Xiao Liuchiu: Unknown Paradise On The Sea
By Trista di Genova
Special to The China Post
Liuchiu (or “Xiao Liuchiu” as it is known by locals) may just be a small islet — although not the smallest of Taiwan’s 14 offshore islands — off the coast of southwestern Pingtung County, but it has long been described as “Paradise on the Sea,” and is full of treasures for visitors to explore.
Only four kilometers long, two kilometers wide, with a sparse population of 13,000 spread out between eight villages, it hosts a variety of attractions, including panoramic and unpolluted reefs, historic caves and top-notch seafood restaurants. Unique among Taiwan’s 14 other islands, it is the only one exclusively created by coral deposits.
The only access to the island is a 30-minute boat trip from Tungkang port, south of Kaohsiung. Lining the coastline are rugged coral reef formations, over the centuries sculpted into fantastic shapes, such as the 9m-high Vase Rock. Used as the symbol of Liuchiu on ROC postage stamps, Vase Rock is topped by lush vegetation, giving it the appearance of a vase of flowers. Behind it is a magnificent temple nestled in a grove — those who arrive at sunset will be greeted by an incredible view.
There are two locally famous caves on the island — Beauty Cave and Black Dwarf/Ghost/Spirit Cave; both possess a dark and tragic history. According to legend, Ming loyalists from Suchou, including an high official and his beautiful daughter, fled to Taiwan to escape Manchu forces at the end of the Ming dynasty. A great storm stranded them on Hsiao Liuchiu. Surviving on wild vegetables and fish, every day they climbed the hill to catch sight of a ship on the horizon. Many months later, the beautiful woman was seen crying over the body of her dead father. The islanders debated taking her back to their village with them, but frightened and unwilling to leave her father’s body, she bit her own tongue in half and took her own life. Since then, the site has been known as “Beauty Cave.”
In Beauty Cave, a path marked by coral formations leads to the ocean, then heads back up the cliff, winding through several caves and grottoes, with cracks overhead providing natural lighting. The last cave was a site where unwanted baby girls were disposed of in the last century. At a nearby shrine, offerings are burned to appease their spirits. Today, the area sports noodle stands and merchants selling knickknacks.
One of the main tourist attractions on Liuchiu is Black Spirit Cave (烏鬼洞), a picturesque seaside park legendary for what happened there centuries ago — bring a flashlight. Near the cave’s entrance the story is carved in stone:
“It was in 1661 (the 15th year of the Yong Li Ming Dynasty) national hero Koxinga (Cheng Chen-kung, 鄭成功), knighted as Yen Ping King, drove the Dutch and restored Taiwan and the Pescadores (Penghu). During the Dutch escaping (sic), some negroes were separated from their unit and arrived at this island. They lived in this cave. Some years later, a British boat with soldiers landed at the place northeast of the cave. As they were enjoying the scenery, those negroes robbed their food and other things, burned the boat and killed all the British. It was discovered by the British warship that they landed this island and sought the murderers while the negroes hid in the cave. In spite of many threats, they refused to surrender. Finally, the British burned the cave with oil. Then, all the negroes died there in the cave. Later it was named as the Black Spirit Cave, which means the cave in which the foreign negroes had lived before.”
Another interpretation is that the “negroes” in the story were actually Siraya Aborigines, who were related to tribes living in what is now Pingtung County as far back as 3,000 years ago. Also, research in Chinese provides two versions of the story: one refers to merchant ships, the other the British Navy.
There are many other fascinating landmarks of note on Liuchiu: The Sea View Pavilion, the Sanfu Ecological Path, Cannon Ground, Sanzu (Mountain Boar) Ditch, Geban Bay, Hai Tzu Kuo, the White Lighthouse, Housi Reef, Chung Au Beach, with fabulous shell sand beaches and clear seawater teeming with an estimated 176 species of fish and as many coral species — viewable by either scuba diving, glass boats or the naked eye.
To appreciate what are considered some of the most stunning landscapes in East Asia, bikes and motorcycles are recommended as the most convenient means of touring the island, and are easy and affordable to rent at the harbor at Liuchiu (NT$200-400 a day, 8 a.m. – 5p.m.). Then again, it takes only about three hours to hike around Liuchiu’s entirety, along a coastal road. Tour buses, rented only by the entire bus, are NT1,200/hour.
It is highly recommended spending the night on the island. Visitors can set up camp on the island’s sheltered beaches (NT$350/night), or choose from several hotels in Penfu Village, averaging about NT$1,500-5,000 a night. Liuchiu Hotel: 08-861-3281; or Fuhsing Hotel: 08-861-2617. Homestays are another option, ranging between NT$1200-1400 a night.
Besides the warm hospitality of its islanders, Liuchiu is also well-known for its 38 temples — six per square kilometer. Undoubtedly the island’s spiritual center is Piyun Temple, dedicated to Kuanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. On Kuanyin’s birthday, the nineteenth day of the second lunar month, the whole island erupts into festivity — Taiwanese Opera troupes perform twice a day in front of the major temples for forty to fifty days.
How to get to the island
Transportation to get to the port from Pingtung train Station is not well-organized, but either a ferry or speedboat can be taken at Tungkang port to go to Liuchiu, and there are tour buses and scooter rentals on the Island.
Public Ferry Transport
(Boat ride takes approximately 25-30 min.)
Tungkang to Xiao Liuchiu Xiao Liuchiu – Tungkang
Adult: 180.00 NT Children/Elderly: 90.00NT
Military/Police: 135.00NT Round Trip: 350.00NT
Contact Information Tungkang Station (08) 8337493, (08) 8327960
Liuchiu Station (08) 8611825, (08) 8613048
Special Offer 25 and over 450.00NT per person
can enjoy three benefits 1. Round trip ticket (350.00NT) per person
2. Sightseeing ticket (120.00NT) per person
3. Island Tour Bus (100.00NT) per person
Private Speedboat Transport
Tungkang-Xiao Liuchiu Xiao Liuchiu-Tungkan
Adult: 210.00NT Adult Round Trip: 410.00NT
Children: 110.00NT Children Round Trip:
Day Time Reservations: (A): (08) 8325806
Day Time Reservations: (B): (08) 8338722
FAX: (08) 8332413
Web address: http://www.jinggiang.com
Photos courtesy of Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area Management Office
pic 1. Pictured here is the Beauty Cave Tour route. are two locally famous caves on the island — Beauty Cave and Black Dwarf/Ghost/Spirit Cave; both possess a dark and tragic history.
pic 2. Visitors can set up tents on Xiao Liuchiu’s campground for NT$350 a night.
pic 3. Lining Liuchiu’s coastline are rugged coral reef formations, over the centuries sculpted into fantastic shapes, such as the 9m-high Vase Rock, which is topped by lush vegetation, giving it the appearance of a vase of flowers.
pic 4. Indian Head coral rock formation. Unique among Taiwan’s 14 other islands, Liuchiu is the only one exclusively created by coral deposits.