July 31, 2009
Where to Go / What to See
In spite of its frontier status, Kinmen is more developed than one might expect. You will find a large number of computer shops, wireless Internet connections, ATMs are everywhere and cell phones work all over the island.
Restricted areas are clearly marked and considering the amount of mines still buried here, it's highly advisable to heed the warnings. There are some gorgeous beaches on the island, but most of these are still dangerous. The mines are slowly being cleared, but as the shifting sands have moved many mines from their original positions, this might take a while.
We were lucky enough to meet Mr. Chen, a Park Ranger, and his nephew outside the tunnels. Following him down a short narrow path (it is unmarked, but you will see a path leading to the ocean from the left of the souvenir/refreshment stall), we came to the ocean and the entrance to the tunnels. The tunnels themselves have not been used for 30 years due to the water level dropping substantially, but the concrete piers that surround the entrance are still intact. A concrete platform, or "bridge", leads over the entrance to the tunnels and onto the piers. The bridge looks dodgy, well it probably is dodgy, but we made it across safely.
The "pill" or sentry boxes at the end of the piers have a grim past. Mr. Chen took delight in telling us the story of the frogmen. I should mention that the mainland is very close at this point and so it is possible to swim across the narrow stretch of water. When tensions were at their height, frogmen from both sides would swim across to the other side in the dead of night. It is often so dark at night that you can't see your hand in front of your face, Chen explained, so the frogmen would prey upon any hapless sentries that weren't paying attention, slit their throats and take back an ear as a souvenir. We didn't spot any one-eared people, but the story appears to be true. According to one soldier currently doing his service, they still swim across, but these days it's to steal soda cans as souvenirs.
Entry to the tunnels, the park and parking are free.
Kinmen National Park
In one of tunnel a "commander" is sitting at his desk. The room is quite dark and the "commander" quite fierce when suddenly an air raid siren goes off. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but in Kinmen, surrounded by military hardware, it seems sinister. Next, lights start flashing, loud crashing noises come through a huge (for a 2m square room) loudspeaker at substantial volume and orders start being shouted. More deafened than panicked, we make for the door when we are blinded by the powerful strobe light creating the explosion effects. Finally, stumbling out of the cacophony, we encounter a small child outside the tunnel who must have thought aliens had landed. I suppose for all intents and purposes, he was right.
Apart from the military fun, the park itself is quite extensive. There is a campsite, tennis courts, rose garden, hiking trails, and a memorial dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, although it seemed to have more to do with Chang Ching-guo than Sun Yat-sen. There is a room with various old photos, but the one we liked most was one of Chang meeting a platoon of female soldiers. Quite progressive we thought until you look closer and see that the soldiers are wearing high-heeled boots! On translation of the accompanying sign, it becomes clear that the soldiers are not soldiers at all, rather they were there to boost moral.
From the "peak" in the centre of the park you can see ocean on two sides. The island is wee.
It's not worth making a detour to Gukang Lake, but worth a stop if you pass by.
Kuningtou War Museum
As with all the major tourist spots, the museum is well signposted and information in the museum is bilingual. The guide inside asked us to sign the guest book, but there was no entry charge.
You can't actually access the coast from here. There remain live artillery positions behind the museum and trying to go through the locked door with barbed wire did not seem like a good idea.
It must have been impressive for the time. Now it remains a ruin peppered with bullet holes.
Take a walk around the village and imagine what it must have been like. You can almost hear the families gathering in the courtyards when the place was a thriving community.
Lincou Village is also in the area with similar style buildings.
The information display (again in English) tells the visitor to enjoy a walk on the causeway, and indeed there is a path to the beach. Soon enough, though, we encountered the familiar land mine warning signs. Surely that didn't mean the beach, I thought to myself and started to walk towards the sea, albeit following some footsteps. When the footsteps abruptly stopped, so did I. Besides, the stakes in the sand were spoiling the view.
On a clear day you can see Hsiamen in the mainland from the causeway. Watch out for those frogmen.
Mashan Observation Point
This was the most militarily active place we visited, with armed guards and dogs at the entrance. Attempts at striking up friendly conversation did not work here, the guards seemingly trying to assess whether we were stupid or just mad.
Reach the entrance via a path camouflaged with trees forming a canopy, with a tunnel network either side. These are doors we would not be trying to enter.
At the end is a narrow tunnel that leads down to the actual observation point, and this was the only place we encountered where photos were not allowed.
There are high-powered binoculars (free despite the coin slots) with which you can spy the mainland, which again is surprisingly close. You can actually see the Fujian coast quite clearly with the naked eye, but using the binoculars, you can also make out several small islands.
Having opened up substantially in the last few years - after the bombings and throat slittings stopped - Kinmen shows great promise of developing into destination for the traveller looking for something a bit different. At the moment, it hasn't really been discovered by tourists, but it is getting there.
Two days was not really enough, so if you can, plan for three. We did not make it to the southeast part of the island, the granite hospital or the Cultural Village, which we would have liked to.
Despite the short amount of time, we had a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable trip and would highly recommend this as a quick off-island excursion.
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