Kinmen 金門 (pronounced Jīnmén, literal meaning "golden gate", also known as Quemoy) is an outlying island near the People's Republic of China (PRC), but is controlled by the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC).
There are two main islands, Greater and Lesser Kinmen, plus several smaller islands.
Administratively, Kinmen is split into six townships, four of which are on Greater Kinmen. Another has Lesser Kinmen plus its neighbouring small islands, and the sixth is a couple of more remote small islands.
KinCheng, meaning Golden City, is the main city in Kinmen, located on the greater Kinmen island. The second city, Shanwai, is also on that island. The ShangYi airport is between the two cities.
In 1949, the Communists won the Chinese civil war, defeating the Nationalists (Kuomintang) who had governed (most of) China from the 1911 revolution until '49. Since then, there has been a Communist government in most of China (the PRC) while the Nationalists hold Taiwan (still officially called the Republic of China or ROC).
The islands of Kinmen and Matsu are near the Chinese coast — Kinmen is about 10 km (under 6.5 miles) from Xiamen — but held by the ROC. They are symbolically important, and arguably strategically as well, and were often actively fought over from 1949 into the 1970s. The "Artillery Battle of 823" was one of the key battles that kept the PRC from invading Taiwan. It involved artillery bombardment of Kinmen and Matsu, beginning on August 23 (8-23) 1958.
In recent decades relations between the two governments have improved greatly; there is extensive Taiwan investment in China and travel in either direction is much easier than it used to be. However, Kinmen and Matsu remain sensitive areas and the PRC and the ROC maintain substantial military forces in the area. Travellers should exercise caution, avoid political discussions and avoid photographing military installations or even pieces of infrastructure (bridges, dams, etc.) which might be military targets.
The economy of Kinmen is now based mostly on tourism and the famous Kaoliang liquor (高粱酒). Dried meat from Kinmen is also sold in Taiwan's main island.
The local language is Minnan Hua (also called Taiwanese), but Mandarin is also widely spoken. Be aware that few people speak English, especially outside of tourist areas, but the level of English is perhaps slightly better than in Mainland China.
The prevalence of touchscreen phones now allows easy two way translation and many locals will have translation apps, allowing them to communicate into English.
Make sure to have Google translation on your phone and "Chinese Traditional" selected as language, so you can make yourself more or less understood.
Kinmen can be reached by air from the main island of Taiwan; three of Taiwan's four domestic carriers fly to Kinmen from the three bigger cities on Taiwan several times a day. One way tickets cost a little over NT$2000.
There are ferries from Xiamen in mainland China to Shuitou on the main Kinmen island, and this link is now open to foreigners. Boats are NT$750 (as of June 2013) from Shuitou to Xiamen and ¥155 from Xiamen (Wu tong ma tou 五通码头, Oct 2016) to Shuitou and run once an hour between 08:30 and 19:00 in each direction. There is also a ferry from Quanzhou, but it allows only Chinese and Taiwanese passengers. The ferry from Xiamen Wutong terminal to Shuitou runs every 30 mins from 8:00 until 17:30. See the full timetable here
If you are arriving by ferry, the ferry terminal has a tourist information desk that can help find you an inn. There are also money exchange counters, but they will only exchange RMB to NT$; they will not exchange other currencies.
There is also an ATM just outside the ferry terminal (cross the road) that accepts Visa and Mastercard. A UnionPay ATM is in the departure area, where you also find a stall to change RMB to NT$.
At the tourist services counters besides Joane Ranch Restaurant, you can rent portable WiFi (250 NT$ per day) or get a unlimited data SIM Card (starting from 400 NT$ for 5 days). Cash only, no cards.
There are taxis on the island, though you need pretty good Mandarin or Taiwanese skills to negotiate a rate with the driver. They are also concentrated mostly in the city center, so you can't count on finding one just anywhere. If you can speak Mandarin, or the local dialect, most of the drivers are quite friendly, so one shouldn't worry about bargaining super hard. Most of them aren't looking to rip you off.
Taxis from the Shuitou wharf to Jincheng city's downtown are NT$250 flat rate, and roughly NT$200 to return to the wharf.
There are a few buses that run around, but they are not frequent and bus stops aren't particularly convenient.
By scooter or bicycle
It is easiest to just rent your own scooter. You can get a 150 cc for about NT$550 per 24 hours. There is a rental shop in the airport. There is also a rental place in downtown Jincheng near the northern entrance to Mofan St (模範街).
Roads are all paved and there are good maps at every village and in every hotel. Road signs are written in both Chinese characters and pinyin (Chinese words in the Latin alphabet), so it is hard to get lost. Bicycles are free to borrow for the day and can be picked up at various key locations, such as Zhaishan Tunnel, Jinshui Primary School (金水國小) in Shuitou, the Shuangli Wetlands Area close to Guningtou Battle Museum, Siwei Tunnel on Little Jinmen, as well as various other locations. They are a spectacular way to see the sights around the island. Rental stations will keep your passport until you return the bicycle. Be aware of when each rental station closes. Little Jinmen is particularly great for bike riding as there is a bike path ringing the perimeter of the island, connecting most of the important sights.
Kinmen has a bus service specifically for tourists. Day tickets are NT$200 and include bus rides and guided tours at all destinations (Chinese only). Departure is from the bus station in Kincheng at 8:30 and 13:30.
- Line A (morning): to Juguang Tower (莒光樓) and several sites in Shuitou, including traditional architecture, houses by returnees from Southeast Asia (including a Peranakan house) and the Zhaishan tunnels (翟山坑道) an underground navy installation.
- Line B (afternoon): to Guning, north of Kincheng, to several museums and sites related to military history and the battle of 1949 in particular, and a wildlife museum.
- Lines C and D start from Shanwai in the east of the island.
Public buses also go to all parts of the island, including the major sites, the ferry terminal and the airport (red 1 line, 紅一). Buses 7/7A/7B run from the Shuitou Pier, to Shuitou, and finally to Kincheng. Buses 9/10/11 go to the northwest part of the island, particularly the Shuangli Wetland Area and Guningtou Battle Museum. Bus fares are NT$12 or NT$24 for long distances (such as from Kincheng to the eastern half of Kinmen). For Little Kinmen, the fare is NT$10. Understand that buses can be rather infrequent and many do not run late. Also, the bus drivers will skip a station if there is no one waiting there, so press the "get off" button when you want to get off. Kincheng has a major bus station with buses to many parts of the island and also has a very useful tourist office.
- The late President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, left a calligraphy inscription in Kinmen, urging the ROC troops to fight on and to one day re-take the Mainland from the Communist "bandits".
- The Wind Lion Gods of Kinmen are unique statues all over the island, you can either see the originals in the villages (this can take some patience and hunting skills) or just go to the new Wind Lion God Park near the ShangYi Airport.
- The Kinmen cultural village is a great little place to poke around, with Kinmen's two best antique stores located within the walls. Its is only NT$50 to get in and a beautiful and well maintained example of Fujian style traditional Chinese houses with swallow tail roofs and was built towards the end of the 1800's.
- Just walk around downtown Kincheng, there are temples in every other alleyway, often architecturally interesting and in active use.
- 1 8-2-3 Artillery battle museum. Small but excellent museum, it even has a large amount of English signage to help explain the exhibits. There is also a Virtual War room where you can experience war for 3 minutes.
- 2 Juguang Tower (莒光樓) (South of Kincheng on Huandao West Road (環島西路一段). Line A tourist bus.). memorial building with a small military museum and views of surrounding areas.
- 3 Zhaishan tunnels (翟山坑道) (At the southern tip of the western part of Kinmen. Line A tourist bus). Underground navy base. Artillery and boats on display. Large tunnels, some being underground piers.
- Siwei Tunnel (四維坑道) on Little Kinmen is even longer and quieter than Zhaishan Tunnel. It's located just to the left of the ferry terminal as you get off.
- Guning War History Museum (古寧頭戰史館) on the 1949 battle, including many paintings, tanks, jeeps. The villages next to it (Nanshan and Beishan, 南山/北山) have a few buildings still riddled with bullet holes from the battle. Line B tourist bus and bus 9, 10, and 11.
- Triangle Fortress (三角堡) in Guning west of Zi lake (滋湖) to the north of Kincheng, overlooking the passage to Kincheng town between Kinmen and small Kinmen island, with a group of M41 tanks. Line B tourist bus and bus 9
- Lion Mountain, with an underground howitzer base and museum (獅山炮陳地), in Shanhou in the northeast of Kinmen, near Shanhou Culture Village. Bus 31 from Shamei (沙美, bus 5 or 5A from Kincheng to Shamei)
- Military Brothel Exhibition Hall (特約茶室展示館), small but interesting museum detailing Kinmen's dark and relatively recent past with brothels on the island. Free, open everyday. No.126 Qionglinli Xiaojing, Jinhu Town, in the middle of island. Ask the tourist office at the Jincheng bus station for buses that stop there.
- 4 Jiugong tunnel (九宮坑道) (On the neighbooring Lieyu island, also part of the Republic of China). A small complex of sea tunnels that was used as a material transport pipeline
Culture and architecture
- The Kinmen cultural village is a great little place to poke around, with Kinmens 2 best antique stores being located within the walls. Its is only NT$50 to get in and a beautiful and well maintained example of Fujian style traditional Chinese houses with swallow tail roofs and was built towards the end of the 1800s.
- Jinshui Primary School (金水國小) in Shuitou, with a small emigration and overseas Chinese museum. Line A tourist bus and bus 7/7A/7B
- Shuitou Deyue Tower (水頭得月樓) and surrounding buildings, in Shuitou, previously the highest building in Kinmen, old buildings built by rich overseas Chinese merchants, including a Peranakan family, resulting in a complex of buildings with a mix of local and Western architecture. Line A tourist bus and bus 7/7A/7B
- Shanhou Culture Village (山后民俗文化村) a hamlet built by a rich overseas Chinese, includes a little wedding exhibition and a guest house. Bus 31 from Shamei (沙美, bus 5 or 5A from Kincheng to Shamei), near Lion Mountain (see military history sites)
- Mashan Pagoda, just to the west of Shuitou, is not particularly impressive structure compared to many pagodas in China/Taiwan, but the views of the surrounding area are quite impressive and it's a very quiet place with very few tourists.
- Temples can be found everywhere on Kinmen and Little Kinmen, many of which are very tiny and quaint.
- The Forest Recreation Area is a must see when visiting Kinmen. Located along Section3, Huandao East Road, this is a multi-purpose area for bar-b-ques, a child playground, botanical gardens, and more.
- During the winter, flocks of migratory birds come to Kinmen and Little Kinmen to nest. They can be seen and heard at the many lakes and ponds on the islands. The Shuangli Wetlands Area is a good place for information and birdwatching. It's in Nanshan village, very close to Beishan and Guningtou Battle Museum and not too far from Zi Lake (Ci Lake). Buses 9/10/11 go there.
- Strolling along any of the beaches is quite peaceful and there are two bonus attractions to be seen: crumbling military fortifications and views of Xiamen, especially from the western shore of Little Kinmen or the northwestern shore of Kinmen.
If you can find all 63 "official" wind lion god statues, the ones that are represented in the park, and present proof to the park office, they will give you a special gift.
Cleavers are Kinmen's best-known tourist product. They are famous for making excellent quality cleavers; the steel is obtained from the hundred of thousands of shells that the Communist forces fired at Kinmen, in a failed attempt to take the island away from the Nationalist troops. The most authentic knives, and the best place for a factory tour is Maestro Wu's Knives.
It is claimed that a single shell casing can make approximately 60 blades; this is doubtful. Also doubtful is the claim that current blades are made from shell casings, since shelling stopped in the late 1970s.
Finishing quality for cleavers has dropped a lot since the mid 1990s. Even for Maestro Wu's Knife's top selling special-designed cleavers, the words "Made in Kinmen" are barely visible and/or badly engraved. Salepersons were taught to toe the line that "its because the steel's quality is so good that the engraving machine cannot carve the words properly". This is a bad sales tactic and a sorry excuse for a once famous knife brand that was built on quality.
- Da Jhai Men Homestay, ☎ . Actually a rather tumbledown hotel, not a homestay, the management is nevertheless very friendly and the location convenient. Double room NT$1200 regular days and NT$1500 weekends and holidays. Location No. 84 Jhushan Village, Jincheng Township, Kinmen.
- Visit Kinmen Guest House is a traditional Kinmen old house restored by Kinmen National Park. Located in Shanhou Village, the north east side, Visit Kinmen Guest House provides a place where travelers can stay with a relaxed atmosphere after exploring the beautiful scenery of Kinmen. The guest house has three double rooms for two people and one family room with twin bed that is good for group of four people, rates from NT$1400-2400. Please find us on web for further information.
- IN99 (near to jincheng bus station, new building), ☎ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. nice new business hotel in Jincheng NT$1800.
While Kinmen lacks the high price fancy fare of more populated locales, cheap delicious snack shops are everywhere in the downtown area of Kincheng. Taiwanese favorites such as fried chicken cutlets, fried oyster balls and chow mein can be found without much trouble. Prices average around NT$50 per item which is quite reasonable considering the quality.
Kinmen is the home of Taiwan's distinctive "Kaoliang" liquor, a tequila-like hard liquor popular all over Taiwan. The factory is located right in the middle of the island, not far from the airport and is hard to miss with it's distinctive smell and two two-story liquor bottles guarding the front gates. This is one of the upmarket brands of the widespread Chinese liquor bai jiu; see China#Alcohol for background.
- White Lion, jincheng. 18:00-24:00. nice Canadian/Taiwanese owned pub beside temple
Though formal hostilities with the PRC ended by the early 1980s, Kinmen is still very much a front line area. Visitors are strongly advised not to wander off paved roads when exploring the island due to the possibility of running across old unmarked minefields. It is also advisible to avoid traveling to certain sensitive areas after dark, such as coastal areas or areas near military installations. Visitors should also obey all orders given by military personnel and avoid entering or photographing sensitive areas.
The Kinmenese are proud of their "Chinese" identity rather than "Taiwanese". As such, in Kinmen, labelling the locals "Taiwanese" would likely cause offence. Likewise, while you are in Kinmen, do not refer to the Republic of China as a whole as "Taiwan". Call the state "Republic of China", and use "Taiwan" only to refer to the island. Likewise, call the local dialect "Kinmenese" or "Amoy" rather than "Taiwanese".
Political issues, especially Taiwan independence, are best avoided.
There are two choices; the main island of Taiwan is easily reached by plane, and Xiamen in mainland China is accessible by ferry. To go to Xiamen, holders of most passports need to already have a Chinese visa; there is no office to issue them on Kinmen.