Touring Taiwan’s outlying islands

Trista wants to travel to and cover in depth all of Taiwan's islands.
An excerpt of the Lin Yang (of the DPA, Deutsche Presse-Agentur) interview with Trista di Genova, who has traveled to and written about her fascination with history and culture on Taiwan’s outlying islands, so far Orchid Island, Green Island and Kinmen. Lin Yang’s travel story will be published in the South China Morning Post on June 15.

Taiwan’s islands each have their own character. What would you say is the most striking characteristic of Kinmen after making two trips there?
Its historical, geo-political importance. Going to Kinmen is key to understanding the Chinese Civil War, and Taiwan’s experience under the Kuomintang, including martial law and the general feeling of being caught up in a war zone. It was the frontlines for many years. Yet there are glimpses of its pre-20th century splendor as a trade center, in the Fujian-style buildings and merchants’ mansions.

What are some of your favorite spots on Kinmen, and why? These could be towns, historical or scenic areas, temples, places to stay, restaurants and bars, or shops.
The Mao Bar on Paragon Street (Mofan jie), with its collection of Mao Tsetung memorabilia.
The Guningtou Museum, partially because it was off limits to Chinese tourists!
Liaoluo Bay, the beach where the KMT defeated the ChiComs, and also where Koxinga’s fleet set off three centuries before (after denuding the island of its trees to build ships), to shortly thereafter defeat the Dutch in what is now Tainan!
The workshop of Wu Chao-hsi, “Blacksmith Wu”

The Kinmen guesthouse where Discovery Channel film crew and I stayed. Photo: Trista di Genova
Can you tell me what your experience was with the homestays? Would it be doable for someone who isn’t from Taiwan?
The homestay was lovely, very comfortable, and I’d highly recommend staying at one to get the most out of your stay. Besides, it helps support the movement on Kinmen to renovate architectural heritage sites to seek accommodation in a homestay. Sure, it’s doable to stay in one, perhaps if you first go to the Kinmen Tourism office. They try really hard to help you get the most out of your stay. Their English is probably still dismally poor, though; after all it is a bit remote!

Check this out: peaceful, lovely accommodation with your own mosquito net for 800NT/night (US$24). Da Jian Bu homestay was perfect: Kinmen County, Jinchen town, #75 Jushan. Tel: 08 2311452 or 09 11700677. To arrange a homestay, call Kinmen National Park 082-313143. Contact: Miss Lee.

Similar questions for Lanyu on the character of the island and favorite spots, and whether you caught any aborigine festivals/events during your time there?
I went before the Flying Fish Festival, which is wonderful from everything I’ve heard. Each village there celebrates it at a different time, and it’s tricky to get reliable information about it from the Taitung Tourism office! Hiking into the central mountainous area would be a special treat for the more outdoorsy types. I’d like to do that myself, and try to find an orchid on Orchid Island! I fantasize about renting a boat and going out to Xiao Lanyu – such a mysterious place.

Xiao Lanyu, Little Orchid Island. Maybe Paul Theroux and I can kayak there some time? Photo: Trista di Genova

There are a few cafes and eateries I’d recommend, but this place really operates on a down-home temps de vivre kind of vibe, so if you want to go shopping or are looking for fine dining, go to Hong Kong or stay in Taipei. I mainly like to hang out and meet the locals, who are the real treasure of Lanyu. Enjoy the beautiful beach.The Dao tribe people are so charming and often friendly to visitors. Ask for Tracy or Teresa or Stephanie (Si Garribang), or the writer Shaman Lamboan in Hengtou. Definitely stay in one of the many traditional homestays on Orchid Island. The owners often speak very good English and know a lot about the island’s history.

With all three of these islands, they are ideal for renting a scooter and motoring around to see all the sights on your own. As a photographer, there are stunning views to scope out early in the morning and in the afternoon. Kinmen would be ideal for cycling. All three are very accessible like this.

Diving is excellent on Green Island in particular, reportedly one of the best places in the region for doing so. You can rent or bring your own snorkelling equipment – the underwater marine life is spectacular.

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