The Matsu Islands (馬祖列島) are an archipelago of small islands, owned by Taiwan but very close to the Chinese coast, to the northwest of Taiwan proper. They are an excellent few days away from Taipei or any other big city, have some great attractions, and a very laid back vibe. The only negative, which really isn’t a problem at all, is that the islands are heavily militarized. But other than seeing the old bunkers everywhere (And I mean EVERYWHERE) the military presence really doesn’t affect the mood, in my opinion. In fact, I had several great conversations with solders, some of which said they really didn’t mind being stationed on those remote islands!
The Matsu archipelago is made up of 19 islands, but only a few are accessible to tourists. Of those, I visited the “main” island of Nangan, Dongyin (and it’s very close neighbor Xiyin), and Beigan (and it’s very close neighbor Daqiu). There are two that I would have loved to see called Dongju and Xiju, but they’ll have to wait for a different visit.
Before I go any further, let me highly, highly recommend Richard Saunder’s guidebook “The Islands of Taiwan”. I would have been totally lost without it. I’ve placed some links as to where you can buy it below.
Also, I’ve uploaded these pictures in a different way from before, so if you want to see them bigger (and sharper), just click on it.
Nangan island is the biggest, busiest, and most visited of all the islands. It also has the most attractions, accommodations, and easy transportation links to Taiwan and all the other Matsu islands. If you’re only spending a day or two in Matsu, this is where you want to go. It’s got several villages scattered around the island, some busier, some more traditional, so you can find anything you might need. But be warned, I stayed in the traditional village of Jinsha, and there were no restaurants, and the closest thing to a mini mart was someone’s living room!
You can visit all the sights in Nangan (and on all the other islands) in a busy, long afternoon, but I would definitely recommend staying for two days to get into the relaxed island mode.
Dongyin and Xiyin 東引，西引
From Nangan, I took the morning boat to Dongyin to explore for the afternoon. (Xiyin is a smaller island connected to Dongyin by a causeway, so it really doesn’t feel like a separate island) Dongyin is the most remote of all the Matsu Islands and the most heavily militarized. It has the northernmost point of all of Taiwan, and some stunning coastlines and natural attractions. You can easily see everything it has to offer in the afternoon you’ll have after the boat ride from Nangan. Or if you take the overnight boat from Keelung to Matsu, you can get off here the first morning, the continue on to Nangan the next.
After returning to Nangan for and afternoon, I took the 15 minute boat to Beigan and spent 2 days. Beigan is definitely the most laid back and friendly of the islands that I visited. If you’re really just looking for a quiet island/beach vacation, this is the place. However, it does have one of the best short hikes hike I’ve ever been on. The Luoshan trail on the far side of the airport is really only an hour or so return, but I’d recommend staying out there a while longer and really soaking up the beauty.
Just off the coast of Beigan is the very small, uninhabited island of Daqiu. This island is mostly known for it’s population of sika deer. They are relatively unafraid of humans so you can get quite close without frightening them away. Even if animals aren’t your thing, I would highly recommend heading out here for the morning to have a look.
If you want more information on the Matsu Islands, once again, I can’t recommend highly enough Richard Saunder’s “The Islands of Taiwan”. You can buy it in bookstores around Taipei, or have a look at the website here.