Monday, July 27, 2015

Matsu Islands (馬祖列島)

Introduction to Matsu Islands (馬祖列島)
Matsu Islands are a chain of islands off the coast of Fuzhou, China, about 55km northwest of Taipei. The islands are administered by Taiwan, and were the first line of defense against an invasion, as visible from the heavy military presence on the islands even to this day, but is now a popular tourist destination.
The main islands are Nangan (南竿), Beigan (北竿), Dongyin (東引) and Juguang (莒光), with Juguang consiting of two islands, Xiju (西莒) and Dongju (東莒).

Getting There
Matsu is reachable by boat from Keelung or by plane from Taipei Songshan or Taichung.

overlooking Beigan airport from Bi Shan, the highest mountain on the island

Flights are operated by Uni Air and go from Taipei Songshan Airport to both Nangan Airport and Beigan Airport, or from Taichung to Nangan. Flights from Taipei take 50 minutes, and flights from Taichung take 65 minutes.

Uni Air ATR-72 plane at Nangan Airport

Boats to Matsu are overnight and take 8-10 hours, leaving once a day from Keelung port in the evening. Return boats leave in the morning and arrive at Keelung in the evening.

Most guesthouses also provide free pickup from the airport or harbor.

More information at

Getting Around
Traveling between islands is mostly by ferry.
Between Nangan and Beigan: at least once every hour on top of the hour from 6am to 6pm.
Between Nangan and Juguang: 3 times a day
Between Nangan and Dongyin: once a day
Note: Tickets go on sale 1 hour before the ferry leaves. Boats can also fill up quickly during busy season (my boat from Nangan to Juguang was sold out 30 mins before departure).

The only alternative is by helicopter, but this can be expensive and is typically reserved for local residents.

Getting around on the islands is mostly by motor scooter. Motor scooters rentals are typically NT$300 for 4 hours or NT$500 for 24 hours, which includes gas and can be arranged either at the ferry port or through your guesthouse. Local or international drivers licenses are technically required, but no one actually checked while I was there.

Nangan and Beigan have bus services during the day, but buses only run about once an hour. On Dongyin and Juguang, the only alternative is by booking a tour, which will provide a shuttle.

Cinbi Village in Beigan

looking towards Beigan from Nangan

sun setting over Xiju, viewed from Dongju

More information on Matsu can be found on the official tourism website.