Jinmen Island: A Taste of Taiwan Just an Hour from Xiamen

Culture, Travel | by Aimee Groom
Posted: October 9th, 2010 | Updated: July 17th, 2014 | Comments

Jinmen, Taiwan

Just 2 kilometers off the coast of China's Fujian province is a small archipelago of islands known as Jinmen. Though just a stone's throw—well, a one-hour ferry ride at any rate—from XiamenGreater Jinmen Island makes for a refreshing break from the Mainland.

With a 6,000-year-long history, one of the island's most recent incarnations was as the front line for the struggle between Nationalists and Communists in the 1950s. After decades of bitter fighting—evidenced by a profusion of military sites and bunkers scattered across the island—in the end it was the Nationalists who won this little slice of territory and it remains under the administration of Taiwan to this day. 

Jinmen, Taiwan

 

A Brief History of Jinmen

Of course, it hasn't all been war games and politics, and the island has a long and rich history as an administrative center, porcelain producer and, from 1633, home to the infamous pirate Zheng Chenggong—known in the West as Koxinga—and his army. China's most famous pirate and defender of the remnants of the Ming Dynasty based himself here for over a decade, harvesting trees to build the ships that repelled the Dutch East India Company and took the fight to the invading Manchu and their Qing Dynasty.

Later, between the 17th and 19th centuries, wealthy overseas Chinese left a notable mark on the island's heritage when, unable to return home for various reasons, they flocked to Jinmen and used their fortunes to build grandiose houses, characterized by unique East-meets-West architecture. Many of these buildings still stand, towering amongst the low-slung saddle-back traditional local architecture. This style is found in charming villages throughout the island, often surrounded by lush national parkland or alongside wide sandy beaches fringing the coastline.

Jinmen, Taiwan

The village of Shuitou offers some of the best examples of these types of homes and the neighboring buildings now house an interesting museum documenting the development of this group of Peranakan or Straits Chinese. Such a concentration of wealth and grandeur needed protection from marauding pirates, and the Deyue Tower provided just that. Movable wooden stairs connected its four stories and, if the village came under attack, residents could take refuge and then pull the stairs up behind them and fire at the enemy from the upper windows. The tower was connected to the main house by a tunnel which was used both as an escape route and a means to bring in supplies and ammunition. The connecting building was in fact a "false house"—an uninhabited, narrow building with an impressive facade but no interior, intended to fool aggressors into attacking it instead of the real residence.
 

Jinmen, taiwan

Since the easing of cross-strait relations, Jinmen has undergone an economic boom with many Taiwanese relocating to take advantage of the huge market that has opened up here. The area only became accessible to tourists in 2003, but is now a popular getaway spot. Though they're rarely sold out, the ferries from Xiamen are usually full of Tawainese making the journey back and forth to the Mainland.  
 

Jinmen National Park takes up a large part of the island and is full of historical structures and remnants of its defense fortifications, along with traditional guesthouses, pagodas and sculptures. The site is also famous for its bird-watching and as a habitat for wildlife.

 

Jinmen, Taiwan

Much of the island doesn’t feel quite like China, but more like its own unique place, with clapboard houses and ramshackle villages. One minute you’ll be on a beach full of rugged beauty, then turn into a local farming village where traditional architecture is on display down every narrow alleyway. Here you can see the rounded saddle-back style houses typical of the working and farming classes of the region and, in the background, the pointed, swallow tail roofs that were once reserved for the gentry.

 

Jinmen, Taiwan

To travel from Xiamen to Jinmen, head to one of Xiamen's two international ferry terminals: Wutong Passengers Port on Huandao Road, near the Xiamen International Airport in Wuyuan Bay, or the Xiamen International Ferry Terminal in Dongdu.

Fast boats depart every hour between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and take about an hour. Be sure to arrive 20 minutes before boarding for customs formalities.

Jinmen, Taiwan

In addition to sandy beaches, charming Fujianese-style villages, quiet country roads and a fascinating history, Jinmen is a great visa exit-stamp alternative to Hong Kong and a cheap flight option to Taipei.

Flights from Jinmen to other parts of Taiwan are operated by TransAsia Airways, Mandarin Airlines and Uni Air.

All photos by Aimee Groom

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