Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three-hour Ferry from Pingtan Island, China to Bali, Taiwan

This is to wrap up my crossing ventures from China to Taiwan by sea.  My last attempt was two years ago from Xiamen to Kinmen, and it was less than 30 minutes on a commuter ferry.

The Strait-Crossing Ferry
Most travelers fly from mainland China to major cities in Taiwan these days.  Crossings by ferry have only been available in the last few years.  I took a short ferry run from Xiamen to Kinmen a couple of years ago in July 2014.  That was symbolic, since Kinmen is still 100 plus miles away from Taiwan proper.  This ferry from Pingtan Island crosses the Taiwan Strait in 3 hours with a top speed at 39 knots (nautical miles per hour).

A five-kilometer-long bridge to the Fujian mainland was completed in November 2010. Pingtan Island is about 120 km from the nearby city Fuzhou, and it takes about 2 hours in bus/shuttle.  The destination Bali is a port at the Tamsui River outside of Taipei city.  There are bus and subway connections nearby.
Armed Guard at the Beijing South Railroad Station
After my business travel to Beijing this time, I took a high-speed train, G27, at 9:45am from Beijing on June 4, 2016 and arrived around 5:30pm in the city of Fuzhou.  The one-way ticket cost me 719 RMB (about 110 USD). June 4 is a particularly sensitive day in China these days, and the security was tight in the train station. The armed police/military was clearly visible in the Beijing South Railroad Station. Fuzhou is the provincial capital of FuJian, which is directly across from Taiwan over the Strait.

There is one ferry crossing from both sides of the Strait every day, you can find the schedules on these two websites [1] [2].  Use either site to book and purchase tickets for passengers with a will-call arrangement.  The Monday morning ferry run is at 9:00am from Pingtan, and the transportation is iffy if I tried to take that ferry from Fuzhou.  I decided to stay in Pingtan Island, and I used Airbnb app to book a hostel-like room near the beach. It was my first excuse to use Airbnb.
Fuzhou City Light
Fuzhou WuYi Square from Shangri-La hotel Window
I used my Shangri-La points to book the hotel in Fuzhou, which allowed me to have comfort and leisure before my comparatively rougher day ahead.  Fuzhou is quite a modern city now.  I took my limited time to see the city and its old quarters before I left for Pingtan Island around 3pm.  

Saint Dominic Cathedral
FuZhou local snack- mostly sticky rice based

As usual, I found my Catholic Church in the city.  Saint Dominic Cathedral is in the Cangshan district. Fuzhou was one of the earliest ports open to foreign trade in Qing Dynasty. 

The Lin Zexu museum was an interesting visit, as I came back to read a whole lot more about the significance of the First Opium War and the unraveling of Modern Chinese History. Lin was a Fuzhou native and was sent to Canton as the envoy from the Emperor in Beijing to enforce the ban on opium trade. 
The old town was interesting and layout of the residential clusters dated back to the Jin Dynasty around 300AD. I enjoyed some local food for lunch in the old quarters.

Lin ZeXu Museum


Deity in the unregulated Super Shuttle
The concierge at the Shangri-La hotel found the information for me on the Fuzhou South Bus Station that has hourly bus runs to Pingtan Island.  I took a cab to the Station and bought a ticket for 55 RMB. It turned out to be from an unregulated private super shuttle van.  They have ticket-selling stalls, looking quite official, at the alleyways before the entrance of the bus station.  I was mislead to buy a ticket from such stall.  When some gentleman came up to help with my luggage right after I paid for the ticket, I knew that something was not right.  Anyway, I could speak the language and decided to go along with it.  That was not the first time.  I had to wait a little for the driver to gather enough customers, and later the van had to stop at two places to pick up the last two passengers.  It was quite packed with a total of 8 people including the driver.  The driver wasn't too crazy in driving by the Chinese standard, and it was safe enough for the 2-hour ride.
He dropped me off at the Pingtan Bus Station.  I had to take another cab to my beach-front BnB place. Fortunately I had a Chinese phone number, and the driver could talk to the BnB owner to get me that. It was not easy and straightforward. Although the island is changing rapidly, Pingtan Island still is a big fishing village. The day was cloudy with light rain.  It was not a good thing to be left out in nowhere. They didn't use meters for the taxi ride and this was usually not a good sign for visitors.  I got to the place for 40 RMB.  

Pingtan Island Beach BnB - near Island Research Center
Pingtan Beach - near Island Research Center
The lodging itself was 21USD (135RMB) for one night.  It was a reasonable accommodation, including a clean room, a queen-sized bed, air conditioning, and a TV.  I rarely turn on TV in China except in major international cities and when I am feeling extremely bored.  The owner gave me the WiFi password; the Internet connection was quite useful.  The concept of "B and B (Bed and Breakfast)" is different in China and probably in many other places.  The Bed part is there from privately owned lodging facilities.  The Breakfast part is not translated and observed in this setting.  Fortunately I had an instant noodle package with me. With hot water, I could get by.  The instant coffee package from Shangri-La came in handy also for the morning. Food option were limited at the beach-front venue.  This beach was frequented by Chinese visitors for day-trip group outings.  A cookout at the beach and BBQ were available, but arrangements had to be made beforehand.  Otherwise, choices are limited and you also have to take food quality and hygiene standard into consideration.

Panoramic View of Pingtan Beach - near Island Reseach Center
Pingtan Ferry Terminal Ticket Office
I did not do much for the evening except talking to the owner and his family members at their dinner table. The owner is a young entrepreneur running a 6-room beach house. Both his father and grandfather are still fishing during the season. I recall that they said that May to August is their mandatory off season to leave the sea to replenish itself. I took a bit of rice congee as a courtesy for their invitation.  The rain stopped overnight.  I rose early enough in the morning to take advantage of the quiet and serene moment.  I took an hour or so strolling around the beach.
Pingtan Customs and Border Control
To be on the safe side, I asked the owner to order a taxi for me at 7am.  It was again a negotiated fare.  It went through multi-tier arrangement and ended up paying 90RMB for the 20-minute ride.  I was one of the first few arrived at the ferry terminal.  The ticket office was not open until 8 o'clock.  The customs/immigration/border-control facility was not open until 8:30am. I was early, and I eventually saw six tour groups either going to Taiwan or coming back from their mainland visits.
I pre-ordered my ticket online with a travel agent [1].  The transaction was reasonable.  The fare was 600RMB (about 90USD) and the service charge was 30RMB.  I had a piece of paper printed in Beijing to exchange for the actual ticket.  Basically it is a will-call transaction.

Ferry Boat middle Section
The ferry boat was about 1/3 full on my trip. It can accommodate 700 or so people with three cabin sections.  The ride was smooth this time of the year. 

Goddess Protecting the Ferry Boat in the Front Section
When it got to Bali, Taiwan, a shuttle bus took us to the customs/immigration office area.  
With my pre-trip research, I was planning to take the bus to Taipei City Center or take the subway from GuanDu/HongShuLin. Either way, I realized that I had to take a short taxi ride to Bali town or to the subway station.  I was quite tired and with a large luggage, I ended up taking the cab all the way to the city.  It was about 30 minutes and cost me 760NTD (23USD).
Arriving at Bali Port at the mouth of Tamsui River

This travel route still needs a lot of ironing out, and it is not yet ready for individual travelers, especially non-Chinese speakers.  I saw that about six tour groups from both sides of the Straits on this ferry. I think this is an interesting experience from both side of the Straits and might be less expensive as well.  The tour operators could arrange the lodging and transportation to bridge the gaps that are not convenient for individual travelers.

Waiting for Shuttle at Bali Port, Taipei

[1]  in traditional Chinese
     台北市龍江路962  02-25169779, Boat ticket from Pingtan -  电话:0591-23192222 传真:0591-24199222 ATTN. MS CHANG J
[2] in English 


hao said...

You are always the trailblazer.

luenlin said...

Paul, Great travel experience. Thanks for the sharing. There may be a typo:"Both his father and grandfather are still 'fishing' during the season. "