Article by Pier-André Doyon
As a follower of YPT, you’re probably into weird political boundaries, strange divisions and other historical hiccups. As such, you probably know that Taiwan (Republic of China) and Mainland China (People’s Republic of China) are two political entities which currently claim control over a country called China.
This situation started at the end of the Chinese Civil War in the 50s as the previous Nationalist Government was violently ousted by the Mao-Zedong-led Communist Party of China. Chiang Kai-chek had to grab his stuff and lots of Chinese treasures, and bunker down on the island of Taiwan, hoping to hold on and eventually get China back. What fewer people know though, is that the province of Taiwan isn’t the only territory controlled by the ROC. In fact there is such a thing called Fujianese Taiwan, composed of Matsu Island (Mazu in pinyin) and the Kinmen Islands (Jinmen in pinyin). They are now easily accessed from the Mainland and make for a great visa run or weekend trip into contemporary history. Let me introduce you, this time, to Jinmen Islands.
What is it about?
Jinmen Islands is a set of two islands, Big Kinmen and Small Kinmen (also called Lieyu), that are right off the coast of Mainland China. In their retreat, the Nationalist Party seized the island and built fortifications there to make it their frontline and ward off further Communist invasions. As such, both island communities have grown in sync with the military bases there. People there speak Mandarin and the Minnan dialect.
Up until the late 70s, these two islands faced frequent bombings and invasions from mainland China, but managed to be somehow never be taken. Nowadays, Kinmen is super safe and while there is still a token military presence, most of the bases have been emptied and can be visited. In fact, Kinmen has turned into a tourist spot attracting both mainland Chinese and, er, main islander Taiwanese. The islands have bases to visit and multiple museums. The food there is unique and distinctly Taiwanese and the ambience in its main city, Jincheng, reminds me of Taipei while being a stone’s throw away from mainland China. So close, in fact, that you can still get a mainland phone signal on most of the islands.
How to get there
Coming from Taiwan, there are regular cheap flights from Taipei to Kinmen Airport. So there’s that.
From the Mainland, you’ll have to first get to Xiamen city. You can get to Xiamen by high-speed trains or by plane. Most high-speed trains will get you there around 1 pm, so it would be too late to do a visa run in one day, like most people do in Hong Kong. It is doable, if not very rushed, if you take flights. Anyways, it would be a shame not to enjoy Kinmen for at least a day, as it has much to offer. Once you get to Xiamen make you way to Wutong Ferry Terminal and catch the next ferry to Xiamen. There are hourly ferries run by Taiwanese companies. You might see on the internet that there is another Ferry Terminal (Dongdu) in Xiamen that has ferries to Kinmen. However, that information is outdated and all ferries have been relocated to Wutong.
From there, enjoy the leisurely 30-minute ride, thinking that you are sailing through what used to be a no man’s land (or is it no man’s water?). From there you’ll get to Shuitou Ferry Terminal, notice the striking difference in development between Taiwan and the mainland and start your adventure as you first go through immigration, leaving China into China (the same but not the same)
Kinmen can make for a cheaper option for visa runs then Hong Kong for anyone located on the eastern coast of China. Flights to Xiamen are often cheaper then flights to Hong Kong and the high-speed train is definitely cheaper than a last minute flight to Hong Kong.
How to get around
On Kinmen Islands, you can hire a scooter to get around. If you carry an international driver’s license, it will be much cheaper. If you don’t, you can still hire a scooter, but it will cost you much more for much less time.
Otherwise, you can use the bus system to get around the main island but be aware that it stops quite early; ask at one of the many tourist information spots to be sure.
From Shuitou Terminal, it is only a short walk to the Lieyu Terminal, where you can take another ferry to Small Kinmen. You can put your scooter on the ferry.
Small Kinmen has an even more irregular bus schedule, but it is quite small and can easily be biked or walked around via a well maintained bike lane which will take you around all the main sites.
What is there to see?
On small Kinmen, it’s fortresses galore. You’ll find loads of fortifications you can explore on your own. You’ll also find abandoned tanks and the Hujingtou Battle Museum, where you’ll learn more about the Taiwanese frogmen and mainland invasions. In usual Taiwanese fashion, everything has been translated into English.
On Big Kinmen, you’ll find Jincheng, the main settlement where you’ll find great food and see the people of Kinmen going on with their lives. It’s like a little Taipei. Be sure to visit the underground defense tunnels there. You’ll find the entrance by the main bus station. There, you’ll have to wait for the hourly visit as a member of staff brings you around a complex of tunnels built for the inhabitants of Jincheng to hide and move undercover in case of bombings. You can then make your way to the north of the island, where you will find Guningtou battle museum. This was the site of a great battle; mainland forces aggressively landed on the beach and were repelled by the Nationalist Army. Nearby, you’ll find the Peace Park, with its tanks and a museum to one of the first governors or the island. Head back to Jincheng before nightfall if you don’t have your own means of transportation.There, treat yourself to some local food and rinse it down with the local Baijiu, Kaoliang – Taiwan’s most well-known and also their strongest.
By the way, all attractions on Kinmen are free!
Where to stay
During my stay in Jinmen, I stayed at 988 Ancient House B&B, a lovely place a bit out of town with great service. If you decide to go there, make sure to get their phone number and call them so they can pick you up and show you the place.
All in all
Kinmen is a mesmerizing place for any Chinese history enthusiast. A place of contradictions, its inhabitants are typically Taiwanese in culture whilst many want to join the mainland and enjoy the influx of investments it would bring. It would be too easy to think of Kinmen as an extension of Taiwan. Kinmen has its own history and its own culinary culture, and is a formidable place to visit. Even more so when you need to update a pesky stamp in your passport.
Pier-André Doyon works as an international travel guide for YPT. Scuba diving, language and Maoist karaoke aficionado, Pier is travelling around hoping to create stories in all 193 countries of the world.