Facts About Kinmen (Jinmen)
Kinmen, except for maybe Hong Kong or Macao, is the closest you can get to Mainland China without actually stepping foot on the landmass. In spite of being a mere 6 kilometers from Fujian Province’s Xiamen city and 187 kilometers from Taiwan, the Kuomintang (KMT) Party managed to hold on to it during the Chinese Civil War, to the behest of Mao and the People’s Liberation Army.
With tensions relatively cooled in these more peaceful times, Kinmen has adopted an economy mostly for Taiwanese and Chinese tourists, and also foreign businesspeople looking to take advantage of proximity to China without entering its political borders.
The island archipelago of Kinmen is quite small – about half the size of Taipei City. The tourist attractions are focused heavily on both Kinmen’s ancient Fujianese houses, and its military history. It is also a popular spot for purchasing high-quality knives and Kaoliang liquor.
Take note that Kinmen is still, regardless of its recent calm, a military outpost. Signs on beaches warning you to be careful of undiscovered land mines should be heeded. Military officers should be listened to, but they are used to tourists so barring some kind of big crisis, you won’t be bothered.
- Kinmen is also known as Quemoy, and is often spelled Jinmen.
- The archipelago has a population of around 85,000 people.
- Kinmen is recognized as a Taiwanese national park.
Best Time to Visit Kinmen
Let me give you the short answer before you read the details: September and May are the best months to visit Kinmen, as it’s not too hot, nor too windy, and there are few tourists.
Summer months (June to August) are the busiest on Kinmen, but you should be warned that it can get extremely hot during those months. Winter school vacation also brings in lots of people. During those two periods, book everything ahead, especially your plane ticket and accommodation.
Chinese New Year is completely dead on Kinmen, nobody travels here during the big holiday and most places are closed. March and April bring dense fog, and visibility is so bad that you can’t even take clear pictures and flights are often delayed.
The northeast winds (東北季風) blow forcefully between October and March. When I say forcefully, I mean consistent, gale-force winds that can throw you off your scooter if you’re not careful. It can be a real annoyance and impact the quality of your trip if they are “peaking” in strength. Check Windy website for wind forecast. For weather, check the CWB website.
Where to Stay on Kinmen
There’s no lack of supply when it comes to accommodation on Kinmen. The main choice you’ll have to make is what kind of place you want to sleep in? You main options will be hotels and homestays.
I personally prefer homestays in a traditional place like Kinmen. The advantages are many, such as meeting the locals, experiencing firsthand what it’s like to live in an ancient home, and the photo opportunities around the house. This is my favorite homestay on Kinmen.
But if you’d rather go for convenience and being close to restaurants, then maybe a hotel or hostel in Kincheng town is better for you. Regardless of where you decide to stay, make sure to book well in advance if you go on a weekend or holiday, as the best accommodations can be sold out fast.
Things to Do on Kinmen
Ride around the island
On a map, next to China or when compared to Taiwan, Kinmen Island seems very small. But it’s not. There are TONS of places to visit all over the island. Or should I say IslandS, (with a capital S) because there are two main islands to discover.
The best way to travel around is by scooter, as it gives you the freedom to stop anywhere to snap pictures without having to find a parking spot. You can take your scooter with you on the ferry between the two islands. Also, you can ride in the tiny, narrow alleys in the old villages – something you can’t do with a car.
Sleep in a Homestay
The ultimate experience on Kinmen is to spend a night or two at a traditional homestay (mínsù 民宿). It provides you with the opportunity to meet locals who can tell you stories about the past, and give you tips on what to do in the area.
Last time Ruby and I went to Kinmen, we stayed at Zhushan Homestay (see reviews & prices). We were warmly welcomed and taken care of by Mr. Xue, the owner, and his two sons. The three of them were extremely knowledgeable about the history of the island, their village, and details related to the architecture of their ancestral home.
Mr. Xue even gave us a private guided tour of Zhu Shan village, giving us details and sharing stories that no travel books could share. It was the true highlight of our trip.
Kinmen Yuyuan Homestay
This homestay has some of the best reviews on all booking sites and travel guidebooks. It’s near Deyue Tower, in Shuitou, which is one of the 8 old villages on Kinmen. The raving reviews mention exceptional service and location. There’s a shuttle service available to and from the ferry and airport. Property is extremely clean. Breakfast is the highlight of many customers. Great value for money! Check prices and reviews here.
Visit the 8 Old Villages
There are 8 main settlements (聚落 Jùluò) on Kinmen Island where you can see traditional Fujianese houses. The most important cultural sites are scattered around those eight villages. Plan your itinerary around these, and you’re guaranteed to get postcard-perfect pictures.
- Oucuo (歐厝 Ōu cuò)
- Zhushan (珠山 Zhū shān)
- Shuitou (水頭 Shuǐ tóu)
- Qionglin (瓊林 Qióng lín)
- Shanhou (山后 Shān hòu)
- Nanshan (南山 Nán shān)
- Beishan (北山 Běi shān)
- Xiaojing (小徑 Xiǎo jìng)
Oucuo Beach 歐厝海灘
One of the most interesting sights on Kinmen is the abandoned M18 Hellcat army tank that’s stuck in the sand 50m off the shore at Oucuo Beach. These tanks were used to fight the communist during the Chinese Civil War. You can only get to the tank during low tide.
The walk there and back takes about 40 minutes, on the long, flat, white sand beach. You might be tempted to climb on the tank to take a cool photo, but it’s forbidden, as it’s an important Kinmen historical relic.
Oucuo has lots of nice houses and a sort of museum shows a bit how old houses were built. Across the museum (which is also a homestay?) you’ll find a beautiful cafe in a two-storey building. You can sit inside, on the 2nd floor balcony, or right on the “plaza” outside, where you’ll see patio tables. I’m not sure about the exact name of the cafe, but it’s at address plate #50, so I’ll call it #50 Cafe.
Kincheng (Jincheng) 金城
Jincheng old town is not so old anymore. Strolling around, you’ll see temples, brick-paved alleys and traditional stores, but you’ll also come across 7-11s and Family Mart convenient stores.
Ruby and I spent a good amount of time walking around the Old Street area (lǎo jiē 老街) to shop for souvenirs and traditional snacks, and we enjoyed the vibe, although most of the buildings are not nearly as pretty as the ones in the older villages.
Kincheng is where you’ll most likely end up going to eat as most of the reputable restaurants on the island are here. There’s also lots of hotels in town, but I don’t recommend you stay there. Instead, you should opt for a quiet homestay in a more picturesque setting.
Guningtou Battle Museum 古寧頭戰史館
Today, the northwestern tip of Kinmen island is a nice, quiet place, where you can listen to the sound of the waves while looking at the skyscrapers on the Chinese mainland, few kilometers away. But 70 years ago, this area saw the last battle between Mao’s Communist forces (PLA) and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists army (ROC).
In the early hours of October 25, 1949, a Communist armada of hundreds of wooden fishing boats landed near Guningtou, carrying 9000 troops. The plan was to take control of Kinmen, then Matsu, before making a push for Taiwan to defeat Chiang’s army completely.
The PLA had miscalculated the whole operation and expected to be met by a small number of untrained, ill-equipped soldiers. Instead they were welcomed by fortifications, land mines, and well-trained soldiers hidden in bunkers who raked them with machine-guns, gun fire, artillery, and mortars.
The battle raged for three long days, and took place in the villages of Nanshan and Beishan. On the PLA side, 3873 soldiers died, and 5175 were captured. On the ROC side, 1267 lossed, 1982 wounded. To this day, you can still see bullet holes on some of the buildings in Nanshan and Beishan.
823 War Museum 八二三戰史館
Named after the 823 shelling campaign that the Chinese Communists launched on August 23, 1958, this museum remains to document aspects of the war. War history buffs will appreciate the displays of tanks, artillery, fighter jets, historical documents and more from the era. The war museum was completed in 1988.
Address: 891, Kinmen County, Jinhu Township, 安民村1之10號
Phone: 08 233 0599
Knife and Liquor Shopping
The above-mentioned 823 shelling of Kinmen lasted 44 days, leaving hundreds upon hundreds of metal shell casings scattered around the island. True to Chinese industriousness, locals figured out that these casings can be fashioned into superior knives and cleavers.
Their hard work is now paying off as tourists commonly make it to the island to purchase these objects, converted from one murderous device into another. The most famous brand of knives is done up by Maestro Wu, who also provides tours of the knife-making process. Visitors can select a bomb shell and watch it get transformed in 20 minutes, give or take.
If you’re starting to get weary about the safety of Kinmen, try taking sharp knives, bomb shells, fighter jets, tanks, and adding absurdly strong liquor to the mix. Gaoliang (Kaoliang), the famously potent grain liquor widely consumed in Taiwan and China, is produced and sold hand-over-fist from Kinmen. Varieties range from 38 to a whopping 63 percent alcohol. Buyer beware; the labels don’t lie!
Zhaishan Tunnel 翟山坑道
The tunnel and waterways at Zhaishan were used during the war to conceal small naval vessels and hide from aerial bombardment from the Communist army. It took five years to build the whole system, from 1961 to 1966. You can walk the whole length of the main tunnel, which is 101-meter long.
Wind Lion Gods
Scattered around the island are a variety of Wind Lion God statues, supposedly there to protect inhabitants from China’s famed and feared sandstorms. The statues are said to fend off the worst of the wind, always remaining stoically facing the sea. They come big and small, and are great photo opportunities.
Juguang Tower was built in 1953, as a memorial for Kinmen’s soldiers who died during the battle of Guningtou, 5 years earlier. There are exhibits on the three floors inside the tower, where you can see pictures of religious events on Kinmen, and a bunch of memorabilia. Cool place to visit at night.
Kinmen Cultural Village in Shanhou
The village contains 16 Fujian-style houses, gardens, ancestral halls, a private school (now closed obviously) all aligned in perfect symmetry. It took 20 years to build the whole compound and it was completed in 1900. The place belonged to a rich merchant family who made their fortune in Japan. There are some shops and eateries at front, try to look for the lady who sells Kaoliang sausage. It’s 30NT$ for one and it’s quite good.
Chen Jinglan Western-style Mansion
Famous western-style mansion located at the top of a hill, it is the largest of its kind on the island. The house took four years to build and was completed in 1921. The mansion houses a museum dedicated to overseas Chinese. Cafe inside with sitting areas for visitors to relax. Good views over Chenggong Beach from the second floor balcony.
Kinmen Military Brothel Exhibition Hall
This is the place soldiers visited to have sex when stationed on Kinmen. It’s a small building that doesn’t really offer much to see apart from rooms and pictures on the walls, but it adds one more layer to the whole story of how things must have been here during the war. It’s informative, but upsetting. Not a must-see attraction, but worth stopping by if it’s on your way somewhere else.
Restaurants and Food
Restaurants don’t open very late on Kinmen. Many of them close by 8pm, so don’t expect to have late evening meals like on Taiwan. Here are my two favorite restaurants in or near Kincheng:
Jin Xu Yuan Restaurant 金許園餐廳
Locals refer to this place as the Din Tai Feng of Kinmen. It’s one of the most popular restaurants on the island. We had the pork on buns, which looks a bit like a gua bao, but tastes a million times better. The pork was melt in your mouth kind of meat. I asked one of the cooks how long it was braised and he said 12 hours. Super delicious, highly recommended! We also had xiao long bao 小籠包, and they were a solid 9/10!
Xin Da Miao Kou 新大廟口活海鮮
My own personal favorite restaurant in Kincheng Town. This place is right in front of a temple. The kitchen is actually on the 1st floor of the temple. You can sit outside, at big, red, round tables. It’s a seafood place, and everything is fresh. It’s one of the places to eat on the island that closes the latest, at midnight. My favorite dishes were the ma la stinky tofu 麻辣臭豆腐, and the spicy cabbage 辣味高麗菜.
Kinmen has some specialties of Fujian province that might not be readily available elsewhere in Taiwan. Also, its famous Kaoliang liquor features in a few dishes, such as cabbage soaked in the stuff. Restaurants are all over Kinmen, but here are some specialties you might take a crack at:
Kinmen Local Beef – The island has its own cattle industry, which aims to use every part of the animal in cooking. Garlic flavored ox knuckle, cattle testicles in sesame oil, fried bone marrow; this appetizing list continues unimaginably.
Vermicelli with Oyster: Sold on the Old Street and along Traditional Market area / Mofan Street in downtown Kincheng. It’s not my thing usually, but my wife ordered it, and I have to admit that it was pretty damn good.
Getting to Kinmen
Planes regularly make trips from mainland Taiwan, mostly Kaohsiung, Taipei, Tainan, and Taichung. Tickets are about NT$1,8000 each way. Booking your flight to Kinmen is easier on websites like Kayak.com, because the Taiwanese airlines website’s English versions often have glitches or issues with translations.
Ferries from Xiamen use to be available, every 30 minute, but as of 2020, they are no longer in operation due to Covid-19 and political instability.
Taichung to Kinmen by Plane
As a foreigner holding an ARC, I did not need to show my passport to board the plane. I flew with Mandarin Airline, and the ride was a bit rough on both ends as it was in the middle of the windy season, at the end of November. There’s about 10 flights a day from Taichung to Kinmen. Fare is around 1800NT one way.
Taipei to Kinmen by Plane
Direct flights between Taipei and Kinmen are available from UNI Air and Mandarin Airlines. Prices for one-way tickets vary from 1700NT$ to 2300NT$, depending on what time you take off. Flight duration is 1 hour. All flights leave from Songshan Airport, NOT Taoyuan International Airport.
Getting Around Kinmen / Local Transport
By far the easiest way to bum around Kinmen is renting a scooter. The rates are a bit high (around 400NT$ per day) and the clean roads and small size of the island will make this the most convenient mode of transport. The only other viable alternatives are walking, which is doable if you don’t mind a few hours on foot, or cycling.
Renting a car is also possible, but it’s not practical to drive in the villages as the alleys are too narrow. The only time I recommend renting a car is during the windy season, from October to March.
Renting a Scooter on Kinmen
You can rent a scooter at the airport. 400$ for an old machine, 450$ for a new one. I went for the new one last time and it was perfect, comfortable, good break, enough power for two people. It comes with 2 helmets, but they are on the small side (I have a big head). The scooter rental counter is quite obvious, right next to the tourist information office. You need to show ID card, or passport, or driver’s license.
Other Islands Around Taiwan
Orchid Island, Lanyu
The wildest of all the islands in Taiwan, off the east coast, lost in the Pacific, closer to the Philippines than Taiwan. Great scenery, aboriginal culture, diving, scooter rides, hiking
World-class scuba diving and snorkeling, decent hiking, one of the most beautiful lighthouses on Taiwan, cheap seafood…
Ninety little islands make up the Penghu archipelago, off the Western coast of mainland Taiwan. The heavy winds draw surfers and windsurfers from around the world each year.