ISLANDS OF TAIWAN

OFFSHORE ISLANDS OF TAIWAN

Taiwan's Offshore Islands feature clear waters, blue skies and night skies filled countless stars. There are picturesque resorts with a wide choice of water activities, quite isolated beaches and charming fishing villages. The places frequented by tourists can be reached by short flights from Taipei. Off-the-beaten-track places may require a hired boat to get to.

Taiwan is located along the southeast coast of the Asian continent, on the fault line where the Euro-Asian and Philippine continental plates meet. This unique geographic location and frequent seismic activity not only created an extremely diversified topography and natural environment on the main island Taiwan, it also resulted in the diverse characters of its off-shore islands.

The main offshore islands are Penghu, Ludao (Green Island), Lanyu (Orchid Island), Kinmen, Matsu, Turtle Island, and Little Liuqiu. As their locations, topographical characteristics, and human activities differ; each has its own unique scenery and culture. Therefore, each island offers something different to satisfy the various needs of visitors, such as sightseeing, snorkeling, or sport fishing.

Penghu Archipelago

Penghu Archipelago(off the southwest coast of Taiwan, 40 minute flight from Taipei) is a delightful vacation area with over 100,000 full-time residents, ancient temples, picturesque farms, windswept fishing villages, friendly people, beaches, coral reefs, and a rugged scenic coastline. It is a good place to enjoy watersports and sample seafood. The island is currently being developed with large resorts. There has been some discussion about building a casino there. The was issue raised in a referendum but was vote down

The Penghu archipelago is Taiwan's largest offshore island group, situated in the straits that separate Taiwan from China. Penghu is made up of 90 small islands with a combined coastline that stretches more than 320 kilometers. The largest and main island is Pengu Island. Its also called Baisha Island. The whole archipelago is within Baisha Township. The landscape here is characterized by basaltic rocks, coral reefs, sea-eroded formations, and beaches, while the fishing culture and migratory birds add extra dimensions to the picture.

Like pearls scattering in the East Sea, the Penghu steeped in history and culture, with magnificent ocean views and many other natural wonders. Basalt columns sculpted by the elements are a dominant part of the geological landscape on the Penghu Islands. The clear waters of Penghu Bay and strong winter winds have put Penghu on the map as an international hot spot for competitive sailing. The islands host brilliant firework festivals in the spring and summer, and in fall and winter visitors can enjoy the fresh and delicious catch of the sea at the Penghu Seafood Carnival. Penghu is also an excellent choice for seaside fun, with blue seas, clear skies, soft white beaches, plenty of beach and water recreation facilities, and an amazing marine ecology and scenic beauty.

Scenic Spots: Area, Fenggui Cave, Penghu National Scenic Area, Lintou Park, Tongliang Banyan Penghu Great Bridge (Trans-Ocean Bridge), Magong, Whale Cave

Amusements, Temples, Historical Buildings: Penghu Aquarium, Penghu Queen of Heaven Temple (Tianhou Temple), Guanyin Pavilion (Guanyinting), Shuncheng Gate, Yuweng Island Lighthouse, Erkan Historical Houses, Xiyu Western Fort

Beaches and Islands: Jibei Island, Dachang Island, Mudou Island, Xianjiao Island, Gupo Island, Tongpan Island, Hujing Island, Wang'an Island, Jiangjun'ao Island, Yuanbei Island, Little Baisha, Island, Niaoyu(Bird Island), Jishan Island, Dinggou Island, Shili Beach and Qimei Island

Getting There: Flights to the Penghu Islands land at Magong Airport; ferries arrive at Magong Harbor. It is easy to get to Penghu from other parts of Taiwan. Regular flights serve the islands from Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Chiayi, and Kaohsiung, and a regular charter flight service is offered from Kinmen. Visitors can also reach Penghu by boat, with service from Budai Harbor in Chiayi City, and the Port of Kaohsiung. Mainland Chinese visitors can sail from Xiamen to Kinmen and then continue by boat to Penghu, or they can take a charter flight directly from Xiamen to Penghu. Another option is to fly to the main island of Taiwan from one of the various cities offering direct cross-strait service and then continue by plane or boat to Penghu. Tourist Offices: Magong Airport, Tel: [886]-6-922-8115, No. 126-5, Aimen Village, Huxi Township, Penghu County; Penghu Marine Geology Park Visitor Center, No.71, Xinming Rd, Magong City, Penghu County, Tel: [886]-6-926-9737.

Penghu National Scenic Area

All of the islands in Penghu have a similar terrain, and most of them are flat. Clear seawater, pure beaches and beautiful skies make Penghu a favorite ocean resort area. Both Kuroshio tributary current (during summer) and Mainland China's coastal current (during winter) pass through the Penghu sea territory. Because of this the marine life in this area is very rich, making Penghu an outstanding classroom for marine biology.

During the migration season, all kinds of birds pass through this area. Tourists can often see beautiful views of hunting seagulls, and the 200-plus different bird species here. This makes Penghu an excellent location for bird watching. Tourists can also came to Penghu for fishing and snorkeling; they can take boats and travel around the neighboring islands to enjoy the sea views and savor a wonderful vacation at sea.

Penghu shows its uniqueness in its cultural resources, thanks to the influences of its environment as well as Chinese culture and history. Many religious activities take place in Penghu; among 97 villages and towns in the islands, there are 183 temples. The ones with the longest history include the Tianhou, Wusheng, City God, Bao-an Temples, and the Guanyin Pavilion. There are also many important sites with great historical value. Penghu is famous for seafood such as groupers, abalone, lobsters, clams, and shellfish. Peanuts, sponge gourds, and cantaloupes are the main agricultural products. The best-known mineral is the veined stone, which is found only here and in Italy. The veined stones of Penghu are very famous for their color and quality, which is recognized as being the best in the world. Many arts and crafts stores can be found in the city of Magong, where tourists can find inexpensive and beautiful artworks carved from various kinds of stone.

Getting There by Public Transport: Air: From Taipei International Airport or Kaohsiung International Airport fly to Magong Airport. Ferry: From Kaohsiung Harbor or Chiayi Budai Harbor ferry to Magong Harbor. Address: No. 171, Guanghua Township, Magong City, Penghu County, Tel: [886]-6-921-6521.

Sights in the Penghu Archipelago

Trans-Ocean Bridge (Penghu Great Bridge) spans Houmen (Roaring Gate) Channel, linking the islands of Baisha and Xiyu. Almost 2.5 kilometers long, it is the first sea-crossing bridge in the Far East. Walking the length of the bridge, viewing the awesome oceanic vistas, listening to the roaring tides, and feeling the bracing sea breezes, is a uniquely refreshing experience.

Xiyu Western Fort dates back to the 17th century, when Chinese Ming Dynasty loyalist general Chen Guoxuan built 15 batteries in Penghu to guard against Qing dynasty admiral Shi Lang. During the rule of the Qing Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) Kuang Hsu, magistrate Liu Ming-Chuan was ordered to build 10 fortresses to protect Taiwan from the harassment and attacks of pirates and bandits. The Xiyu Western Fort that stands today was one of them. Covering eight hectrares, the fort is best-preserved and largest fortress in Penghu, The fortress walls are made of thick rocks and the fort is large enough to house thousands of soldiers. It is not only a military base, but also has magnificent scenery. Xiyu Western Fort has two arches in the entrance. The stone slab at the gate was inscribed by Li Hung Chang, a famous Qing official. There are many tunnels inside, leading to different chambers. The fortress has cliffs in the back, ocean in the front, which makes it perfectly secure. It also presents Penghu's peculiar position in history.

Erkan Historical Houses is a set of old, traditional-style houses on Pengu, including scholar's residence in the Xingren neighborhood of Magong, the old Jang Bai-wan house in Waganng Township on Baisha Island, ans a well-preserved century-old residential complex in Erkan Village on Xiyu Island, The Erkan residence, owned by the Chen clan, is a large family home with many wings. It features relief carvings, windows, doors, and eaves in the classic southern Fujian style. The exquisite craftsmanship evident it its rustic yet refined simplicity highlights the skills of its builders.

Penghu Stone Fish Weirs

Penghu Stone Fish Weirs are sets of stone fish traps whose dark exteriors stand in stark contrast against the emerald waters. Fish weirs were developed by an assorted of civilizations around the world. Usually constructed with natural materials such as wood or stone, these primitive fish traps were also called kraals, fish fences and tidal traps and can be found in riversides, marshes and coastal areas. Some of the ones on Pengu are to more than 300 years old, providing some keen insight into the lifestyle and level of sophistication of the island's earliest settlers.

Utilizing the characteristic ebb and flow of the ocean, these sea-savvy folks built circular stone walls that ensnared schools of fishes when the tide receded. Furthermore, the variations in weir size and shape reflect the early wisdom of Taiwan's seafaring ancestors, for the tidal traps took into account the location's ecological features and the habitual behavior of their choice of prey.

Out of the roughly 600 weirs that remain in the waters of Penghu today, the Twin Hearts Stone Weir nearby Cimei Island enjoys the most attention for its romantic appearance, even though its modern-looking heart-shape design was originally devised to prevent fish from escaping. The construction of the 210-meter-long fish trap was overseen by Penghu native Yen Gong, who led a team of fishermen on bamboo rafts to haul the load of black basalt and white coral needed for the weir's completion back in 1937. Now retired from its fishing duties, the Twin Hearts Stone Weir is a potential World Heritage Site whose entwined shape has graced countless postcards and wedding portraits.

During the Penghu Stone Weir Festival, an annual event that takes place every spring, special tour groups offer in-depth visits to arc, single-pool and double-pool tidal traps, in which visitors are welcomed to try their luck inside the weir atrium - the most common catches are skipjack tuna, slender sprat, puffer fish, sea cucumber and crab.

Tongpan Island and Penghu Columnar Basalt Nature Reserve

Tongpan Island (southeast of Pengu Island) features a typical basalt mesa landform with a shoreline bounded by cliffs made up of well-developed, neatly stacked basalt columns.. A paved pathway circling the island gives access to its spectacular scenic attractions. On a sea-eroded platform on the southwest side of the island is a stepped basin, created by upwelling basalt lava, which is known as the "Lotus Terrace". The shoreline is given additional allure by a beehive-shaped basalt formation called "Cat Rock." Fuhai Temple, located near the dock. It is dedicated primarily to the plague god surnamed Wen, and its ornate decor helps make it the most popular temple in the outlying islands of Penghu. Large coral forests on the nearby seabed make this a fine spot for snorkeling.

Penghu Columnar Basalt Nature Reserve (on Sable Island 15 kilometers northeast of Pengu Island) features are unusually-shaped reddish rock formations that somewhat resemble the rock formations at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, featured on a famous Led Zeppelin album cover. These bizarre basalt columns are a legacy of the same volcanic activities that created Taiwan and its surrounding isles. The lava that burst forth from the Earth's crust quickly coagulated into odd-shaped entities by the cool ocean water, and after basking in the sun's rays and being battered by rain and wind for over ten million years, the remaining columns are now inimitable in figure and form.

The nature reserve measures 30.87 hectares in area during low tide and encompasses the Xiao Baisha ("Little White Sand”) Islet, Jishan ("Chicken Gizzard”) Islet and Dinggou ("Spindle Hook”) Islet. Thanks to the nearby Kuroshio Current, the area enjoys rich oceanic resources that attract a multitude of migratory birds, including Peregrine Falcons, Little Terns, Rock Egrets and Roseate Gulls. Interestingly, up to 21% of the seasonal fowl population is made up of transitional "lost” birds who've strayed from their original path and wounded up in Penghu for a short stay.

Nowhere else other than the Penghu Archipelago will you find natural basalt sculptures in the shape of six-sided columns forming 20-meter-high plateaus or neatly stacked cliffs. The Taiwanese armed forces used to conduct artillery experiments and military exercises in the area until the Penghu Columnar Basalt Nature Reserve was established in 1992.

Islands in the Penghu Archipelago

Jibei Island (15 kilometers north of Pengu Island) is 3.05 square kilometers in area, making it the sixth largest island in Taiwan and the second largest island in the Pengu archipelago. It has a coastline of 13 kilometers and is one of the most popular tourist spot in Taiwan. The "Sand Beach Beak" at the south end houses a white sand beach extending 1500 meters. This a marine deposit landform — or "Sand Spit" — was formed by corals and shells that were moved here by the sea. It is a spectacular sight from the air. Water activities that can be enjoyed on the island include banana boat rides, dragged buoy, two-man speedboat, jet skis, glass-bottom boat rides, parasailing and snorkeling. Another tourism feature of Jibei is the number of "stone weirs" found here, more than 80 of them.

Yuanbei (Round Shell) Island is a small island shaped like a seashell. The northern coast of the island is rimmed with columnar basalt formations; and a formation near its northern tip, made up of a basalt column section and a hole eroded by the sea, is known as the "Brush Pen and Inkstone." Fan-shaped rows of basalt columns on the eastern side of the island resemble pleated skirts. The water between Yuanbei and Baisha Islet constitutes a rich ocean ecology filled with precious areas of coral.

Niaoyu (Bird Island) has fine rows of basalt columns that form high sea cliffs along its eastern shore, and in the sea-eroded holes below the cliffs the basalt columns form sprays like blossoming flowers. The weathered basalt along the northern shore, on the other hand, has developed into well-developed onion shapes. When the tide recedes, Nanmiangua Island off the north coast is connected to Niaoyu by a land bridge. The residents of Niaoyu make their living from the sea, and stone cairns designed to dispel evil influences give the dock a unique character.

Qimei (the southernmost island in the Penghu archipelago. There is a moving story behind the name of the island, which means Seven Beauties. According to the legend, seven maidens were doing their laundry beside a well long ago when they were attacked by Japanese pirates; unwilling to submit to insult at the hands of the scoundrels, they all killed themselves by leaping into the well. The local residents filled in the well and left it as a tomb, from which, later on, sprouted seven trees. It is still there: the Tomb of the Seven Beauties. In earlier times the island was known as Widow's Island, and there is a story behind this name too. Even today, on the shore below the Nan Lake (Nanhu) Lighthouse, there is a stone formation known as Watching for Husband Rock. The stone is in the form of a reclining woman, who is said to have turned to stone there waiting for the return of her fisherman husband. There is a road all around the island, which makes travel convenient. Nan Lake (Nanhu) Fishing Harbor has more activity than any other place on Qimei, and its lighthouse is the southernmost one in the Penghu islands. In the vicinity of Yueli Harbor there is a Stone Lion formation which, along with much of the terrain here, is formed of columnar basalt left from the volcanoes that produced the islands

Lanyu (Orchid Island)

Lanyu Island (100 kilometers southeast of Taiwan) is a small island that contains some of the best tropical scenery in Taiwan. It is a good place to observe aboriginal cultures in a fairly laid back atmosphere. Lanyu means Orchid Island bu actually the are few orchids here. There is a fair amount of nuclear waste though. The island is known best for indigenous Yami people, the flying fish festival, traditional canoes, underground houses, and hair-swinging dances and calla lily fields. The island was named Orchid Island by the Taiwan government after the local Phalaenopsis orchids in 1947.

Like Ludao, its neighbor to the north, Lanyu was raised from the sea by the accumulation of volcanic lava. It has a moist and rainy climate, and its mountain areas (which occupy most of the island) are covered with dense rain forests that are filled with a great variety of plant and animal life. Coral reefs fill the surrounding seas, and the Japan Current which flows past brings in large numbers of fish. The island is inhabited mainly by people of the Yami tribe, the most primitive of Taiwan's indigenous peoples, who still keep much of their traditional culture and lifestyle. Their traditional stone houses were built mostly underground to avoid extremes of temperature as well as the ravages of typhoons. The Flying Fish and Boat Launching festivals are seen nowhere else on earth. In addition to savoring the beautiful island scenery, you can also enjoy a glimpse into the fascinating Yami culture during your trip to Lanyu.

Because the peaks of the mountains at the northwestern corner of the island resemble red human heads in the crimson rays of the setting sun, Lanyu used be called "Redhead Island." The present name refers to the wild orchids that once grew there in abundance. Much of Taiwan’s nuclear waste has been dumped on Lan Yu, a small island about 70 miles southeast of Taiwan with beautiful coral reefs and stunning volcanic hills. As of 2002, many of 20,000 barrels of the 180,000 or so barrels of radioactive waste kept here were cracking and coming apart because of chemical reactions inside. In 2002, the government announced it could not fulfill a promise to remove the waste. The waste is stored in 23 concrete-reinforced trenches covered by a series of 12-ton lids. The site has a stone wall around it and is guarded by a 10-man security team. The barrels that hold the waste are made of non-corrosive steel that is corroding. Until 1988 No records were kept on the contents of the barrels so it is not even known what kind of nuclear waste is inside.

Yeyou Village is the island's administrative center. It has a township office, middle school, and a bus station. Kaiyuan Harbor, situated on the outskirts of the village, is the island's major gateway for sea transportation: is where the boats from Fugang Harbor in Taitung dock. A lighthouse just to the north of the village provides fine views of the island and the surrounding seas.

Lanyu covers an area of 45.74 square kilometers at high tide. Because of its special mountainous environment, the island is home to many unique plant species. Several rare and distinctive fauna, including two species of mammals, three species of birds (the Lanyu scops owl, the Formosan green pigeon and paradise flycatcher) and two species of reptiles, can only be found on the island.

Getting There by Public Transport: Air: 1) From Taipei International Airport fly to Taitung on UNI Air or Mandarin Airlines. 2) From Taitung Airport fly to Orchid Island (Lanyu) on Daily Air. Bus and Ferry: TRA Taitung Station Hualien Bus (bound for Hualien) to Fugang stop or the TRA Taitung Station Dingdong Bus (bound for Jingpu, Chenggong, Fuyuan) to Fugang stop. From Fugang Fishing Harbor take the ferry to Orchid Island or Green Island. By Road: Nat'l Hwy 5 Exit at the Su'ao Interchange Prov. Hwy 9 Prov. Hwy 11 Fugang Fishing Harbor Take the ferry to Orchid Island; Address: No. 295, Zhongxiao St, Yeyou Village, Lanyu Township, Taitung County, Tel: [886]-89-732-001.

Yami People on Lanyu

The Yami are a Taiwanese ethnic group that lives on Lanyu Island in the Philippine Sea. There are only about 4,000 of them. Up into until the Kuomintang came to power they wore loin clothes, lived in traditional stone huts, and used single-log, richly-decorated canoes to fish and collect creatures from the sea. The Nationalists forced them to move into three-story apartment houses, where most still live today; took many of the fish from their fish fishing grounds; and built a nuclear waste dump on the island. When the Japanese were in power the only non-Yami allowed on the island were Japanese anthropologists who studied the Yami. Tourist have only been allowed to visit Lanyu since the 1980s.

The Yami (sometimes called Tao) are regarded as the most primitive of Taiwan's indigenous peoples. They still maintain much of their traditional culture and lifestyle. Their traditional stone houses are built mostly underground to avoid extremes of temperature as well as the ravages of typhoons. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]

The Yami people have always depended primarily on the sea for their livelihood, a fact which is reflected in their unique culture. The men, for example, wear narrow loincloths for convenience when fishing or hunting; they traditionally live in semi-subterranean houses for protection against typhoons and the torrid heat of summer; and they perform elaborate ceremonies when they launch a new boat or begin the annual flying fish season.

The lives of the Yami people are closely intertwined with the Flying Fish Festival. Each year the flying fish come with the Kuroshio Current from January to June, and this brings a rich harvest of fish for the Yami living on Orchid Island. That is why the tribepeople believe that these fish are gifts from the gods, and why they treasure this natural resource. Some of the tribe's social customs and taboos are also closely associated with the coming and going of the flying fish. The Flying Fish Festival consists of ceremonies that begin in the second or third month of the lunar calendar and run for approximately four months. The festival is divided into different parts, including the blessing of the boats, praying for a bountiful catch, summoning the fish, first-fishing night ceremony, fish storing ceremony, and fishing cessation ceremony. The men of the tribe wear loincloths, silver helmets, and gold strips, and face the sea to pray for a bountiful catch. Participation is restricted to men. ~

The Yami are of Austronesian descent and share common characteristics with the ethnic groups of the northern Philippines. The Tao people call Lanyu "Pongso no Tao" or "Island of the People" in their native tongue. The tribe's image is closely associated to the flying fish, as fishing is not only an important economic activity for the Tao people, but also related to their religion.

Green Island (Ludao)

Green Island (33 kilometers off the coast of Taitung in eastern Taiwan) used to be the Devil's island of Taiwan. Also known as Ludao, it has a prison where political prisoners were sent under Chiang Kai-shek and brutally tortured, brainwashed, starved and kept in solitary confinement. There are still two small detention centers on the island: one for recovered drug addicts and another gangsters. Tours of the prison are offered sometimes with former prisoners as guides.

One former prisoner on Green Island who spent 13 years in solitary confinement for advocating democracy and human rights told the International Herald Tribune, " I remember having just a single hole in the floor to use for washing and the toilet.....I could smell the sea but I could not see it. I could hear the waves But I could not touch them”

Now Green Island is a tourist attraction popular with day trippers. It features 300-foot ocean cliffs, a scenic road that circumnavigates the island, surfing beaches, bubbling water steaming out of volcanic rocks and snorkeling reefs. Motor scooters can be rented. There are glass-bottom boat tours. Snorkeling gear can be rented at convenience stores. There are 20 small guesthouses

Green Island is a volcanic island where winds blow and waters eat away at the rocks all year round, creating a beautiful and diverse coast. The island is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. Most of the land-based the scenic spots are situated off the 16.3-kilometer round-the-island concrete highway. These include the Green Island Lighthouse, Green Island Park, General Rock, Gateway Rock, Guanyin Cave, Youzi Lake, Pekinese Dog Rocks, Sleeping Beauty Rock, Sail Cape, Black Ghost Cave, and the rare Zhaori Saltwater hot spring. Bathing in the spring under the stars at night is especially popular with visitors. Located directly opposite the airport exit, the visitor center houses a permanent display of geological samples, information about local flora and fauna, underwater photography and a multimedia conference room, where films are regularly shown.

Getting There by Public Transport: Green can be reached by a one hour flight from Taipei or 10 minute flight or 90 minute from Taidung. Air: From Taipei International Airport fly to Taitung on UNI Air or Mandarin Airlines. From Taitung Airport fly to Green Island (Ludao) on Daily Air. Bus and Ferry: TRA Taitung Station Hualien Bus (bound for Hualien) to Fugang stop. Or, TRA Taitung Station Dingdong Bus (bound for Jingpu, Chenggong, Taiyuan) to Fugang stop. From Fugang Fishing Harbor take the ferry to Green Island. By Road: Nat'l Hwy 5 Exit at the Su'ao Interchange Prov. Hwy 9 Prov. Hwy 11 Fugang Fishing Harbor Take the ferry to Green Island. Address: No. 194-1, Nanliao Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County, Tel: [886]-672-510.

Kinmen

Kinmen (2.1 kilometers from mainland China but 277 kilometers west of Taiwan) is a hilly island composed mostly of granite with a history that derives largely from war. Kinmen was the front-line military garrison defending Taiwan against a possible mainland Chinese invasion for decades after the Kuomintang-led government relocated to Taiwan in 1949. As cross-strait tensions eased, so were restrictions on Kinmen County. Taiwan's government lifted martial law in Kinmen in 1992, returning the island to civilian rule and opening it to tourism.

Kinmen Island lies in the Amoy (Xiamen) Bay, southeast of mainland China's Fujian Province, and has a total area of 150.456 square kilometers. The outlying island is 277 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan proper but a mere 10 kilometers from Xiamen Harbor. One of the most famous incidents that took place on Kinmen was the 1958 Artillery Battle, a vicious 44-day period of intense shelling by the Chinese Communist forces that started on Aug. 23, 1958. At the end of the so-called "823 Bombardment,” however, the Chinese Communists abandoned their plans to attack Taiwan proper by hopping from the islands of Kinmen and Matsu.

Kinmen County has jurisdiction over a total of 12 islands including Kinmen Island, Lieyu, Dadan Island and Erdan Island. Because of its unique geographical location, Kinmen has an abundance of historic and culture sites, traditional villages and natural resources.The Kinmen National Park was established in October 1995 as part of the government's efforts to conserve natural resources and preserve important historic and cultural sites as well as battlefield monuments, marking the first of its kind in the country.

Today, Kinmen serves as a major hub for the "mini-three links” connecting the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The "mini-three links” policy implemented in January 2001 has initiated direct trade, post and transport between the Kinmen and Matsu islands and mainland Chinese ports of Xiamen and Mawei, respectively. The Wind Lion, also known as "fengshiye,” is a stone sculpture that is usually erected on the rooftop or flanking the gate. The lion deity it represents is believed to hold special powers that can repel evil and bring good fortunes to inhabitants of the entire village.

Getting There: : Air: 1. From Taipei International Airport or Kaohsiung International Airport fly to Kinmen Airport. Kinmen and Little Kinmen (Lieyu) have public bus service, and you can also rent a car or motor scooter. You can charter a taxi as well, but be sure to negotiate the price first. Transportation and Tourism Bureau, Kinmen County Government: Tel: [886]-82-324-174; Kinmen City Bus and Ferry Management Office: Tel: [886]-82-330-649, ext. 30. Address: No. 460, Sec. 2, Boyu Rd, Jinning Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-313100. Website: http://tour.kinmen.gov.tw/eng/traffic.htm

Tourist Offices: 1) Kinmen Airport, Tel: [886]-82-329-354, No. 2, Shangyi Airport, Jinhu Township, Kinmen County; 2) Kinmen Harbor, Tel: [886]-82-322-124, No. 5, Sec. 1, Xihai Rd, Jincheng Township, Kinmen County; Military Governor's Office Visitor Center, No.53, Wujiang St, Jincheng Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-371-717; 3) Jiougong Pier Visitor Center, Jiujing Rd, Lieyu Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-364-881; 4) Jincheng Bus Station Visitor Center, No.7, Minsheng Rd, Jincheng Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-325-548; 5) Jinsha Bus Station Visitor Center, No.112, Sec. 1, Huandao E. Rd, Jinsha Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-352-360; 6) Shanwai Bus Station Visitor Center, No.90-1, Huanghai Rd, Jinhu Township, Kinmen County, Tel: [886]-82-332-814.

History of Kinmen

Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “After retreating from the mainland in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists held on to Kinmen, surrounded by Communist Chinese territory on three sides. Formerly called Quemoy in English and also spelled Chinmen or Jinmen, the small island went from an agricultural backwater to a military base that for decades was the epicenter of cross-strait tensions. It featured prominently in the 1960 presidential debates, with Richard Nixon arguing that the U.S. should come to Quemoy's defense and John F. Kennedy asserting that only the main island was covered by a 1955 treaty. [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2014]

According to the Oxford Companion to American Military History: “The first major crisis began in September 1954, when Communist shore batteries heavily shelled Quemoy. The Nationalists retaliated with punishing air raids against the mainland and strengthened their island fortifications. Communist pressure on the islands continued, and top level officials in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's ad ministration began to believe that the Communists were preparing to assault all the offshore islands and possibly even Taiwan itself. Washington strengthened its commitment to Chiang Kai shek with a mutual defense treaty and congressional passage of the “Formosa Resolution,” which allowed the president to commit U.S. forces to Taiwan's defense. [Source: The Oxford Companion to American Military History Oxford University Press 2000]

“The crisis came in April 1955, when the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons in the event of a Communist assault on Quemoy and Matsu. Simultaneously, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai signaled Beijing's willingness to negotiate with the United States. Tensions rapidly dissipated and direct talks between the two sides began in Warsaw. It does not appear, however, that the Communists were actually deterred by the nuclear threat.

“In August 1958, during an international crisis in the Middle East, another U.S. China confrontation broke out over Quemoy and Matsu, after the Communists again bombarded the islands from onshore batteries. This confrontation was shorter but more intense than the first one. For several weeks, it again appeared that the United States, which sent several carrier groups to the region, might be drawn into a war with China, and possibly with the Soviet Union, which publicly supported Beijing's “Liberate Taiwan” campaign. But like the first crisis, tensions broke as Washington and Beijing resumed negotiations and Beijing backed away from an assault.”

Chang wrote: “Living in a war zone exacted a high toll on the local population, which today numbers about 120,000. Hundreds of civilians were killed in two major battles in 1949 and 1958, but residents on the main island were removed from the fighting. At the height of the hostilities, soldiers jammed the streets of Jincheng and Shanwai, shopping at local businesses and generating extra cash for families who washed their laundry and heated water for their baths. Generations of young Taiwanese men did their compulsory military service on Kinmen, living amid rats and roaches in the maze of tunnels blasted into the island's bedrock. Kinmen at one time had twice as many soldiers as locals.

“As relations between Beijing and Taipei thawed, the Taiwanese military pulled back from Kinmen, which is about 10 miles across at its widest point. From a peak of nearly 100,000 soldiers in the 1950s, only about 3,000 are stationed here today. Many of the military tunnels have been abandoned or turned into tourist attractions.”

Tourism on Kinmen Island

Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The beach at Mashan is lined with decaying concrete bunkers installed decades ago to repel a naval attack. Near Yang's fishing spot, soldiers once slept in dank tunnels, ready to spring into action against mainland invaders. Separated from Taiwan's main island by 120 miles of ocean, Kinmen was the first line of defense. Now, tourists wander through the empty tunnels and inspect loudspeakers that once blared Nationalist messages to the other shore. China has become a trading partner, not a military adversary, while still insisting on eventual reunification with the democratically governed island. [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2014]

“Kinmen officials are scrambling to reinvent the island's economy, seeking to increase exports of its famously strong kaoliang liquor. And they hope the former military installations will prove a draw for visitors, including mainland Chinese, interested in the contrast between then and now. Li Wo-shih, Kinmen's magistrate, makes the short hop to China a dozen times a year to talk trade and tourism. A deal is in the works for Kinmen to purchase some of its drinking water from the mainland.

“Kinmen's economic future lies with China and its vast supply of tourists and kaoliang customers, Li believes. Xiamen, a mainland city of 3.5 million, is a ferry ride away. "We've been through war, but we don't have any sadness or hate," Li said. "The positive feelings between people come back really fast. We want to let the world understand that we no longer have war, and we also hope that the rest of the world can achieve that."

“In Kinmen's farming villages, old cottages have been restored and turned into bed-and-breakfasts for visitors to experience traditional architecture and the rhythms of rural life. Crowds are sparse in the off-season, but tourism is the best hope to supplement agricultural incomes now that the soldiers are gone. Chen Kun-chi, a retired schoolteacher, serves oyster omelets and oyster noodle soup from a stall in one of the refurbished villages in Kinmen's northeast. Busloads of tourists arrive to admire the colorful wooden carvings on the red-tile-roofed houses. "We didn't know what day we might die. We'd eat a few bites of dinner, the bombs would come, and we'd have to hide," Chen, 76, recalled of his childhood, when shells would rain down from China on odd-numbered days so civilians knew roughly when to find cover.

“Having experienced warfare firsthand, older Kinmen residents want to avoid it at all costs. Kinmen's proximity to Fujian province in China, along with a shared dialect and customs, means many residents feel an affinity for the mainland, intensified by the fact that they can now travel there freely. Some say they are not opposed to someday reunifying. "I hope we can work together and not have war again," Chen said. "We're the same race. We can be like brothers." On the outskirts of Jincheng, the small town that is Kinmen's capital, Tseng-dong Wu's workshop blends the old and the new Kinmen.

“As a group of tourists from Beijing looked on, Wu — known as Maestro Wu — picked up an artillery shell and began shaving it into a chef's knife. He is in no danger of running out of raw material. Decades of near-daily bombardments left hundreds of thousands of shells scattered across the countryside. The military steel, denser than most commercial steel, is perfect for making high-quality knives. There are no restrictions on bringing kitchen knives into China in checked baggage, said a Chinese government spokesman in Los Angeles, and the visitors to Wu's workshop return home with plenty of them."The Chinese tourists, they like the knives a lot," Wu, 56, said. "It shows that the two sides have gone from war to peaceful cooperation."”

Houpu

Houpu (west side of Kinmen Island) has a history of 600 years and is the political and economic center of Kinmen. The cultural legacy of the town combines southern Fujianese and overseas Chinese influences, as well as traces of its battlefield history. Houpu faces mainland China and is situated on a river, sea and harbor. Visitors can explore the scenic lakes and hills or relax by the sea and watch the birds riding the waves.

Houpo is home to several historic buildings. Built in 1924, Houpu's Mofan Street has both Chinese and Western traditions. Today, the street is a showcase shopping area. On April 12, families throughout Houpu come together to welcome Cheng-Huang, the protective god of the town, with a joyous and tradition-steeped festival. Costumed children ride a centipede, depicting characters from a traditional story. Seafood is the dominant ingredient in local Houpu cuisine, with scrumptious Kinmen crab playing the leading role. Houpu Wujiang Estuary is a perfect spot to watch birds and enjoy nature.

Old-time customers still chat with the barbers at Houpu's traditional barbershops, where time seems to stop. History is woven into the daily life of Houpu, as evidenced by the pedestrian flow in front of the Qing period Arch of Virtue and Piety for Chiu Liang-kung's Mother. Century-old kapok trees dazzle in full bloom by the Qing period Kinmen Regional Commander's Office. The Juguang Building is a Kinmen landmark that has been widely depicted in postal stamp designs. This is generally the first stop for foreign visitors to Kinmen. A Houpu specialty, Kinmen knives are forged from the casings of artillery shells fired at Kinmen in earlier years. The knives neatly repurpose a wartime artifact for peaceful ends.

Getting There by Public Transport: 1) Bus: From the rear of Shangyi Airport in Kinmen, take bus No. R1, 1A, or 3 to Jincheng (~15 mins); 2. Sightseeing Bus: Guided tours of Jincheng scenic sites are offered on the Sightseeing Bus (Shuitou-Dishan Line). Departures daily at 8:20 a.m. from Jincheng.

Sights on Kinmen

Juguang Tower is the symbol of Kinmen, and a popular tourist spot. The tower itself, built in imposing ancient Chinese style, contains a cultural gallery. Two cannon in front of the tower reflect the turbulent history of Kinmen. Getting There: Air: 1. From Taipei International Airport fly to Kinmen Airport.

Kinmen Cihu (Ci Lake) is the result of a joint military/civil engineering project. Located near the Guningtou (Kuningtou) battlefield, it provides 120 hectares of fish-farming area for local residents and has a long dike that constitutes an obstacle to enemy landings as well. This is Kinmen's foremost bird watching area, with flocks of cormorants-which are rarely seen in Taiwan-frequently visiting. Nearly 200 species of birds have been sighted here, with birds of the Scoloipacidae family being most numerous.

Shanhou Folk Cultural Village (in Shanhou Village) was built in 1900. Covering an area of 1230 pings, the village has 18 traditional Fujian-style buildings built by the Chinese Japanese Wang Kuo Chen and Wang Ching Hsiang for their relatives using materials shipped in from Changzhou, Chuanzhou and Jiangxi Province. It took 20 years to finish the construction. The eighteen buildings and houses were damaged after many years of wind and salt water air. The Kinmen government restored them in 1979 and turned them into a cultural village decorated with traditional Chinese style furniture, paintings and sculptures and set up with exhibition rooms.

Military Sights on Kinmen

Mashan Observation Station is positioned in Mashan at the the point where Kinmen is closest to mainland China. The distance is only 2,100 meters; at low tide, when more land area is exposed, the distance shrinks to just 1,800 meters. The observation station is located in a long, narrow trench and is equipped with three pairs of high-powered binoculars through which the daily life of the fishing villages on the opposite shore can be seen clearly.

Zhaishan Tunnels are located to the southeast of Gugang Lake, in an area where the southern coastline juts out. Construction of these tunnels began in 1961 and was completed in March 1966. The Zhaishan Tunnel stretch over a distance of 101 meters, with a width of six meters and height of about 3.5 meters. Inside are seven rooms that served as barracks. A unique feature of these tunnels is the A-shaped waterways. These waterways have a length of 357 meters, a width of about 11.5 meters and a height of about eight meters, and were used to conceal small naval vessels. Getting There: From Jincheng Station, take bus no.6 to Old Jincheng direction and get off at Gugang stop or Gugang Lake stop.

Guningtou Battlefield History Museum is located at Guningtou Battlefield, the site of 56-hour bloodbath that began when Communist troops landed on the shore and ended in victory for the Nationalist forces. A memorial tablet on the coast commemorates the battle. The battlefield's entrance, built in the form of a Chinese city gate, is topped by a bronze statue of a heroic soldier. The steel-reinforced cement building on the site of the Guningtou Battlefield is designed to resemble a fortress. It was built in 1984 as a memorial to the heroic actions of Kinmen's defenders, who at great cost drove off the Communist invaders off the island.

The sides and entrance of the museum are adorned with large relief sculptures portraying the spirit of the soldiers who fought in this notable battle. On grassy areas to either side "Kinmen Bears" — the M5 AI tanks which played a decisive role in the fighting — are displayed. In a circle at the front of the building is a sculpture of three heroic fighters. Inside the museum are 12 oil paintings by prominent artists depicting the battle, along with displays of materials, documents and photographs related to the fighting and the victory that followed. The aim of the museum is to portray the spirit of sacrifice manifested by the soldiers who fought so hard and gave so much for their country. Matsu

Matsu Islands (20 kilometers from mainland China, 200 kilometers northwest of Taiwan and 250 kilometers northeast of Kinmen) is an archipelago of 36 islands and islets in the East China Sea, situated in the northeast corner of the Taiwan Straits and separated from China by only a narrow strip of water, Matsu, like Kinmen, is also made up largely of granite. Its scenery consists of sea-eroded terrain, natural sand and pebble beaches, sand dunes, precipitous cliffs, and other scenic features. In addition to its beautiful jagged coastline and the migratory birds that pass through Matsu also offers traditional eastern Fujian villages built on mountainsides as well as defensive fortifications built by the military.

Matsu (also spelled Matzu or Mazu) is named after the Goddess of Sea, who carried the body of her drowned fisherman father back to shore. The casket of the Goddess is still preserved in a local temple. The a total area of Matsu’s islands, which are officially named Lienchiang County in the Republic of China, is 28.8 square kilometers. The historical Lienchiang County included both the Matsu Islands and today's Lianjiang County of the People's Republic of China. The main Matsu islands are Nangan, Beigan, Juguang, and Dongyin. Nangan is the main island and has an airport

Due to its sensitive position, Matsu used to be a military fortress like Kinmen. During the opposition to the mainland communist regime, Matsu served as Taiwan's front-line defense, turning the island landscape into battlefield scenes of psy-war slogans, defensive tunnels, and troops. With the cross-strait relations growing friendlier, Matsu is now developing its tourism. In 1999, Matsu was designated as a national tourist district and began welcoming visitors.

Getting There: Air: From Taipei International Airport fly to Nangan Airport on Nangan Island or Beigan Airport on Beigan Island on Uni Air. Sea: The Taima Ferry offers daily service from Keelung Harbor in Taiwan to Fu-ao Harbor in Nangan and Zhongzhu Harbor in Dongyin. Nangan and Beigan have public bus service, and taxis can be found at major harbors. Taxi prices should be negotiated in advance. Address: No.95-1, Ren-ai Village, Nangan Township, Lienchiang County, Tel: [886]-836-25630.

Tourist Offices: Matsu Nangan Airport, , Tel: [886]-836-26402, No.220, Fuhsing Village, Nangan Township, Lienchiang Country; Matsu Beigan Airport, Tel: [886]-836-56531, No. 47, Tangci Village, Beigan Township, Lienchiang County; Matsu Visitor Center, No.129, Fuwo Vil, Nangan Township, Lienchiang County, Tel: [886]-836-26760; Matsu National Scenic Area Administration, No.95-1, Ren-ai Village, Nangan Township, Lienchiang County, Tel: [886]-836-25630: Dongyin Visitor Center, No.160-1, Lehua Village, Dongyin Township, Lienchiang County, Tel: [886]-836-77266; Beigan Visitor Center, No.43, Banli Village, Beigan Township, Lienchiang County, Tel: [886]-836-56531; Juguang Visitor Center No.1, Neighborhood 1, Fuzheng Village, Juguang Township, Lienchiang County Tel: [886]-836-89388.

Sights and Activities on Matsu

Differences between Matsu and the main island of Taiwan can also be seen in the building materials, architectural styles, and functional aspects of residences in Matsu. Some of the better-known villages include: Niujiao, Jinsha, and Tieban on Nangan Island; Qinbi and Qiaozai on Donggan Island; and Fuzheng and Dapu on Dongju Island. In addition, Matsu is a paradise for sea fishing thanks to its numerous bays and reefs, as well as ocean currents that channel abundant marine resources to the island throughout the year. Matsu also has many well-known local specialty products, including Matsu Aged Liquor and Tong Yung X'Old Kao Liang Liquor, both favorites served at state banquets. A wide variety of seafood and processed seafood products, healthy red yeast cuisine, pickled vegetables, and pastries also make good souvenir gifts for home.

Bi Mountain is 298 meters high and is the tallest peak in Matsu. When you stand on the sightseeing platform located at the top of the mountain and look downwards, you can take in vista of Beigan and enjoy the magnificent sight of the ocean and each island at the best view point. Furthermore, a great number of fortresses camouflaged in green stand within the mountain, showcasing the importance of Matsu as a place of battle preparation with its own special atmosphere.

The Zhongxing Distillery was established in 1956 and the name was changed to Matsu Distillery in 1969. It became popular for brewing liquor with an ancient technique that brought out the pure taste of liquors. Among them, Dazhu, Gaoliang and Laojiu are the most popular brands. When you step into the liquor plant, the dense scent of the liquor will wake you up and exhilarate you even before you taste it.

During his visit to Matsu in 1958, Former President Chiang Kai-Shek wrote the phrase Sleeping on Spears, Awaiting the Dawn to encourage the soldiers and residents in Matsu not to forget the mission of recovering China. The phrase was then carved on the Fu Mountain (Fushan) Wall by soldiers and became the most visible landmark in Matsu and a spiritual symbol of the Matsu military installation. Nowadays, the spot is assigned to a private cafe and store selling local specialties. When you drink a cup of fine coffee under brushing of a gentle breeze, it is relaxing to enjoy this sight at the same time.

Military-Related Sights on Matsu

Matsu used to be a mysterious military stronghold because of its sheer inaccessibility. Today, it is one of the few places in Taiwan with abundant wartime heritage resulting from the tensions across the Taiwan Strait following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Traveling around Matsu, signboards with patriotic slogans such as "Long live President Chiang Kai-shek” and "Retake the Mainland” can be seen almost everywhere.

Because of its strategically important frontline position in the past, Matsu has the world's highest density of air-raid shelters and blockhouses. There are 256 air-raid shelters, blockhouses, tunnels and other underground facilities that are no longer used by troops. The number of those which are still being used is a well-kept military secret.

Consisting of 39 rocky islets and islands, Matsu had been under strict military control and curfews until the martial law was lifted in 1992. Troops stationed on Matsu used to be as many as three divisions of 50,000 strong, but the number drops to some 4,000 today. Three tunnels - Andong Tunnel in Dongyin Township, Tunnel 88 and Beihai Tunnel in Nangan Township - are now open to visitors. Those who travelto the Beihai Tunnel can even canoe in the underground granite waterway.Although no major air strikes or battles took place in Matsu during the Cold War era across the Taiwan Strait, defense facilities there have become a valuable cultural heritage.

Iron Fort was originally the training base for special amphibious forces and the base was full of defensive facilities such as machine guns, guarding posts, glass chips and iron bars. Within the castle's narrow spaces, many stone rooms were built as kitchens, dormitories, toilets and cannon bases, which clearly displays the hardship experienced by the soldiers.

Military Tunnels on Matsu

Three tunnels - Andong Tunnel in Dongyin Township, Tunnel 88 and Beihai Tunnel in Nangan Township - are now open to visitors. Those who travel to the Beihai Tunnel can even canoe in the underground granite waterway.

Beihai Tunnel is located between Ren-ai Village and Meishi Village. In 1970, the military excavated a tunnel here for the ships to avoid bad weather and attacks. The tunnel could harbor several naval vessels, but after a severe typhoon, it was damaged. As the cross-strait relations grow friendlier, the tunnel has become a tourist attraction. With a total length of 700 meters, the tunnel is also called as the nderground dock featuring Matsu military importance in the past.

Beihai Tunnel goes deep into the granite mountain. The waterway is 18 meters in height, 10 meters in width and 640 meters in length, capable of harboring 120 small vessels. It took 820 days to complete the establishment of the tunnel. The construction was very difficult and some soldiers died during the construction. The tunnels opening hours is based on tidal schedules, opening hours need to be confirmed in advance.

The 88 Tunnel was originally a tunnel of battle preparation for army tank companies; at present, the interior is used as the storage for the Matsu Distillery. In order to preserve the temperature and moisture of stored liquor, it is not recommended that the main gate be opened and closed often. Any visit must be booked with the Matsu Distillery in advance and the open time to the public during weekends and holidays is always during the afternoon.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Taiwan (Republic of China) tourism and government websites, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020


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