Last weekend, at the scorching-hot tail-end of August, I took my second trip to Kinmen, and, just like after my first (eight years ago), I’m still strangely conflicted about the place, even though I’d recommend a visit to anyone. Continue reading
Getting to Turtle Island (or rather obtaining the necessary permit to land there) is enough of a hassle that I’ve only been there once before, eight or nine years ago, and that time I never landed. Getting permission to climb the path to the highest point of the island is even more difficult to get, so when I noticed a hiking group in Sanchong City included the hike to the summit of the island in their autumn schedule this year, I jumped at the chance to join them.
These days boat trips to Turtle Island (龜山島) mostly go from Wushi Harbor (烏石漁港), just outside Toucheng (頭城) in northern Ilan County, and although there was no time to check for sure as we were hurried off the coach and on to the waiting boat at 8:30 in a Sunday morning, posters up on walls nearby seemed to imply that it’s still possible (on weekends at least) to do what I did the last time I visited the island, and simply turn up and get on a non-landing, dolphin watching boat (the pesky permit is required only to land on the island). Continue reading
As I traced the short footpath along the coast of tiny Tongpan Island (桶盤嶼) in the South Sea Islands of Penghu, I was finally fulfilling one of my smaller but longest held ambitions. Not that I’d even heard of this little island until I started planning my first (and so far only) trip to the Penghu archipelago, way back in 2002. No, it wasn’t the tiny island in itself that interested me, but rather the amazing rock formations to be found here, and on several other islands in Penghu. Continue reading
I find it almost impossible to do any serious low-level hiking here during the Taiwanese summer without thoroughly regretting my crazy idea while I’m out, and returning home with a nasty and very sore heat rash, so, unless I can get up into higher altitudes (which has been sadly uncommon this last year), hiking is put on hold until well into September and outings are usually confined to short strolls to waterholes or waterfalls with waterholes below them, or to summer-friendly places like the wonderful Keelung Island.
According to a couple of local girls we got talking to while hiking up to the marvellous Heaven Lake (天池), Lanyu (蘭嶼, Orchid Island) isn’t as quiet as it was a few years ago, but for me, as a first-time visitor, it’s an absolutely magical outpost of Taiwan, unlike anywhere else in the country; it’s far more rugged and pristine even than Green Island, its nearest neighbour, and although the numbers of visitors prepared to put up with the three-hour boat ride over from the Taiwanese mainland are increasing (on summer weekends at least), so far Lanyu, like the smaller islands of the Matsu group, remains blessedly undeveloped, tourism-wise, in comparison with Green island, Penghu or Kinmen. Continue reading
According to the elegant phrase on the T-shirts sold at the gaggle of tacky souvenir stalls that greet new arrivals to Green Island stepping off the boat from Taitung, “Green Island is … F***ing Hot“. Actually for about half of our three days’ stay on the island, the weather was Bl**dy chilly, as a front of cool, rainy weather coincided with our visit, but in another sense the blokes that coined that slogan got it right. Continue reading
Compared with the other outlying islands of Taiwan, (maybe with the exception of Lanyu) Matsu is little visited by locals and foreigners alike, yet getting there and around are both pretty easy, and the great beauty and cultural distinctness of the islands make it in many ways a more fascinating destination than the far more popular Penghu archipelago or Kinmen, to the south.
Two abilities, however, are essential or at least very useful for any potential explorer of Matsu’s islands:
– A basic ability in spoken Chinese in at least one member of the group will make traveling around the islands far easier. From my experience few people on the islands seem to have even basic English ability. On the other hand, just like elsewhere in Taiwan, most road signs have English translations (and there are several good English maps available free-of-charge in Tourist Info Centers on each island), so Chinese reading ability isn’t nearly as important.
– Being able to ride a scooter will make for a much more flexible trip. The islands of Matsu are great for exploring, and some of the most beautiful places don’t appear in any tourist brochures or guidebooks, and while walking is possible, it’s slow and very hot work in summer, and having your own wheels will make for a far more fun experience than relying on buses.
It’s a well-known fact that relations between Taiwan and China have improved vastly over the last few years, but for some reason it seems no-one has told the military stationed on the two northernmost islands of the Matsu group, the stunning isles of Dongyin and Xiyin.