If you have not heard of Kinmen (金門) or Quemoy before, you are not alone. It’s one unique travel destination often overlooked and unknown to most. I get to know because wifey’s grandfather is a native Kinmenese who came to Singapore in search of better opportunities many years ago. Still, my knowledge was confined to the fact that Kinmen is part of Taiwan. That’s until we followed him on a trip back.
Kinmen is an archipelago located off the southeast coast of Fujian Province in China. The islands are nearest to Xiamen with the shortest distance between them is just 2 km compared to the 200 odd km to Taiwan. But, Kinmen is administered from across the Taiwan Strait by the Taiwanese government. Interesting? Read on.
Kinmen then and now
In 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek and Kuomintang troops fled to Taiwan after being defeated by Communist Party of China. During the retreat, they captured Matsu Islands, Penghu islands and Kinmen islands to establish a defence line against the Chinese troops. Both China and Taiwan see the strategic importance of Kinmen’s geographical location. What followed next were military confrontations and decades of elevated tensions between the two nations.
Due to the intense environment, the imposed martial law restricted travel to and from Kinmen. Special permits are needed for Kinmenese wanting to visit Taiwan mainland, out of fear that they will not return.
Before its military base status was decommissioned, there were about 100,000 soldiers who called Kinmen home. Nowadays, less than 5,000 soldiers remain to garrison the islands. The once battlegrounds are taking off its guard after being named as Taiwan’s sixth national park in 1995. Many military fortifications still remain intact – a clear reminder of its turbulence past.
Off the beaten path – Kinmen
The islands look under-developed and less urbanized when compared to those in Taiwan. The prolonged tension has definitely taken its toll, but our relatives are appreciative of the current developments and the relaxed stance between the two nations. Life is better now, one of them told me with a sigh of relief – thankful that the artillery bombardment and witnessing fights in their own backyard were a thing of the past…
I feel for them. I can imagine how tough life must have been living in the frontline. Whichever side wins in a war, the people always lose. Some say sacrifices are unavoidable to reach where we are today. But I wonder whether that remark stays valid if the lives lost were their kin. It’s rather emotional when the dead is someone you can relate to. I hope peace will be everlasting in Kinmen and anywhere else in the world.
Despite the battles, many traditional Fujian architectures still stand today. The houses we saw were made of red brick with nice arched roofs, and bullet holes are visible on some of the houses.
Though people rarely use coin phone nowadays this red phone booth with the word Golden Gate (金門) to it is one of Kinmen icons.
And some Chinese temples around Kinmen.
Strolling along the peaceful alleys and back lanes is a nice change from the usual city vibes. My younger cousins’ laughter was the only sound filling the void.
Then we spotted the nicest sky that day.
To and around Kinmen
There are no direct flights from Singapore to Kinmen. So if you want to visit Kinmen, take a flight to Taipei and hop on to a domestic flight, or fly to Xiamen and transfer to a ferry. We took the second option for this trip and encountered an extremely bumpy ride – get ready some seasickness pills.
Our uncle who works for the National Park doubled up as our guide and drove us around so I am clueless about the transportation.
STAY: Haifu Hotel and Suites review
We stayed at Haifu Hotel and Suites (海福商務飯店) which was a newer hotel out of the two only hotels here. There are more Min Shu or homestays (民宿) than hotels as we were told.
The overall experience for the hotel was a very pleasant one with plenty of food stalls and convenient stores situated nearby. The lobby and room are decked in modern décor though the room is a bit small.
Haifu Hotel and Suites (海福商務飯店)
85 Minquan Road, Kinmen, Taiwan