Similar to Singapore, Taiwan is made up of many smaller islands apart from the main island and the more widely known of these offshore islands are Penghu, Kinmen, Lanyu 蘭嶼 (or Orchid) and Green Island 綠島.
It was not until last summer that I learned about this other island – Xiaoliuqiu – while travelling in Kaohsiung and apparently, it is popular among young adults and backpackers especially. Taiwan was expecting to be hit by double typhoon at that time, but not wanting to just wait for it to pass and waste the day in my dorm bed, I decided that Xiaoliuqiu would be the best place in this situation therefore, finally made my way there.
What To Do
Ride around the island
The island is best explored by scooter or electric bicycle which is in abundance for rent. Leisurely riding along the coast with my electric bike, visiting few sites along the way, was the better choice made to relax and fully appreciate the beauty of Xiaoliuqiu. We were surrounded by sights of clear blue waters and not just one but, a double rainbow appeared after the rain! I was sure happily drenched. If riding along the coast, which is about 18km long, it would take just under 40minutes for one full loop.
Go on a night tour
Scooter would be the better choice, however, for going on the night tour as majority of the group would be riding scooter instead and your electric bike will then appear as turtle, too slow to catch up. The night tour consists of visiting sites which are done during daytime as well. But visiting during nighttime provided a different experience of course, which is why I highly recommend staying overnight. We saw some nocturnal creatures, lots of crabs scrambling across our paths, had a view of the main island and millions of stars above our heads despite the gloomy weather in the day. And things happen when you least expect it – a shooting star zoomed by too!
See rock formations that are scattered around
To give you a better idea of how this island looks like or what to expect, it is characterised by several natural sites including rock formations similar to Yehliu Geopark in Taipei. The most famous landmark on this island is probably the Flower Vase Rock as shown in picture below and hardly missed by visitors as it is situated near the main port for getting in and out.
Snorkel for sure!
Snorkelling is an activity not to be missed! As a coral island, Xiaoliuqiu attracts plenty of fishes of different species, as well as sea turtles. We even saw three turtles at one point of time from Sea View Pavilion (continue reading)! The water is incredibly clear hence providing a good view even under minimal sunlight. Saw 2 turtles during my short snorkelling tour and one even swam parallel directly under my body, so up close it was!
There are many hiking trails around this island, but the more popular sites are Beauty Cave, Wild Boar Trench and Black Dwarf Cave – and these are also the only sites that requires an entrance fee of NT$120 which allows entry to all three (note: student discount available).
Sea View Pavilion 望海亭
Wild Boar Ditch 山豬溝
Black Dwarf Cave 烏鬼洞風景區
Is it worth paying? To be honest, the sites were just okay, nothing special. If there is one reason to pay the entrance fee, it would be the view from Sea View Pavilion which is “part of Beauty Cave”. Correct me if I am wrong or let me know if there is a way to get around this.
Watch the Sunrise
Another reason to stay overnight on this island is the sunrise view. It was a comfortable morning hearing the roosters crow, just like living in a kampung, and then watch a fisherman pull his raft out into the sea as the sun began to rise.
Xiaoliuqiu may be small in size with just an area of 6.8square kilometers (smaller than Pulau Ubin in Singapore) and activities are limited, it is but sufficient to keep tourist occupied for at least 2D1N, making it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. Though it can be done as a day trip, I would highly recommend staying overnight to do the night tour and view sunrise.
Suggested itinerary: (Day 1) Rent a scooter or electric bicycle upon arrival, and check-in at your accommodation (there are very steep slopes in some parts of the island therefore, could be draining to walk around, especially for those with a heavy backpack on). Snorkelling tour happens almost every half an hour, but reserve a particular spot in advance in case it gets full, and you could ride around the island first, or the other way round. Watch the sunset before heading to dinner, and finally the night tour to end the day. (Day 2) Catch the sunrise from certain viewpoints (we caught ours at Chung Au Beach), then head for a traditional Taiwanese Breakfast at one of their many breakfast stalls around the island. Ride to different hiking trails (start early as it can get scorching hot in the afternoon) before ending the trip around noon, catching the ferry back to main island.
Located approximately 15km off the main island, travellers would be delighted to find that Xiaoliuqiu is actually very easy to get to. From Kaohsiung City: take Kaohsiung Bus from Kaohsiung Bus Terminal located at Kaohsiung Main Station and alight at Donggang (NT$105 and takes about 1hour). From Donggang station, you can choose to walk (10 minutes, but it is not that near nor convenient especially if it is raining) or transfer to a minibus which cost NT$23 and takes 4minutes to reach the port. And from Donggang port, catch a ferry which cost NT$200 one-way or NT$380 return, which will then finally take you to your final destination – Xiaoliuqiu.
What To Eat
It seems like Xiaoliuqiu is also a place to hunt for “must-eat!” dishes as I saw quite a few popular restaurants, eateries or snack vendors, where it was crowded with people queuing up, while exploring the island with my bicycle. Tried all these below, and highly recommend it.
爆漿黑糖饅頭 “Bao Jiang Hei Tang Man Tou” Brown Sugar Bun
Their signature bun is of course the Black Sugar but, you could also try the Cabbage one because it smells and looked so good when my friend had it.
大福羊肉 “Da Fu Yang Rou” Dafu Lamb Meat Restaurant
Everything we tried, from soup-based noodles to their stir-fried dishes was delicious, and the lamb meat was tender to chew on.
允好嘉黑糖霜淇淋 “Yun Hao Jia Hei Tang Shuang Qi Lin” Yun Hao Jia Brown Sugar Soft Ice-cream
Address: 屏東縣琉球鄉環島公路山豬溝風景區對面 (opposite Wild Boar Trench Entrance)
The ice-cream has a mellow texture and flavour, which was just the perfect choice to fight the torturous heat!
There’s a small food centre by Donggang Port where tourists catch the ferry to Xiaoliuqiu and, there are 2 things to try there:
那個魚 “Na Ge Yu” (directly translates to: That Fish)
那個魚 (that fish) actual name is 小鰭鐮齒魚 (xiao qi lian chi yu). But the name was complicated and hard to pronounce therefore, fishermen simply address it as That Fish during tradings, which has become what is known as today.
那個魚 have a very unique milky texture, where it melts inside your mouth and can be swallowed without chewing (if it is not fried). This fish is commonly served fried however, sprinkled with salt and pepper which compliments the entire taste.
Fresh seafood definitely is in abundance at Donggang port, and why not have a plate of fresh sashimi then? This plate of fresh mixed sashimi shown below cost me only NT$100 (approx. S$4).
Where To Stay
There are plenty of accommodations around Xiaoliuqiu, from hotel, b&b, apartment rentals to hostel. I stayed at this newly opened hostel at that time and booked a package with them which includes: return ferry trip, accommodation, scooter/ electric bicycle and night tour, with prices starting from NT$1090. You can also book your snorkelling tour with them at additional cost. Our night tour’s guide is actually the guy who helps to run this hostel 棧背包 “Zhan Bei Bao”, and participants would be required to gather here before setting off together. Having worked as a tour guide professionally in the past, he was able to provide us with a lot in information about Xiaoliuqiu, and generally, Taiwan itself.
Travellers not staying in this hostel are welcome to join the tour too.
Xiaoliuqiu is not (yet) a crowded tourist destination, or maybe because my visit was in the low season, efforts for planned development however are being implemented after 2004 and significant boost in tourism can be seen within these 10years, recording 400,000 visitors in year 2014 alone. I truly enjoyed what it has to offer now, and yes, am a little afraid about the changes development brings. We got to admit that some things are unavoidable however. A kind reminder for those who are snorkelling though: please do not touch nor grab the fishes, turtles and even corals you see in the sea as it can affect them in a huge negative way.