Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kinmen

Kinmen or Jinmen is a small achipelago of several islands located 210km west of Taiwan; the closest distance to Chinese territory, Jiaoyu, is only 1.8km. The Han Chinese immigration started as early as the Jin Dynasty (317) when 6 families fled from a war in mainland China. The first administrative machinery was setup during the Tang Dynasty (803) when Chen Yuan was assigned as the administrator to supervise horse raising in this wasteland with 12 families. In the Ming Dynasty (1387), the formal name of the island, Wuzhou, was changed to Jinmen, the golden gate, as a fortress was setup to guard the east-south coastline of Fujian. The islands were used as a base for military training by Koxinga in the mid 16th century and it was one of the front-lines of civil war R.O.C against China after WWII. The islands were a military reserved for 21 years, and it was returned to the civilian government in the mid-1990s, after which travel to and from it was allowed. Given its geo-location and history, Kinmen developed a unique fusion culture that is reflected in the architecture, scenery, dinning and life style.

At first glance, I was amazed by the well preserved traditional southern Fujian building style houses in each village that is rarely found in Taiwan today. I walked into the village and spent time looking around, the western extended windows, angel sculptures on walls, baroque style architecture with stone lions in front, etc that is like looking at a giant Xmas tree being decorated with glinted balls and a bagua on the top, weird but somehow in harmony. And the fusion of Chinese and western styles was not an influence by outsiders but the residents who went to south asia for business and brought back money and the local culture.

During the war, there were about 100,000 soldiers who called Kinmen home, nowadays only about 5000 soldiers remain, garrisoning the islands. The once battlefields are now taking off their guard and transforming into a unique national park that is filled with a military atmosphere. Kinmen has the highest road density in the county built under military control; veering off the main concrete roads to unpaved trails that were trampled out by soldiers, I found fortresses hidden in the forest and a lot of them were deserted leaving bunkers standing still, watching over the sea. Beach is a delightful alternative while traveling in Kinmen, even though water activities seem to be still restricted. It's rare to see a person on any beach. The enormous tidal flat extends hundreds of meters from the shore to the open sea; it's a million dollar view all for yourself. Layers of spike sticks lay along the beach add contrast to the tranquility, the once anti landing fortification becomes a great oyster farm, It's the specialty only seen in Kinmen.

The people’s liberation army forces began an intense artillery bombardment against Kinmen on August 23rd, 1958. A half million artillery shells were fired in 44 days, the event is known as the 823 Artillery Bombardment. The bombardment actually lasted for 21 years as China kept firing artillery every other day till a diplomatic relationship between China and the US was established in 1979. The event not only made steel knives one of the famous souvenirs in Kinmen as they are made from the endless supply of bomb steel fired by China, but also created the massive underground tunnel network on the island. The A-shaped waterways of Zhaishan tunnel is probably the most visited in Kinmen. The tunnel was closed and abandoned in 1986 due to lack of manpower and money to save the tunnels from accumulated sand. The Kinmen national park headquarters took over from military in 1997 and opened it to the public. The depth of water in the tunnel could be very deceitful when the granite reflection is mirrored on the still water, creating an illusion. An annual music festival is held in the tunnel that softens the harshness of the place.

Getting around:
There is a car rental service in the airport. GuanCheng car rental tel: 0933278713 , opening hours: 07:30-19:30. Price: motorcycle: NT$400/day; car: 1cc for NT$1/day. There bus information can be found here: http://ebus.kinmen.gov.tw/KinmenE/index.html

Accommodation:
The Kinmen national park headquarters singed a contract with the owners of traditional southern Fujian building style houses in the villages. In the contract, the owners give rights to the organization to use the properties for 30 years and in return the houses will be renovated and returned to the owners when the contract is expired. The renovated houses will be listed in a public bidding and the winning tenderer can operate the houses as a museum, restaurant, bar or B&B, based on the bidders' presenting proposals. It's a shame not to stay in one of these houses overnight. The list of B&B can be found at http://guesthouse.kmnp.gov.tw/ (Chinese only). My recommendations: Piano Piano, in Zhushan village, tel:082-372866; 0988-182-832; Visit Kinmen Guest House in ShanHau, tel: 082-352058. If you prefer to check in a hotel, Haifu is my recommendation.

Eating
Eating in Kinmen could be a problem for backpackers who are traveling alone. A lot of restaurants are still used to serving dishes in large proportions because they became used to serving large groups of soldiers. For example, you have to order at least 30 pan-fried dumplings in Chengkong dumpling. There is no nightlife in Kinmen, the only pub is the White Lion that is owned by a wonderful Irish couple. In fact, it is the only place I know of that serves home made french fries with vinegar.

Note:
As some of the beaches are currently being cleared of mines, especially in Lieyu, do not wander off into areas that have barbed wire and "Danger Mine" signs. I spoke to one of the people working on mine sweeping, a nice guy from Mozambique, who said they should be finished clearing the area in about 2 years.
 

View Kinmen in a larger map

10 comments:

Traveling Hawk said...

As usual, a well documented presentation, Hanjie!

Hotels in Delhi said...

Great information on Kinmen.

White Lion Pub said...

The White Lion Pub enjoyed your visit Hanjie, the home made chips and vinegar will be waiting for your next visit!
Best Wishes on your travels from Wilson, Amy, Ronan and Murphy

Fili said...

Very well done. Thanks for putting this together.

Add this to the Taiwanderful maps.

tours china said...

Quite an interesting place, I was told that now more and more tourists from Mainland China go there for sightseeing.

ChinaTourGuide said...

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Brooke Higgins said...

Kinmen or Jinmen seems to be an interesting place. It should be visited by tourist who want to visit peaceful and calm places. luton meet and greet parking

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