Facts About Matsu (Mazu) Island
The Matsu Island archipelago contains 19 islands that, like Kinmen, are far closer to mainland China than to Taiwan. Still, they are part of Taiwan politically. The island group is named after the Fujianese goddess Matsu (alternatively spelled Mazu), who manages the seas and offers safe passage across them.
Also like Kinmen, Matsu’s geographical placement has necessarily made it a place first and foremost dedicated to military affairs, specifically defense of Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China.
Walking around the island, you’ll quickly realize that you’re one of the only people not dressed in military get-up. Residents of Matsu are bilingual in Mandarin and min nan hua, the language spoken a binoculars’ peek away in Fujian Province.
Most of the sights are on the two main islands of Nangan (which contains the main airport) and Beigan. The other islands are very accessible but rarely travelled-to, which, after all, might make you want to go even more.
Due to the prevalence of military affairs, make sure to heed any warnings or follow any instructions that the island’s soldiers might give you.
Matsu Island Attractions / Things to do
Matsu Island travelers will be exposed to intricate tunnels, temples and of course a few good lessons in military history.
Avoiding Gunfire on Matsu Island in Taiwan
Don’t be too alarmed by the occasional explosion or firing round. In fact, that might just be the best way for you to get a sense of Matsu’s military history. Unlike Kinmen Island, Matsu doesn’t really have any official military museums, but you can still get a good feel for that part of its history.
Nangan’s southern coast houses The Iron Fort, which is connected to other parts of the island via an intricate network of military tunnels (e.g. Beihai Tunnel) that you can also explore for yourself. Also check out Chiang Kai-Shek’s Wall, where he had his slogan written in massive red letters, lit up and turned toward the west to instruct the Communist Party to “sleep on spears, awaiting the dawn.”
An island named after a goddess, it would be entirely inappropriate for Matsu to be lacking in the spirituality department. Matsu Temples (that is, temples dedicated to the goddess Matsu) are scattered in and around, with the biggest and most intricate of them called, you guessed it, “Matsu Temple” in Nangan. The goddess also has a huge statue dedicated to her, and it provides a wonderful photo opportunity.
Matsu Traditional Architecture
On Matsu Island, you’ll be privy to a number of traditions that have died out or are not regularly seen on mainland Taiwan, one of them being the traditional architecture of Fujian. These stone houses have been maintained by the Taiwanese government, and though nobody lives in them anymore, you might get a chance to stay a night in one (see below).
There are a couple of OK beaches (yes, just OK) to enjoy the sun and swim around the Matsu Islands in the Taiwan Strait. Tanghou Beach, Banli beach, and Turtle Island Beach are probably the best ones, but honestly none of them compares to the ones in Kenting. Matsu is not a beach destination.
Getting Around Matsu Island / Local Transport
You might get sick of hearing it, but it remains true that the best way to travel in most places in Taiwan, Matsu Island included, is on scooter. You can rent them for about NT$500 per day, although some hotels might provide one for you or give you a discount.
Cars can also be rented for more like NT$2,000 daily. If you’re not an adept driver, taxis can be hired to take you around Nangan, and they can also be convinced to take tourists around for several hours for under NT$1,000
Eating on Matsu Island / Restaurants
Like most islands, the Matsu archipelago specializes in seafood. Try to sample some of the local favorites, such as fish noodles. Jieshou Village on Nangan has some traditional restaurants which offer basic but fresh local specialties at reasonable prices.
Also, head to the Matsu Distillery to see the high-powered Taiwanese Kaoliang liquor being made; you might even be able to get a free sample or two out of the deal.
Matsu Island Accommodation / Hotels
Cinbi Village, Beigan
A popular attraction in Matsu is to stay at Cinbi Village in Beigan. They are stone buildings built in the traditional Fujian style. Taking a stroll through the village is adventure enough, staying a night in them is like time traveling.
Another popular (and cheap) option is to do a homestay with a local family or individual. There are quite a few of these and they are generally very friendly toward foreign visitors. If you happen to travel to the outer islands of Matsu, this may in fact be your only option.
Accommodation in Taiwan
Find more hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts on the main island of Taiwan. You can also visit HotelsCombined.com check room availability, get discounts, and book your hotel online.
Getting There and Away / Transportation
Nangan and Beigan both have airports, with Nangan’s being the primary and most popular one. Flights from Taipei are about an hour and are serviced by Uni Air. The planes are small, so try to book in advance if possible. At the time of writing, there were also some flights to Matsu Island leaving from Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Chiayi.
If you’re looking to get to the outer islands of Matsu (or between Nangan and Beigan), ferries will serve that purpose for you. The boats are quite cheap (about NT$100) and the short distance shouldn’t be too nausea-inducing.