Friday, September 12, 2008

Penghu Trip: Two Airports

Penghu County lies off of Taiwan's southwest coast and consists of about 64 islands - more at low tide. My wife and I recently went for a 4 day-3 night trip. Before I get to the gist of this post, spend some time checking up on Penghu (the link above is a good starting place) and get your tickets. I loved the place. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin recently went to Boston and New York to study, among other things, waterfront development for cities. I suggest he spend a few thousand NT$ and take a trip to Penghu.

Getting There
For us Taichungians, it starts with a taxi ride to the state-of-Kwik-E-Mart Taichung Airport. It's actually outside of Taichung City proper, in Shalu Township. On the way to the airport we plan to stop and put our dog, Tassy, in a kennel. Our taxi driver arrives and hesitates getting out when he sees me with Tassy. He says he is "sensitive" to dogs. I ask "sensitive" or "allergic?" He says "sensitive" and refuses to take us. He calls another taxi and I call him a word that starts with a p and ends with a y, and it wasn't pansy. Here is the scary beast.
Our second driver has no problems with Tassy and tells my wife he plans to wave the $500 NT note in Mr. Sensitive's face and laugh at him. I like this guy. As we near the airport, we pass the entrance to the air force base adjacent to Taichung Airport. We continue for 3 more kilometers and we are there. Check-in takes two minutes. Crap. We have an hour to kill. The facilities consist of the counters for the two airlines serving the airport, an information desk and a Frog restaurant concession that I mistook for a beverage counter. I stroll around picking up brochures and stop at Mandarin Airlines (華信航空公司) and find they fly to Saigon. Neato.
Boarding the plane is done old school. Walking out on the tarmac and up the steps. Mandarin uses new, clean Embraer 190 jets and are pretty comfortable. On board the flight attendants announce everything in 3 languages. We start our taxi to the runway. 3 kilometers of taxiing. The same 3 kilometers we journeyed from the air force base to the airport. We are taxiing onto the air force base's runway. Yep, it's a shared runway. And shared not only by the military and the city, but also farmers who are planting something in different spots around the runway.
The flight is quick - about the same as our taxi ride to the airport - 30-35 minutes. We are offered a choice of water or Oolong tea. The captain tells us in Chinese and English that we are cruising at 8,000 feet. It's perfect sightseeing height. The jet quickly flies to the ocean, turns south and parallels the island until it's turn west to Penghu. So, the left side of the cabin can look at the coast and the right side can look at the beautiful waters, islets and fishermen. The aisle seats can look at those looking (me at my wife).
Only 35 minutes and we are there. This does not look or feel like the Taiwan I know. The airport is also a shared military / civilian airport. But this airport looks...nice. Turns out that it is. Our landlady at our guesthouse later informs us that it is only 3-4 years old. The old airport still stands next to the new one and I never noticed until she pointed it out.
Coming Back
I am sure that there are taxis, but I just can't recall seeing one. Every guesthouse and hotel has shuttle service. Our shuttle was our landlady's old, grey Mazda. Petra, my wife, called her as soon as we reclaimed our one bag. The landlady was waiting outside by the time I used the restroom and walked about 30 steps to the outside. She explained by saying that she likes to drive fast. I guess she only likes to drive fast to the airport, because on the way from the airport to her guesthouse we maxed out at 40kph. That's about as fast as me on my Banana Peeler bike going downhill.
On the return to the airport, we were shuttled by the Mazda MadLady, even though we didn't stay at her place for the last night. She had been reading some of the tourist brochures that we had picked up at the Taichung airport and said that the one for Penghu had a better map than the ones Penghu itself put out. I tend to agree. We stocked up on maps and info for Penghu, Jinmen and Matsu. We chose a different airline for the return, Uni Air (立榮航空), part of the Evergreen group. The tickets were about $200 NT more expensive than Mandarin. Another difference was the aircraft, a Dash 8-300, part of Bombardier. This one had seen some wear and tear. A turboprop, it was much smaller than the Embraer with only 4 seats to a row, and less legroom. This time I made sure I got the window seat. The announcements were made in Chinese only and I don't even think they used the intercom. This flight offered us the choice of water or no water. I chose the latter. Getting ready to enjoy the view I noticed that looking out of my window I was staring right at the prop. I spent most of the time alternating between not looking and thinking that if it did fly off, it would kill me too quickly to be scared and looking out the window anyway.
More later.


Anonymous said...

What a great story about how you got to Peng Hu and back. I have to agree with you, if you haven't been.....GO! One of my favorite places in Taiwan and gives Green Island a run for it's money. And if you like seafood.........YUMMY!

Bread said...

um, while i appreciate the detailed description of the airplanes and airports, big john's are much quicker to read.

what did you actually DO on penghu? i went diving there about seven years ago, wonder if there are any fish left.....

Anonymous said...

Where are the pics from the trip?

J-hole said...

Uh, Bread and Anonymous, the answers to your questions can be answered in the last two words of the post.

mr. bean said...

Took a car-friendly ship there 8 or so years ago from Kaohshung. Took about 4 hours. I like the idea of the plane better.
Helena & I flew to Orchid Is. from Taitung a few years back. Another lovely place off the coast.