退房候的時間都我們都在拜訪一些必須參觀島上的景點。 我們參觀了黑魔鬼洞及其附屬的美術館，然後前往美人洞及其附近的亭子。 回到自行車店還我們的自行車（把自己送到可以帶我們回到“大陸”的渡口的時候，我們沒有探索到十幾個美麗而炫目的寺廟，幾個游泳，浮潛和皮划艇的海灘 ，同時很遺憾，我們沒有時間去這些地方參觀，也很高興我們沒有去到這些地方，因爲我們有很多理由早日回到小琉球。如果這不是一個真正的出色度假景點，那我們真的不知道什麽才算是出色的度假景點。
Expect to see more about Xiao Liuqiu on these pages in the near future. And if you can’t wait to read about it, leave a message below and the good folks at MyTaiwanTour will customize your experience from start to finish.
Until next week, I leave you with a collage of images from the journey.
Three Days on Xiao Liuqiu (were not enough) 三天在小琉球 (時間會不夠) originally ran at the MyTaiwanTour Journal. All photos and text posted in the above blog were taken from https://www.mytaiwantour.com/blog/. Follow this link for more stories like this one!
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Three Days on Xiao Liuqiu (were not enough) 三天在小琉球 (時間會不夠) 最初在MyTaiwanTour學報。 https://www.mytaiwantour.com/blog/. 點擊此鏈接獲得更多這樣的故事！
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This day we went to an island off the coast of Kaohsiung called 小琉球, Xiao Liu Qiu. We drove to Dong gang 東港, but were not quite sure which boat to take to get there. Parking was cheap, only 30 NT per day. We ended up taking the public ferryboat over. While buying tickets, a lady asked us if we wanted to rent scooters, and set us up with her friend who rents scooters on the island. We paid her right then, which seemed shady but it worked out.
The boat ride was crowded and somewhat slow, but we made it to the island safe and sound. Right when we got off the boat, the scooter rental people found us and took us to our scooters. It was 300 NT per scooter, which is very cheap for scooter rental. We rode around the island on our scooters and saw everything from the shops to the beaches to more beaches and some restaurants. The weather was great. There were a few private beaches that you had to pay to get into which was lame. Also everything seemed to be a little more expensive than one would expect in Kaohsiung. One place that stuck out to me was a mango ice place that served their ice in sea shells, as well as providing sea shell spoons (海の家貝殼海藻冰 address: No. 61, Minsheng Rd, Liuqiu Township, Pingtung County, 929). There was the usual street markets that you would expect to find in Taiwan. I think the most fun part about that island was us just randomly driving all around on those scooters, and going full throttle down the streets.
There was a nice lighthouse at the top of the island but not much of a view. All in all we had a fun time. We almost got lost trying to find the port home; there are three different harbors on the island, and it took us a while to find the third one. The scooter people didn’t even look at our licenses, and they said themselves that helmets were not required. Matt’s military discount ended up being only 50 NT cheaper for the boat ride. We made it safely back and tried to eat at 仁武烤鸭, (renwu roasted duck address: No. 95之21, Fengren Rd, Renwu District, Kaohsiung City, 814), but they close early, 8:00, so we had duck noodles instead, which were fine.
3/27/17 Update: Xiaoliuqiu has some of the best snorkeling in Taiwan. There are snorkeling rental shops and tours all over the island, the usual price being 300 NT for an hour tour per person.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living and working in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.