Kinmen Juguang Tower Phone Box

Of borders and barracks: Taiwan’s Kinmen 金門 Island

In Taiwan by Jaclynn SeahLeave a Comment

I like nothing more than renting a scooter and exploring the nooks and crannies of Taiwan’s many offshore islands – I’d made it to Lyudao and Lanyu on Taitung, the eastern coast of Taiwan and they turned out to be some of my all-time favourite places in the world. On my trip to Xiamen, I popped over to Kinmen, a Taiwanese island which is closer to China than it is to Taiwan.

Kinmen 金門 has a markedly different vibe from the Eastern islands that I’d visited previously – it feels like time has slowed down a little here, and there are lots of open spaces and original Fujian buildings littered about the island. Also, its proximity to China means that it has spent much of its history in conflict with the mainland, and a lot of the sights to see on the island today revolve around this war. I don’t have much of a head for old dates, but I found the history interesting and ended up visiting a lot of old military bases and tunnels in my quest around the island.

Kinmen is great for a indie travellers who like a very chillax itinerary and very budget friendly as stuff is generally inexpensive and I didn’t have to pay a single entrance fee for the sights. So to help you navigate this island, I put together this little guide to Kinmen based on my experiences.

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Guide to Kinmen 金門

How to get to Kinmen

I flew into Xiamen via Xiamen Airlines, and from Wutong Passenger Wharf 五通客运码头, I took a short ferry ride over to Kinmen that took just half an hour to Shuitou Commercial Port 水頭 in Jincheng on the south-west corner. A one-way ticket cost me 160 RMB / NTD725 (about S$32) I bought my tickets at the harbour, and maybe because it was a weekday, it wasn’t very crowded at all.

If you are flying from mainland Taiwan, there are flights from Taipei and other major hubs to Kinmen’s Shang Yi airport金門尚義機場 (KNH) in Jinhu on the south-eastern side of the island – here’s the schedule. The flight takes about an hour and you have 3 airlines to choose from: Uni Airways, Mandarin Airlines and Far Eastern Air Transport and there are several flights a day.

More info on how to get to Kinmen here.

The weird mushroom thing

One odd thing I noticed when waiting around the port was the number of people approaching me to ask me to carry some mushrooms from Xiamen across to Kinmen for a small fee. Obviously I’ve taken those Airport notices about not carrying anyone else’s stuff for them to heart so I said no, but apparently Chinese mushrooms are big business in Taiwan.

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Getting around Kinmen

My preferred way: by scooter

As with the other Taiwanese islands, the best way to see Kinmen is to rent a scooter and go your own way. My hostel recommended me to check out Guancheng Car Rental 冠城租車 whose main office is in Jincheng and I made pre-trip arrangements with them via Line – they send a car to pick you up and bring you to the office to settle your paper work and let you pick up your vehicle. On my return trip, I dropped the scooter back at their office, and they in turned drove me to the ferry terminal.

This car rental place was pretty strict about the International License as well, and what I learned was that my International Car Driving License was not going to get me a normal scooter – they would only rent me the electric scooter because while I had an international license, I didn’t have a motorbike license.

Kinmen Huxia Sunset Scooter Jumpshot

Me and my trusty little blue scooter at sunset

I opted for the smaller of the two electric scooters sizes and it cost NT$600 per day. It probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise because electric scooters are just less noisy and you don’t have to worry about fuel, but there’s a speed cap so quite often I was the slowest moving vehicle on a road – I had a max speed of 30-40km/h going downhill. You can change the battery for free but I had to make sure my battery didn’t run out halfway, but I found that the scooter can definitely last one full day of activity easily.

I really enjoyed scooting around Kinmen, but a note of caution that unlike Lanyu and Lyudao which are much smaller, you can end up quite lost if you aren’t careful in Kinmen, so make sure to have Google Maps or (offline) on hand.

Other transport options

Rent a car: If you rented a car, a ballpark figure for a sedan car rental would be about NT$1,500+/day (S$70), which can save you money if you were in a group of 4. Guancheng also offers car rental services.

Hire a taxi: If you want to hire a taxi for sightseeing, it would probably cost you about NT$3,000 for a full day.

Tourist Bus: There is a tourist bus service or 好行路線 with 4 different lines covering the major attractions across Kinmen – Lines A&B cover the west side while C&D cover the east side – as well as a 5th line E specifically for hunting down the numerous wind god statues across the island. The tourist bus follows a fixed schedule where it stops at each attraction for a fixed period of time, so it is a pretty fuss-free way to see all the major sights in 2-3 days but you have very little flexibility of your own to wander or skip spots. There are 3 tickets – half day (NT$250/S$12), full day (NT$400/S$18), 2-day (NT$700/S$32).

Public Buses: There is a small public bus system that cost just NT$12 (S$0.50) per ride, but these buses are not the most frequent (every hour or so) and only run from 6am to 5pm, so you might run into issues in the evening if you want to have dinner in a different spot or are trying to catch the sunset somewhere.

Free bicycles: The local council is encouraging cycling and offering free bike rentals on Kinmen, and the general landscape is pretty flat so cycling is doable if you are intrepid enough.

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Kinmen is a butterfly-shaped island – it has a narrow centre portion like someone pinched it in the middle. The main hub of activity happens in Jincheng 金城 in the south-western side, I usually drove to this town for dinner as it was the main ‘city centre’ and there was more activity happening here in comparison. If you don’t have your own transport, Jincheng is probably the best place for you to stay.

Kinmen Beishan Old Western House Facade Fujian

Beishan Old Western Style House from the outside maintains its very traditional exterior

I stayed in the Jinning 金寧 district in the northwestern corner of Kinmen, in a little village called Beishan 北山 in a heritage building turned hostel called the Beishan Old Western Style House 北山古洋樓 [ affiliate link] for NT$ 600 (S$27) per night.

This hostel is a bit out of the way and much quieter compared to Jincheng – my plan was to pick up my scooter and ride here, but I ended up taking the public bus here, from Shuitou to Jincheng interchange (Bus #7), and then Jincheng to Beishan (Bus #10). Each bus ride cost me just 12 NTD (S$0.50) and it was pretty smooth and easy to find.

Kinmen Beishan Old Western House Facade War

The back side of the house still shows the marks of war

The hostel is built in a historical traditional Fujian-style house that still bears the bullet holes from the wars, and is also a protected heritage building in the Kinmen National Park area. It might look a bit shabby on the outside, but the interior is a different story – I spent my evenings chitchatting with the owner, a nice local guy who lived in mainland Taiwan and moved back to his home to build this hostel because there aren’t really any other backpacker style hostels in Kinmen. He’s travelled quite a lot as well, and he  knows what backpackers like – the facilities like the showers and toilets are top-notch and better than some hotels I’ve stayed in.

Kinmen Beishan Old Western House Courtyard

The courtyard – there’s a common room and guest rooms on the right, more rooms and the toilets on the left, and behind me is that broken-down bit of the house that is cordoned off to guests

There are great communal spaces as well, and probably my only complaint is that the bunk mattresses are more like bed padding than actual mattress so it can be tough if you like softer beds (like me). I highly recommend independent travellers to check this place out.

Check them out on [affiliate link] for more info.

Kinmen Beishan Old Western House Dorm Room

My 8-bed dorm room – my bed on the bottom left

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Things to do on Kinmen

I spent 3 days zipping around the island on my scooter to see what I could find. Most of the more interesting sights to see on Kinmen have to do with its war history and Fujian heritage, but there are some pretty natural sights worth checking out as well.

Jincheng 金城

This is the central area of Kinmen and Jincheng town is the busiest area and where you are most likely to find some life in the evenings. I spent most evenings getting dinner in this area.

Jincheng Walking Tour

According to my hostel owner, this walking tour called the Beautiful Houpu Walking Tour (Houpu is the only name of Jincheng) is the only activity that happens at night in Kinmen because there isn’t much nightlife here. Head to the Kinmen Military HeadQuarters of Qing Dynasty to sign up for this tour that takes you on a bit of a walk around Jincheng to see some famous old buildings and give some insight into the history of Kinmen and its architecture. This building is pretty fascinating in itself – it’s home to a really old and huge tree and while has had many uses, and now currently is a bit of a museum and the county administrative office.

Details: The tour starts every evening at 7.30pm and is free/tips-based, you just have to show up . The tour is conducted only in Chinese, so if you don’t speak English, maybe just check out the route listed and explore for yourself.

Kinmen Night Tour Guide

On the tour

Juguang Tower 莒光樓

The first attraction I visited in Kinmen is this tower just south of Jincheng. It looks a bit like a temple perched on top of a mini fort because of the classical style. This three-storey tower has a mini exhibition inside (and some pretty awesome roof deco) that pays tribute to Lai Sheng Ming, a war hero from the battles for Dadan and Erdan, 2 smaller islands close by. There’s a pretty nice view of the west coast from up there.

Open 8am – 10pm

Kinmen Juguang Tower

Entering the tower

Kinmen Juguang Tower View

View from the top – that’s Jincheng to the right

Kinmen Juguang Tower Phone Box

Also look out for this beautiful phonebox that has the Kinmen name in Chinese characters! I ended up buying a souvenir container that looked like this

Shuitou Village 水頭

Shuitou Village is pretty close to the port and it’s quite easy to spot thanks to the giant bottle of Kaoliang Liquor right at the junction. It’s a quiet little village with over 700 years of history, home to some of the richest overseas Chinese who sent money home to build some of these interesting old architecture that’s a mix of Chinese and Western inspirations.

Kinmen Shuitou Road Gaoliang Deyue

The road to Shuitou village is to the right of the giant bottle

I stopped at Jinshui Elementary School 金水國小 which was the largest school building in Kinmen. It has since been turned into a museum of sorts and has lots of exhibition panels in its many little rooms explaining the history of Kinmen and its people.

Open 8am – 5pm

Kinmen Shuitou Jinshui Elementary

Built thanks to donations from wealthy overseas Chinese who made their fortune abroad and sent the money home

Right behind the school is Deyue Tower 得月樓, 11+m high and built back in 1931. It is actually a gun tower 4-storeys up for military defence against pirates and is one of Kinmen’s tallest structures. I didn’t go up the tower, but apparently the steps are portable wooden steps so in the event they were attacked, they could climb the tower and pull up the stairs so their enemies couldn’t follow!

Open 830am – 530pm

Kinmen Shuitou Deyue Tower

Deyue tower on the left is connected to the house by a tunnel

Next to Deyue Tower is another house called the Overseas Chinese Culture Museum, and has more exhibits detailing the life and times of the overseas Chinese back in the day. It was pretty cool seeing how some Singaporean and Southeast Asian culture was transmitted back by these overseas Chinese people. Western style houses in particular were influenced by the Colonialists of the time and became a symbol of wealth in the Chinese community.

Open 8am – 5pm

Kinmen Shuitou Overseas Chinese Cultural Hall Me

Can you see the Peranakan influenced tiles in the background?

Kinmen Kaoliang Factory & Museum

One famous product from Kinmen is Kaoliang or Gaoliang alcohol. This clear alcohol usually comes in anywhere from 38-58% proof and is pretty damn strong. I popped into 2 places to check out some Kaoliang for myself – it basically reminds me of vodka and fun fact – Kaoliang is apparently one of Taiwan’s top exports right now and most of it is produced here in Kinmen.

First I ended up at the Kinmen Kaoliang Factory, and while you can do a short guided tour around the factory twice a day, I didn’t know that so I ended up just heading to the shop and trying a little bit of the 58% Kaoliang – wooh baby that was strong stuff.

Open 8am-12pm, 130pm-530pm. The factory allows 100 pax to enter their premises twice a day at 9am and 2pm (50 minutes and free! More here)

Kinmen Gaoliang Factory

I love the entrance, it’s so grand!

Kinmen Gaoliang Factory Sample

Looks innocuous but is pretty deadly.

Just around the corner from the factory is a very traditional Fujian structure which also turned out to be the Kaoliang museum. It’s free for you to wander around in – it shows the more traditional way that Kaoliang is brewed, and there’s a video documentary on the brewing process as well.

Kinmen Gaoliang Museum Entrance

Love the traditional Fujian building

Kinmen Gaoliang Museum Statue

Right outside the museum is this statue of Kaoliang

Zhaishan Tunnels 翟山坑道

I visited the Zhaishan Tunnels very close to closing time so unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there. These underground tunnels that headed out to sea were blasted out of granite in the 60s and meant to protect military boats.

When you enter these days, you are greeted with classical music that reverberates around the tunnels as you walk in – there is an annual symphonic music festival called the Kinmen Tunnel Music Festival that takes place right inside these tunnels.

Open 8am – 5pm

Kinmen Zhaishan Tunnels Water

the canal that leads out to the sea – sadly I didn’t have time to follow that pathway

Other spots I stumbled across en route to these two places that you can check out if you have enough time:

Kinmen Gugang Tower

Gugang Tower is by a lake and where I met this nice local gardener who gave me tips on where to go and even a can of dessert

Kinmen Wentai Tower

Wentai Tower en route from Shuitou to Zhaishan

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Jinning 金寧

Jinning is the district that I stayed in and notable as the area where the main fighting took place on Kinmen. Some of it is protected under the Kinmen National Park.

Guningtou War Museum 古寧頭戰史館

Guningtou is most famous for its war museum that was built to commemorate the fateful battle back in 1949 between the Communists and Kuomintang Nationalists. This was one of the sites of the battle and you can learn more about it from the various exhibits in the museum.

Don’t just stay within the building – take a walk along the tunnels to the external parts of the museum and get a closer look at the surrounding area.

Open 830am – 5pm

Kinmen Guningtou Battle Museum Entrance

The entrance to the museum where you’ll also see several tanks standing guard

Kinmen Guningtou Battle Museum Map

A map depicting the battle – as you can see most of it took place in Jinning

Kinmen Guningtou Battle Museum Tunnel

Some of the long tunnels that lead to the outside areas where you can see the beach

Cihu 滋湖

There’s a lovely lake called Cihu or Ci Lake, an artificial lake that was created in the 70s. On a good day you can see Lieyu and even Xiamen from here, but most of the time it’s great for birdwatching with over 200 species.

Kinmen Cihu Lake

All is calm in the afternoon, it’ll make a great sunset spot as it is west facing

You can explore the Triangle Fort 三角堡, a 3-sided military base that faces Xiamen. It’s a pretty small structure that you can enter and see what it’s like to peer out of tiny holes, and right now you’ll also see the tanks and barriers that were erected on the beach to prevent intruders, as well as the bridge that they are building to reach neighbouring Lieyu Island.

Kinmen Triangle Fort Beach Tanks

You can see tanks and the bridge that will eventually link to Lieyu

Kinmen Triangle Fort Bridge Low Tide

At low tide you get a better look at the protective bollards guarding the beach from enemy boat landings. Also you can see where they are still building.

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Jinhu 金湖

If you fly into Kinmen, you’ll end up at the airport located in Jinhu.

Qionglin Tunnels 琼林坑道

Qionglin is located right in the center of Kinmen and is known for having many shrines, but also these famous towers that you can enter from the Village Office. There used to be 12 different exits though this time you can go in 2 directions – one side leads you across the road, while the other brings you a little distance behind the office building to the Qionglin Wind God statue.

Open 830am – 5pm

Kinmen Qionglin Tunnel Exit

The main entrance is in the building in the center across the street, and leads to one of the exits on the left.

Kinmen Qionglin Tunnel Entrance

This is what it looks like inside the building as you head down the stairs into the tunnel

Kinmen Qionglin Tunnel Selfie

Selfie along the narrow tunnel. Not for the claustrophobic!

Kinmen Qionglin Tunnel Wind God

The other exit leads you to a little park and the wind god statue

Military Brothel Exhibition Hall 特約茶室展示館

Near the Lanhu Reservoir is this rather small and unassuming museum which details a less often seen side of war regarding the prostitutes and military brothels that were set up during the war. I thought it was quite interesting even if it was small, seeing the rooms that were used and the portraits of the girls on the wall. Here’s a fun fact – the Chinese name of this place translates into ‘special teahouse’.

Open 830am – 5pm

Kinmen Military Brothel Building

It looks pretty unassuming from outside, nothing seedy

Kinmen Military Brothel Room

A typical room is pretty barebones – this was one of the bigger rooms so probably for the more highly ranked

Somewhere in Dongchun

I don’t know what this place is exactly but it’s somewhere I came across while cruising through some backlanes on my scooter. A random military bunker right next to the coast, I like it because it was completely deserted (I was not going into any of those rooms on my own) and I could chill out and enjoy the sea view for a bit.

Kinmen Jinhu Dongchun Military Bunker

Random bunker by the sea

Kinmen Jinhu Dongchun Room

I find deserted spots like these a tad creepy and would never enter one on my own

Kinmen Jinhu Dongchun Coast

chilled out at the nearby pavilion and enjoyed the cloudy day

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Jinsha 金沙

Some of the more impressive military bases in Kinmen can be found here in Jinsha.

Shishan / Mount Lion Howitzer Base 獅山炮陳地

Shishan or Mount Lion makes for an interesting visit not only because of the range of artillery like the howitzer guns that you can see up close, but because of the daily demonstration where a general barks commands at a gunnery crew who show visitors how they load up and fire one of cannons. Wander around the tunnels and get a sense of what life must have been like for soldiers back in the day.

Open 9am – 530pm

Kinmen Mt Lion Howitzer Entrance

Shishan has a really impressive logo of a lion eating a warhead

Kinmen Mt Lion Howitzer Military Drill Lineup

The military drill echoes right through the tunnels. I was a bit shocked at first when a whole bunch of personnel came marching up along behind me while I was walking along the tunnel

Kinmen Mt Lion Howitzer Gun

A seaward facing gun that they load up and ‘fire’

Mashan Broadcasting and Observation Station 馬山觀測站

One of the more unusual aspects of this fighting between China and Taiwan was the psychological warfare – each country set up giant speaker facing each other and basically shouted at each other by broadcasting propaganda messages to each other. Mashan’s claim to fame is that famous Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng once broadcast a message from this station.

Kinmen Mashan Entrance

Entrance to the tunnels

Kinmen Mashan Broadcast Room

We’re here in the broadcast room where every morning, propaganda announcements would be broadcast across the water

Kinmen Mashan Broadcast Room Teresa Teng

Here’s Teresa Teng’s lifesize cutout!

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Have you been to Kinmen? What was your favourite thing to do there?

Love Taiwan’s offshore islands? Check out Taitung’s Green Island aka Lyudao or Orchid Island aka Lanyu on the east coast for some beautiful scenic island life.

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