Friday, September 05, 2014


Instead of trying to make a perfect itinerary for Matsu, it is better to just go and be flexible. I did my homework and made a five-day schedule that would allow me to explore all of the Matsu islands seamlessly. I had all B&B and transportation reserved but I ended up trying to find a way to go to Matsu for two days and then worrying about not being able to come to Taiwan for work on time.

The tropical storm Hagibis developed on the day before my trip. It was hundreds of kilometers away from Matsu and by the time it was supposed to reach China it would be gone and I would be in the islands enjoying the holiday. Nevertheless, I got on a high speed rail heading to Taipei and waited anxiously for the sailing announcement of Taima ferry made daily at 11:00AM. A cancellation message was sent to my phone telling me that due to bad weather conditions, the Taima ferry was cancelled. I turned on my iPhone and searched for any flight available for Matsu. Luckily, I found 2 flights available in the afternoon of the next day. I tried to book the earlier fight by filling out information on the tiny screen and pushed the next button on the webpage and it returned "lost internet connection" as the train was traveling at a speed of 300km/hour. I tried to call Uni-air directly to book the ticket and I lost the signal while listening to the machine recording as the train was passing through tunnels. By the time I finally got through, the earlier flight had been sold out and I had to settle for the last flight which departed from Taipei at 17:30. The next day I headed to the airport early and soon I found out that the flight to Nangan might be cancelled due to the bad weather. The staff told me that they might fly us to Beigan instead if the fog cleared out. So I waited patiently, then I heard an announcement calling passengers to Beigan to check-in at the counter. I was happy to know that I might be able to fly to Beigan after all, even though my accommodation reservation was in Nangan. Thirty minutes later another announcement was broadcast:" due to the bad weather, the flight to Nangan was cancelled, passengers to Nangan please report to the airline counter. " Out of desperation, I checked the Taima ferry website and found that the ferry was  scheduled to sail at 22:50. I ran out of the airport and got on MRTs then transferred to a train to Keelung. By the time I got there, the room was filled with passengers and soldiers and I got the number 714 for purchasing the tickets! It was around 22:00 when I got the last ticket, first class, and set sail to the rugged open sea. After a night of being tossed up and down, left and right, the ferry finally made it to Dongyin island at 06:00.

I rented a motorcycle and started my adventure in Dongyin. The first challenge was steep mountain roads and to figure out if the sceneries were located in a military restriction area or not. Unlike Kinmen where most sceneries that are opened to the public are soldier free, in Matsu especially in Dongyin island, quite a few tourist attractions are still guarded by soldiers. Most of the time the soldiers would ask the purpose of your approach even before you see them and direct you to the destinations but there are always times when you don't know if you should march into barracks garrisoning by armed soldiers. By accident, I got clearance to a restricted area by filling out personal information and the view was picturesque. To me, the Dongyin island is like a military fortress and the civilians villages are gifts granted by the authority. Oddly enough, most of the military areas are foreigner restricted but the population of foreign domestic servants in Dongyin are so much higher than I expected. I saw no locals but the servants taking out their garbage when hearing the music of a garbage truck approaching. When night fell, I sat on the porch with a warm cup of tea, watching the fish boats in the harbor, listening to the occasional village broadcast that has been extinct in Taiwan for maybe 30 years, these were the true beauties of Dongyin island.

I was stuck in Dongyin for two days because of the no sailing on Tuesday schedule of the Taima ferry. The 2 and a half hour ride from Dongyin to Nangan was much smoother than it was from Keelung to Dongyin. To keep my deposit for the B&B reservation in Beigan, I took the very next boat from Nangan to Beigan and had the host to pick me up at the Beigan harbor. The B&B that I was staying in is a well preserved eastern Fujian style building made of wood and stones, located in Qinbi village. The Qinbi village has the best preserved eastern Fujian style buildings in all of Matsu and the renovated houses are B&B and cafe shops, a village of tourists and the weird part is that there is no restaurant in Qinbi village. The price for food in Matsu in general is much higher than in Tainan; the higher price for poultry, pork or beef is understandable, it is a remote islands after all, but seafood also, really?

All flight were cancelled before noon on the next day, my last day in Matsu. I took a boat back to Nangan and crossed my fingers hoping that my flight at 16:30 would be ok. Meanwhile,  I took the chance to explore the island soon to be the first casino in Taiwan. One particular spot that I enjoyed the most was the Furen Cafe. Located at the north-west corner of Nangan island, the cafe house is also a B&B. Dutch drip coffee is highly recommended. Back to the airport, I was relieved knowing that my flight was on schedule, especially because the waiting list had more than 1,000 names on it. Three out of five islands were visited on this trip and no sign of blue tear (blue tide) was observed, this was my trip to Matsu.

More information:
The official Matsu national scenic area website has all kinds of information needed for a trip to Matsu in Chinese, English and Japanese.
Motocycle rental in Matsu island is about NT$ 500/day, including a full tank of gasoline.
Highly recommended restaurant in Beigan: Longhe eastern fujian restaurant (龍和閩東風味館), reasonable price and taste good.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Matsu transportation

Planing a trip to Matsu was a lot more difficult than I would have imaged. There are 11 round-trip flight services operated by Uni-Air as well as the Taima ferry operated by Shinhwa Navigation Corp. that transports passengers between Taiwan and Matsu on a daily basis. It’s difficult to imagine that transportation could be an issue when planing a trip to Matsu.

Matsu is an archipelago of 36 islands and islets, among these islands, only Nangan (the main island of Matsu), Beigan, Dongyin, Xiju and Dongju islands are opened to tourists. There is no problem to hop around the islands by boat once you are in Matsu, except for Dongyin island. The only way to go to Dongyin island is by Taima ferry, of course you might consider to take a helicopter, and the schedule of Taima ferry during November to April could be a problem for travelers who wish to stay in Dongyin for just one day. On odd dates, the ferry embarks from keelung harbor and en route to Nangan then Dongyin and back to Keelung. On even dates, the ferry takes a different route to Dongyin first, then Nangan and back to Keelung. The ferry sets sail once a day at 22:50 from Keelung harbor and doesn’t operate on Tuesdays. It is very important to pay attention to the schedule to save traveling time if Dongyin is one of your destinations. Given the schedule, if you are smart enough to avoid to take the ferry on Monday then here are some scenarios:

  1.  Take the ferry on odd dates: arrive in Dongyin at noon, and leave on the next day at 06:00 (only half day for the trip and have to sleep over for 1 night) or take the ferry in 2 and a half days later at 06:00 ( sleep over: 3 nights). 
  2. Take the ferry on even dates: arrive in Dongyin at 06:00 and leave the island 2 days later at 06:00 (sleep over: 2 nights) 

There is no way to pull off a full day trip only in Dongyin during November to April. However, during May to October, the schedule changes to odd dates, the ferry goes to Dongyin first, then Nangan and back to Dongyin and finally back to Keelung; the even dates remain unchanged. This schedule makes a trip to Dongyin island much more flexible.

Taima Ferry ticketing service:
  1. Make a reservation: Passengers can reserve tickets up to 7 days in advance by internet (00:00-16:00 daily; ) or by phone (08:30-17:00, 886-2-24246868 for Keelung office; 10:00-17:00, 886-836-26655 for Nangan office; and 14:00-17:00, 886-836-77555 for Beigan office).  Be aware, unless you have a Taiwanese ID number, the internet booking system won't accept ARC ID or passport numbers. You can ask the host of your B&B to book the tickets for you when you are on the islands.
  2. Purchase ticket and checkin: The Keelung office opens for number drawing at 17:30. With a reservation or not, passengers must take a number and follow the call for purchasing the tickets. With a reservation, take the number from the smaller number machine; take the number from a bigger number machine if you didn't make a reservation. Between 20:00-21:30, the staff start selling tickets to those who made reservations. For those who didn't make reservations they can start purchasing tickets at 21:30.  The boarding starts at 21:30. 
*All schedules depend on weather conditions, and may change accordingly. In case of inclement weather, sailing announcements made daily at 11:00AM. Check the website for schedule chances (

Except for Taima ferry, boats that commute between Nangan and Juguang (Dongju and Xiju) also change routes on a monthly basis. In principle, the boat will dock at Xiju first in odd months then Dongju in even months. Checking with the operator to confirm the schedule is advised.

Other information:

The Matsu National Scenic Area website has a detailed transportation information. Also, this interactive animated map (Chinese only) shows transportation between Taiwan and Matsu (left button on the top), between Matsu islands (middle button on the top) and the bus routes on Beigan (top) and Nangan (bottom) (right button on the top).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Xiangshan Cycling Route

Cycling used to serve one purpose and one purpose only: a means of transportation, especially for students in the early days in Taiwan. Nowadays, cycling is becoming the most popular sport/activity for leisure. While lots of cities in Taiwan are working on building a cycling friendly city by planning bike routes and relevant infrastructures for cyclists, the road 21甲 in Nantou County had been chosen as one of the 10 breathtaking cycling routes in the world on CNN by Tim Cheung in 2012. One can circumnavigate the largest lake, Sun Moon Lake,  in Taiwan and enjoy the nature and turquoise water in a half day ride. The route also connects 4 temples, 4 piers, 8 stunning walking trails, 1 Thao aboriginal village and the Toushe basin where the ground bounces like a water bed.

There are 2 cycling routes built along the lake, Xiangshan cycling route (Xiangshan tourist information center to Sheishr, 3km) and Moon lake cycling route (Syuanguang temple to Moon lake, 4km), to separate the cyclists from cars and buses and one Toushe cycling route (1km) leads to the smallest reservoir in Taiwan at the Sun Moon Lake Scenic Area. Xiangshan cycling route is probably the most beautiful and the easiest access route for cycling around Sun Moon Lake. The only bicycle rental in Xiangshan is the Xiangshan bike rental and recreation plaza, which is on the other side of the road. The price for renting a regular bile is NT$100/hour.

Bird's eye view of the cycling route from the Xiangshan tourist information center

Man made sandy beach and little park 

Bridge over the turquoise water


Land mark of Sun Moon Lake

Overflow control (sky well)

Bike trail over the lake

and into the lush

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yushan starry concert

The Yushan Starry Concert has been held for the 5th time this year at the Luona Elementary School in Xinyi village of Nantou county.  The demography of Luona village is mostly composed of the Bunun tribe, that is well known for their homorhythmic chords and fanfare melodies. As most of the villagers would never have the chance to step into the National Theater and Concert Hall in their lifetime to enjoy a high quality music, the principle of Luona elementary school, Peter Ma, started an ambitious project in 2010. Instead of bringing villagers to the National Theater and Concert Hall, why not bring the concert to the tribe so that all the villagers can enjoy the music at ease? Hence the highest altitude music concert in Taiwan.

I participated in the concert last year and was impressed by the high quality of the performances and the fact that all staff of the organization were volunteers, some of them even flew back to Taiwan from America to put out such a wonderful show. Last year the theme was focused on tribal music, this year a variety of musical styles elevated the performance once again. The Dong Guang choir brought the famous homorhythmic chords of transitional Pasibutbut, an eight part harmonic signing. The crystal clear sound of the Vox Nativa chorus, the local native children's choir directed by school Principal Peter Ma, gave me goose bumps. The group 'Perfect Match' brought a Taiwan style broadway show to the stage. There was also an amazing piano performance from a blind pianist, Huang Yu Shiang (黃裕翔), who also starred in an autobiographical movie "Touch of the Light (逆光飛翔)" in 2012. There was also a performance from the 'Guang Ching Chorus' a group of disabled singer. And finally a wonderful performance by the Bolivian group Anka Phaway 'the Eagles', all for free under the starry night at the foothills of Jade mountain.

This concert is held every spring (around March), for more information visit the website: