Kinmen 金門 (pronounced Jīnmén, literal meaning "golden gate", also known as Quemoy) is an outlying island located near the People's Republic of China, but is controlled by the Republic of China on Taiwan.
There are two main islands, Greater and Lesser Kinmen, plus several smaller islands.
Administratively, Kinmen is split into six townships, four of which are on Greater Kinmen. Another has Lesser Kinmen plus its neighbouring small islands, and the sixth is a couple of more remote small islands.
KinCheng, meaning Golden City, is the main city in Kinmen, located on the greater Kinmen island. The second city, Shanwai, is also on that island. The ShangYi airport is between the two cities.
In 1949, the Communists won the Chinese civil war, defeating the Nationalists (Kuomintang) who had governed (most of) China from the 1911 revolution until '49. Since then, there has been a Communist government in most of China (the People's Republic of China or PRC) while the Nationalists hold Taiwan (still officially called the Republic of China or ROC).
The islands of Kinmen and Matsu are near the Chinese coast — Kinmen is about 10 km (under 6.5 miles) from Xiamen — but held by the ROC. They are symbolically important, and arguably strategically as well, and were often actively fought over from 1949 into the 1970s. The "Artillery Battle of 823" was one of the key battles that kept the PRC from invading Taiwan. It involved artillery bombardment of Kinmen and Matsu, beginning on August 23 (8-23) 1958.
In recent decades relations between the two governments have improved greatly; there is extensive Taiwan investment in China and travel in either direction is much easier than it used to be. However, Kinmen and Matsu remain sensitive areas and both the PRC and the ROC maintain substantial military forces in the area. Travellers should exercise caution, avoid political discussions and avoid photographing military installations or even pieces of infrastructure (bridges, dams, etc.) which might be military targets.
Kinmen can be reached by air from the main island of Taiwan; three of Taiwan's four domestic carriers fly to Kinmen from the three bigger cities on Taiwan several times a day. One way tickets cost a little over NT$2000.
There are ferries from Xiamen in mainland China to Shuitou on the main Kinmen island, and this link is now open to foreigners. Boats are NT$750 (as of June 2013) from Shuitou to Xiamen and ¥160 from Xiamen to Shuitou and run once an hour between 0830 and 1900 in each direction. There is also a ferry from Quanzhou, but it allows only Chinese and Taiwanese passengers.
If you are arriving by ferry, the ferry terminal has a tourist information desk that can help find you an inn. There are also money exchange counters, but they will only exchange RMB to NT$; they will not exchange other currencies.
There are taxis on the island, though you need pretty good Mandarin or Taiwanese skills to negotiate a rate with the driver. They are also concentrated mostly in the city center, so you can't count on finding one just anywhere. If you can speak Mandarin, or the local dialect, most of the drivers are quite friendly, so one shouldn't worry about bargaining super hard. Most of them aren't looking to rip you off.
Taxis from the Shuitou wharf to Jincheng city's downtown are NT$250 flat rate, and roughly NT$200 to return to the wharf.
There are a few buses that run around, but they are not frequent and bus stops aren't particularly convenient.
It is easiest to just rent your own scooter. You can get a 150 cc for about NT$550 per 24 hours. There is a rental shop in the airport. There is also a rental place in downtown Jincheng near the northern entrance to Mofan St (模範街).
Roads are all paved and there are good maps at every village and in every hotel. Road signs are written in both Chinese characters and pinyin (Chinese words in the Latin alphabet), so it is hard to get lost.
- The late President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, left a calligraphy inscription in Kinmen, urging the ROC troops to fight on and to one day re-take the Mainland from the Communist "bandits".
- The Wind Lion Gods of Kinmen are unique statues all over the island, you can either see the originals in the villages (this can take some patience and hunting skills) or just go to the new Wind Lion God Park near the ShangYi Airport.
- The 8-2-3 Artillery battle museum is small but excellent, and even has a large amount of English signage to help explain the exhibits. There is also a Virtual War room where you can experience war for 3 minutes.
- The Kinmen cultural village is a great little place to poke around, with Kinmen's two best antique stores located within the walls. Its is only NT$50 to get in and a beautiful and well maintained example of Fujian style traditional Chinese houses with swallow tail roofs and was built towards the end of the 1800's.
If you can find all 63 "official" wind lion god statues, the ones that are represented in the park, and present proof to the park office, they will give you a special gift.
Cleavers are Kinmen's best-known tourist product. They are famous for making excellent quality cleavers; the steel is obtained from the hundred of thousands of shells that the Communist forces fired at Kinmen, in a failed attempt to take the island away from the Nationalist troops. The most authentic knives, and the best place for a factory tour is Maestro Wu's Knives.
It is claimed that a single shell casing can make approximately 60 blades; this is doubtful. Also doubtful is the claim that current blades are made from shell casings, since shelling stopped in the late 1970s.
Finishing quality for cleavers has dropped a lot since the mid 90s. Even for Maestro Wu's Knife's top selling special-designed cleavers, the words "Made in Kinmen" are barely visible and/or badly engraved. Salepersons were taught to toe the line that "its because the steel's quality is so good that the engraving machine cannot carve the words properly". This is a bad sales tactic and a sorry excuse for a once famous knife brand that was built on quality.
- Da Jhai Men Homestay, ☎ +886 82-320008. Actually a rather tumbledown hotel, not a homestay, the management is nevertheless very friendly and the location convenient. Double room NT$1200 regular days and NT$1500 weekends and holidays. Location No. 84 Jhushan Village, Jincheng Township, Kinmen.
- Visit Kinmen Guest House is a traditional Kinmen old house restored by Kinmen National Park. Located in Shanhou Village, the north east side, Visit Kinmen Guest House provides a place where travelers can stay with a relaxed atmosphere after exploring the beautiful scenery of Kinmen. The guest house has three double rooms for two people and one family room with twin bed that is good for group of four people, rates from NT$1400-2400. Please find us on web for further information.
- IN99 (near to jincheng bus station, new building), ☎ +886 82 324851. Check-in: 1400, check-out: 1200. nice new business hotel in Jincheng NT$1800.
While Kinmen lacks the high price fancy fare of more populated locales, cheap delicious snack shops are everywhere in the downtown area of Kincheng. Taiwanese favorites such as fried chicken cutlets, fried oyster balls and chow mein can be found without much trouble. Prices average around NT$50 per item which is quite reasonable considering the quality.
Kinmen is the home of Taiwan's distinctive "Kaoliang" liquor, a tequila-like hard liquor popular all over Taiwan. The factory is located right in the middle of the island, not far from the airport and is hard to miss with it's distinctive smell and two two-story liquor bottles guarding the front gates. This is one of the upmarket brands of the widespread Chinese liquor bai jiu; see China#Alcohol for background.
- White Lion, jincheng. 1800-2400. nice Canadian/Taiwanese owned pub beside temple
Though formal hostilities with the PRC ended by the early 1980s, Kinmen is still very much a front line area. Visitors are strongly advised not to wander off paved roads when exploring the island due to the possibility of running across old unmarked minefields. It is also advisible to avoid traveling to certain sensitive areas after dark, such as coastal areas or areas near military installations. Visitors should also obey all orders given by military personnel and avoid entering or photographing sensitive areas.
There are two choices; the main island of Taiwan is easily reached by plane, and Xiamen in mainland China is accessible by ferry. To go to Xiamen, holders of most passports need to already have a Chinese visa; there is no office to issue them on Kinmen.