Taiwan

Sail Dapeng Bay and roam the far reaches of Pingtung

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Pingtung is the southernmost county in Taiwan. It contains almost everything that makes Taiwan a tourist destination. Although Pingtung only accounts for about 3% of Taiwan’s population and 7% of its land area, it is home to stunning mountain scenery, delightful pastoral villages, hot springs, the island’s most popular beach resorts, and the oldest National Park. However, Pingtung’s greatest tourism asset is its people. The county’s 794,000 residents include members of the Paiwan and Rukai Austronesian indigenous tribes, as well as descendants of Han immigrants who arrived from China’s Fujian Province between the 17th and 19th centuries, as well as a large Hakka population.

The Hakka are one of the most fascinating ethnic groups in Taiwan. Their ancestors can be traced back to China, where they developed a unique language and customs during a series of southward migrations between 1,600 and 400 years ago. Soon after the Qing Empire claimed Taiwan in 1684, Hakka pioneers began to immigrate to Taiwan.

Many of these newcomers were adept at turning wilderness into fertile farmland, settling in the interior areas of modern-day Kaohsiung and Pingtung. In order to coordinate self-defense during various rebellions between 1721 and 1865, this series of settlements formed a confederacy called the “League”. Liutai (Hakka) or Liudui (Mandarin).

The Liudui Hakka Cultural Park in Neipu Township illustrates this and many other aspects of Hakka history. The park is a key member of the Pingtung Tourism Alliance, a newly formed destination marketing organization that promotes the region and simplifies planning for visitors and itineraries. Like other tourism alliances in Taiwan, it brings together businesses, non-profit organizations, government entities and academics to develop sustainable tourism to benefit tourists and local stakeholders.

Among the tourist attractions in Pingtung, Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area is second only to Kenting National Park. In addition to the bay of the same name – a 532-hectare lagoon ideal for water sports – the scenic area also includes Xiaoliuqiu Island. The latter, also known as “Little Liuqiu” or “Lanbei,” is popular with tourists looking for a seafood- and snorkeling-themed weekend away from the hustle and bustle.

The Mirs Bay Ocean Festival is Taiwan’s largest sailing regatta, and the 2024 regatta is expected to host yachting and other water activities in April. Visitors can sign up for a 90-minute catamaran sailing or a “Captain for a Day” experience. Over the weekend of April 13-14, more than 200 professional sailors are expected to come together to compete in an exciting multi-category sailing competition.

No festival in Taiwan is complete without delicious food. The famous seafood restaurant in Donggang (a fishing town located in the northwest of the bay) can provide high-quality bluefin tuna, cherry blossom shrimp and caviar (Wu live). From April 13th to 14th and 20th to 21st, Dapeng Bay Marina Park Pier will hold special afternoon and evening markets, selling handicrafts, souvenirs and tempting food.

Regardless of the season, self-driving tourists will definitely enjoy a leisurely tour of Dapeng Bay, and the hour before dusk is especially a good time to enjoy the scenery. The 11.9-kilometer-long road across the lagoon spans Taiwan’s only folding vehicle bridge, which uses a sail-shaped cable-stayed structure to allow even large yachts to enter the lagoon and its docks.

The bridge is one of the most photographed attractions in the area. Another is Oyster Shell Island, a remnant from the post-war period when the lagoon was dotted with bamboo frames on which molluscs were farmed. As the bay’s oyster farmers dumped unwanted shells in the same spot, over the years the accumulation became an artificial reef that attracted and sheltered fish. Although there is no land to dock, most cruise ships come here.

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During the cooler months, birders will find themselves drawn to the six constructed wetlands at the edge of the bay. Like several other places on Taiwan’s southwest coast, Dapeng Bay is an important wintering site for migratory waterbirds.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the townships of Xinshan and Jiadong, a few kilometers east and southeast of Dapeng Bay, formed the southern end of the Liudui Hakka alliance.

In the very heart of Jiadong, visitors can explore this sprawling mansion, considered by many to be the most exquisite private residence in southern Taiwan. This 51-room, single-story Xiao family house was built in stages from the 1860s to the first decade of the 20th century by a family specializing in winemaking and dyeing. There are many other ruins in the town, including the peaceful Yang Clan Ancestral Hall.

Wanluan Township is slightly farther from the sea and closer to the foothills of the Central Mountains. It not only has rich Hakka culture, but also has the oldest church in the country. Only about 1% of Taiwan’s people practice Roman Catholicism, but in the bustling villages around Wanjin Chapel the faith has taken root. Completed in 1870, this Spanish-style cathedral is an elegant monument to the extraordinary tenacity of the Dominican priest who purchased the land in 1863. Shortly after his first church was destroyed in an earthquake, he was kidnapped by bandits. After repeatedly suppressing angry mobs, he succeeded in establishing a church in what was then a lawless corner of Taiwan.

Just a five-minute drive from Wanjin, Wugoushui Community is far more attractive than its name suggests. Founded about 300 years ago by Hakka treasure hunters who dug irrigation canals – wugoushui Meaning “five water-filled ditches” – it has several very photogenic antique buildings, including elegant private residences and a shrine where extended families worship their ancestors. To preview the architectural treasures that will impress visitors, visit the Home Travel/Romantic Hakka website and take a virtual tour.

This inspiring site extends far beyond Pingtung County, covering Hakka communities in three municipalities and six counties. Other helpful travel planning resources are listed below.

travel information

Travelers who plan to explore Pingtung County in depth can obtain more information from the following websites:

Pingtung Tourism Alliance: www.gopt.com.tw (multilingual)

Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area: www.dbnsa.gov.tw (multilingual)

Dapeng Bay Ocean Festival: dapengbay2024.com

Hakka Tour/Romantic Hakka: romanthakka.com (multi-language)

i-Pingtung Official Travel Guide: www.i-pingtung.com (multiple languages)

Back issues of “Taiwan Travel”, an English-language bimonthly magazine sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, have detailed content and can be read online at travelintaiwan.net. For all kinds of travel information about Taiwan, please visit the Tourism Bureau’s multi-lingual website www.taiwan.net.tw, or call the 24-hour travel consultation hotline 0800-011-765 (toll-free in Taiwan).

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