This past week I took a 3 day 2 night trip to one of Taiwan’s major outer islands, Kinmen Island. It was my first time to Taiwan’s outer islands. Kinmen is simply incredible, and has become my favorite domestic destination in Taiwan. Filled with history, tradition and true old-school Taiwanese flavor and friendliness, yet fully in the present and with eyes set towards the future as well; this is where you can experience the real Taiwan. Plus all sights and museums are free! Yet most locals tend not to visit and will question why you are interested in visiting Kinmen. Most visitors are actually Mainland Chinese who are on their way to or from Taiwan’s mainland as Xiamen, China is literally within a swim away from Kinmen.
But given Kinmen’s history it is not real surprise why people in Taiwan still dont see it as a place to visit. Historically it was a part of China, it wasnt until Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist army was forced to retreat that Kinmen became the place of one of the last battles of the Chinese revolution, known as GuNingTou Battle. KMT prevailed and Kinmen became part of Taiwan and the forefront of its military efforts to defend and maintain peace against communist China. It then fought the last battle on Taiwanese soil, the 823 artillery battle on Kinmen. Kinmen has only been publicly open to visitors for less than 20 years, as it has previously been military and local residents only. Its mystery, secrecy, and association with the military, martial law and KMT era still remains intact in the mindset of many Taiwanese people as such the image of Kinmen is that of an island filled with shack and old Qing dynasty houses neighboring military bases and tunnels.
However, as I discovered for myself, Kinmen is a gem in Taiwan and is nothing like the common perception. Yes, most of the Island’s sights and attractions are military related, and yes there are plenty of beautiful Qing dynasty style homes as well as Western Colonial homes (built by Kinmen migrants to SouthEast Asia). But what makes Kinmen so charming is the people, its culture and of course the food. People always say Taiwanese people are known for their hospitality and friendliness, but its sort of hard to see as a local and on the main island cities but here in Kinmen the people are genuinely friendly. Partly because of their nature and partly because of the island atmosphere, people are laid back, outgoing, and everyone knows everyone. And also the benefits given to residents of Kinmen are astounding, the island is quite wealthy thanks to the local Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor plant and as such is able to give its residents plenty of free social welfare; this definitely seems to keep people here happy. The food here is incredible, mostly made in very traditional methods using all natural ingredients (most from the island itself), and even my mom said almost everything tasted just the way it did when she was a child. The island is dotted with remnants of the KMT military era, from propaganda signs, to statues, to memorials and abandoned military bases now open to visitors. The entire island as well as neighboring Little Kinmen is filled with tunnels and caverns built by the military to prevent and prepare for further attacks from China, though both sadly and fortunately none of these military infrastructures were ever put to the true test. The people here are nostalgic and have a different perception of the military as well as the KMT era, for in Kinmen the military/civilian bond and friendship was real, they all depended on each other for survival, encouragement and companionship. The culture remains closely tied to old Chinese/ Taiwanese traditions which makes for a very colorful visit.
There is also a lot of flora and fauna on Kinmen with over 75% of the Island as national park land. It is a paradise for bird watching. There is also bioluminescent plankton that can be spotted in large amounts along certain beaches which create sights of blue glows when the waves crash ashore, much like the world-famous Maldives photo. But for this you definitely need a local who knows their way around local beaches, as it is a night activity and you can only spot the glowing plankton in the dark. As a local where and how to see 藍眼淚 (Lan Yan Lei).
Kinmen is split into 5 major areas, 4 on main Kinmen and 1 on Little Kinmen (Liyue Island). I’d recommend spending at least 3 days in Kinmen, devoting at least half a day to each precinct.
What to do and see
I’ll leave it to the captions and images for this part (some that are inserted throughout). Again, all sights and museums are free entry. Most places have a QR code for a self-guided tour in Mandarin, English or Japanese, while not comprehensive it is better than nothing, having a guide who can explain the smaller facts and local culture/ past and present is definitely necessary.
What To Eat
Kinmen food is amazing. Most of the things here can indeed be found in Taipei and mainland Taiwan, but here in Kinmen they are cooked in dying traditional methods and in some cases cooked in entirely different ways that make dining in Kinmen unique.
The must eats are Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉麵）, Shao Bing （燒餅）, Oyster Vermicelli （蚵仔麵線）, Cantonese congee （廣東粥）, Taro meal (on Little Kinmen), Kaoliang Liquor, Gong Tang Peanut candy （貢糖）, breakfast rice ball fan tuan （飯糰） and seafood.
Getting There and Around:
Kinmen is accessible by plane from major Taiwanese cities. From Taipei’s SongShan Airport, all 4 domestic carriers (Uni Air, Mandarin Airlines, Far Eastern Air Transport, and Transasia Airways) offer multiple daily flights to Kinmen. Flights are around NT$1800-2000 one way.
You can rent a car, moped, or hire a car upon arrival in Kinmen. I’d recommend renting a moped (scooter) if you going solo or without a guide. If you can finding a guide who can also double as your driver would be the prime option. If none of the above fancies you, Kinmen offers free public sight seeing buses that drops you off and picks you up from all major sights.
Little Kinmen is accessible by ferry only. Once there you can rent a moped (scooter), bike the island, or again hire a car or taxi.
Where to Stay:
Kinmen is filled with B&Bs and this is the way to go here. Most of them are housed in renovated Qing Dynasty courtyard homes or Western Colonial homes. There are a variety of styles and locations to choose from, check tripadvisor or agoda for the full list of options.
We stayed at I-Shan B&B in ZhuShan village. I highly recommend it. Its quaint, comfortable, secluded and friendly. Two sisters (China Airlines flight attendants) and their younger brother run the place. It is housed in a traditional courtyard house. Interiors and furnishings are modern with a small touch of cheeky, rooms are small but clean and comfortable and bathrooms come with all key amenities including slippers, towels and toiletries. Rates include daily Kinmen style breakfast. The owners are outgoing and conversational and very knowledgable about Kinmen so definitely chat them up while you are there. Its homey and the make sure you feel it is your home, you are given keys and with a few simple rules to go by, you are free to come and go as you please and use the public spaces as you please. A double room for 2 people is around NT$2000 per night.
I cannot recommend Kinmen enough as a definite must see and visit when one is in Taiwan. Taiwan does indeed have way too much to offer in terms of travel and food, but I found that Kinmen is a one stop destination where you can get it all plus a major history lesson and understanding of Taiwan’s history and what the cause and effects it has had on our present and future.
Below are some more photos from Kinmen.