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The Islands of Matsu

Off the coast of Taiwan, lies the island chain of Matsu. Named after the Fujianese goddess, Matsu island archipelago contains 19 islands, including Kinmen. And just like Kinmen island, Matsu island retains its feel as a military outpost.

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Its geographical placement has earned its place as a dedicated place for military affairs, specifically for defending Taiwan from outside forces. Half of the people you run into in Matsu would be in their uniform, but other than the martial vibe, the island is fixed with tunnels you can scurry down to and emerge to superb views.

When you are out and discovering the island of Matsu, you would notice that not only are residents wearing military uniforms, but they are also speaking in two dialects. Locals of Matsu are bilingual in Mandarin and Mindong, a dialect spoken in the nearby province of Fujian.

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Though the Matsu islands are grouped into townships—Nangan, Beigan, Dongyin and Jiuguang—these townships are now connected by ferries. The main islands of Nangan, which has a main airport, and Beigan contains some of the main sights. The other islands, may they be very accessible, are rarely travelled to.

Since Matsu and some of the other islands are still in prevalence of military affairs, make sure to follow all warnings or instructions that the authorities in the island give you.

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Guests of Matsu can explore the tunnels and intricate temples that make up the island. Unlike Kinmen, Matsu does not have any official military museums but just by walking around, you can already see and feel some parts of the islands military history.

If you happen to be around Matsu during the summer, you would be in for a treat. During these times, the shores of Matsu would literally glow. This phenomenon is due to the display of glowing algae that is known as ‘blue tears’

The natural phenomenon welcomes visitors from far and wide with magical blue waters that makes it look like an imaginary land from a dream.

4 Scenic Spots in Yangmingshan National Park

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Yangminshan National Park — one of Taiwan’s most beautiful national parks and famed for its hot springs and incredible scenery. Yangmingshan (Yang Ming Mountain) is actually a dormant volcano (which explains the numerous hot springs around the area) and is also home to an array of flora, some of which planted by the Japanese during their rule over the island.

Plus, its proximity from Taipei City makes it an ideal destination for day trips, especially from those who would like an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city life. We’ll be sharing a few of our favourite scenic sports in the park:

1. Xiaoyoukeng

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Xiaoyoukeng is a post-volcanic geological park and the area is well known for its fumaroles (mountain-side sulphur gas exhaust), hot springs and sulphur crystals. You will also be able to find the trail which brings you to the top of Mt. Qixing, the park’s highest peak. While you’re there, you’ll be treated to amazing panoramic vistas of downtown Taipei.

2. Erziping

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Situated on the western side of Yangmingshan National Park, Erziping is in the volcanic dip between Mt Datun’s main peak and Mt. Erzi.

Erziping is a suitable trail for all ages, especially for family trips. The 1.9 kilometre long flat trail is paved with cement, complete with pavilions and benches along the way should you have to take a break. At the end of the trial, you will find a beautiful grassland and a pond, perfect for picnics or simply basking in the sun.

3. Lengshuikeng

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Lengshuikeng (which translates to cold water pit) is located on the east side of Qixingshan. The area used to be a barrier lake that was formed by volcanic lava flowing down the mountain. After the lake’s water has been drained out gradually, Lengshuikeng took the form of the landscape that we’re familiar with today.

Dip your feet into a public foot bath to relax after a tedious hike. Alternatively, you can opt for indoor hot springs to spend a relaxing afternoon. To top it all off, you’ll be glad to know that all of the facilities are free of charge.

Fun fact: The water temperature at Lengshuikeng is around 40℃, which is way lower than those of other hot springs, therefore earning the name “cold water pit”. Lengshuikeng also happens to be home to the one and only lake of precipitated sulfur in Taiwan.

  4. Qingtiangang

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Qingtiangang is the most popular area located within Yangmingshan National park. Enjoy the green and lush grasslands, get up close and personal to the cattle and take in breathtaking views of the city without having to hike to far.

There are several short trails that begin from the visible centre. You will be able to find well signposted routes and maps explaining and illustrating the trails.

Getting There

If you’re travelling by public transport, hop on bus 260 from Taipei Main Station. Alternatively, catch the Red 30 or 208 from Jiantan MRT Station. These buses will be dropping you off at the Yangmingshan bus station, and you’ll be able to arrive at the visitor centre just 700m away.

Cruise Along Taiwan’s Alishan Mountains on a 106 Year-Old Railway

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Image credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Chugging on the same solid wood railroad with its red and cream-coloured train carts for 106 years up on the Alishan mountains of Taiwan, the Alishan Forest Railway is a network of 44.4 miles of narrow rail lines in central Taiwan Alishan mountain. It remains to be one of the most historical and beautiful mountain railways in the world.

Constructed in 1912 under the Japanese occupation, the Alishan Forest Railway was used as a transportation service for Taiwan Cypress, now endangered, from Alishan. After banning logging, the railway lived on as the only passenger train to go up to the mountains.

The train runs from Chiayi city, sitting at an elevation of 98.3 feet, to Chushan that is at 8,041 feet in elevation, making it the highest train station in Taiwan. It is also the highest narrow-gauge mountain railway in Asia, higher than the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway which ascends from 100m to 2,200m.

Despite it being around for over a century, many of the Alishan rail network remains the same as it was 100 years ago. The railways still remain to be made out of solid wood and train operators have to get off the train to manually switch track directions.

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Image credit: Naplee12

After the construction of the faster and easier Alishan Highway in 1982, the popularity of the Alishan Forest Railway plunged. Earlier this year, the railroad was closed for three months for maintenance and check-ups before reopening in June.

The railroad still carries out themed tours regularly, every Wednesday until mid-October. The tours not only highlights the Alishan attractions, it also focuses on the history and culture of the railway. Guests spend time at different stops, including the wooden Beimen and Jhuchi stations which was renovated to match the original designs. The railway cruise end at Hinoki—Taiwan Cypress—a village near Beimen Station. The cultural village consists of wooden Japanese influenced houses that were once the homes of Japanese officials half a century ago.

The Magical Islands of Matsu, Taiwan

When you mention Taiwan, the first thought that crosses your mind would be the city of Taipei. This is not at all surprising since it is the capital of the country. However, what you may not know is that Taiwan is in fact surrounded by numerous islands that are categorised by archipelagos.

The archipelago of Matsu is gaining interest from tourists that are seeking to explore the remote islands and learn about its history and culture. Matsu consists of 36 islands and islets, making it one of Taiwan’s smallest archipelago.

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The islands are divided into four townships. Up north is Dongyin, famous for its wild flowers, military emplacements and lofty granite cliffs. Beigan and Nangan in the southwest region are the two most populous townships which are only separated by less than two kilometres of ocean. Both townships are populated with picturesque villages and have their own airports that takes in direct flights from Taipei. At the south of Matsu Islands lie Juguang township, home to two inhabited islands Dongju and Xiju.

Previously named as Dongquan (eastern dog) and Xiquan (western dog), the islands were renamed Dongju and Xiju in 1971, referring to the slogan employed by President Chiang Kai-shek, which translates to “Don’t forget you are in Ju!”

On the islands of Dongju and Xiju, the growing season is short and there is limited flat land. Despite that, the uneven land has grown to become a breathtaking asset for both islands and encouraged an increase in tourism.

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Image credit: Shoestring

A few centuries back, the islands were often subjected to pirate attacks and when the confrontation between Taipei and Beijing arose, the threat of a full-scale war loomed as well. As the confrontation eases in the late 1970s, the civilians of Matsu were already outnumbered by the military presence on the islands. Between 1981 to 1991, the townships population was halved to almost 550 people.

Over the years, tourism has fortunately helped Matsu bounce back. Population has sprung up to 1,500, the highest it has been in 40 years. Individuals who has strong family ties to the islands have come back to the houses they grew up in or were owned by their parents.

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Image credit: Shoestring

In comparison to all the other islands in the archipelago, Dongju has topped the ranks as a popular tourist destination in recent years. Residents of the island are especially friendly and you’d be able to experience a relaxing vibe on the island all thanks to the slow and peaceful way of life. Taking a walk along the east coast gives you the opportunity to experience the full magical spectacle of the Matsu archipelago.

5 Spots to Visit in Kenting for the Outdoor Enthusiast

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Located on the Hengchun Peninsula of Pingtung County, Taiwan, Kenting National Park (commonly known as Kenting) is Taiwan’s oldest and southernmost national park. It covers the southernmost area of the Taiwan island and is well known for its tropical climate, sunshine, scenic mountain views as well as beautiful beaches.

The southernmost region of Taiwan has also received increasing attention as one of the settings for the hit movie Cape No. 7 that was released in 2008 and once again for Life of Pi in 2012. From swimming and surfing to snorkelling and diving, there’s plenty to do for everyone.

1. Jiupeng Desert
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Enjoy the outdoors with an ATV ride! Located at Gangzai (also known as Jiupeng) Desert, treat yourselves to charming panoramic vistas as you tour the area on an ATV.

You wouldn’t be seeing any cactuses or wild desert animals, but the sand dunes in Hengchun Peninsula top the charts as one of the largest in Taiwan. These dunes have been formed over time by the northeastern trade winds and are well kept with beautiful curves.

Unlike the other ATV experiences in Kenting that has you riding through crowded beaches, the ATV experience at Jiupeng Desert treats you to an adrenaline rush as you race down the sand dunes and explore the desert away from the crowd.

2. Baisha Beach
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Baisha Beach is a private scenic spot in Kenting and not many tourists know how to get there. Due to the smaller crowd, the original beach has been kept intact for most parts and has not been subjected to heavy construction. If you’re an avid fan of movies, you should also recognise that the beach is the filming location for several scenes in Life of Pi.

The beach has sand that is clean and thin, and at the same time features crystal clear waters that are calm and perfect for swimming and snorkelling. The nearby vendors provide easy access and convenience for travellers to rent gear for their water activities.

Baisha is also the only beach in Kenting that is on the west side of the peninsula. Spanning a length of 500m and a breadth of 40m, the white beach is formed by shell sand and is home to beautiful coral reefs.

Cycling enthusiasts should also note that the longest bike trail in Taiwan begins from Baisha.

 3. Water Activities
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No visit to Kenting would be complete without spending some time on the white sands and taking a dip in the clear blue seas. Famed for its beautiful beaches, there is no lack of water activities for you to choose from. Sign yourselves up for a banana boat ride, parasailing or even jet skiing.

Most activity vendors would provide different packages that vary in the number and type of activities, don’t be surprised if you’re spoilt for choice.

4. Southernmost Point
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Located between the famed Eluanbi and the ecological reserve area of Longkeng, the Southernmost Point provides you a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean to your left and the Baishi Channel that lies between Taiwan and the Philippines to your right.

As Taiwan is not a large island, it would only take 1000 km to circle the island. If would only take you 9 to 10 hours of driving to travel from Fugui Cape, the Northernmost Point of Taiwan to the Southernmost Point of Taiwan in Kenting. If you’re up for a challenge, sign yourselves up for the annual biking event that takes you from the northernmost lighthouse to the southernmost lighthouse.

5. Chuanfanshi
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Most people are familiar with Yehliu in northern Taiwan, but there are also other geological wonders in Kenting that seeks to be discovered. Chuanfanshi translates to “sail stone” as it takes the shape of a sail of a boat protruding out on the sea at a distance.

The rock was originally disintegrated from the coral shore and is hard enough to withstand the erosion which has already flattened the shoreline that is behind the stone. As the coral shoreline at Chuanfanshi lies in a bay between two peninsulas in Kenting, it attracts an abundance of marine life making it a perfect spot for snorkelling and scuba diving.

Fun fact: Some say that the rock draws some resemblance to the head of President Nixon of America when you take a look close-up.

Getting Around
Renting an electric scooter from any of the vendors operating at Kenting Main Street is one of the most popular options for tourists to get around conveniently. Explore the region on your scooter and make stops at scenic lookout points to take in breathtaking views of the ocean.

Conquer Penghu on Foot With These Marathons!

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Situated off the Western coast of mainland Taiwan lies the beautiful Penghu islands — an archipelago of 90 small islands in the middle of the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and mainland China. Penghu is also known as the Pescadores Islands, it has changed hands between the Dutch, French and Japanese before finally becoming a part of Taiwan in 1945.

In recent years, travellers have been visiting Penghu for a variety of reasons, be it for its pristine beaches, exciting water sports, delicious seafood, historic villages, unique geology or breathtaking sceneries.

If you have a love for the great outdoors and happen to be a fan of marathons, here’s your chance to combine both a marathon and vacation to Penghu! Plan for your very own two-in-one vacation to experience Penghu from a runner’s perspective as you take on this beautiful island by foot.

Mark your calendars for these two amazing races that’s scheduled to take place in Penghu:

1. Penghu Far Eastern Air Marathon
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The annual Penghu Far Eastern Air Marathon would also be back again this October! As of result of Penghu’s geographic location, runners often find themselves challenging their limits as they have to overcome the intense cross-winds during the run. The run is suitable for runners of all levels as there are four categories available for your selection.

Click here to sign up now!

Race Date: 28th October 2018
Categories: 5km, 10km, 21km, 42km

2. Penghu Cross-Sea Marathon
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The Penghu Cross-Sea Marathon is back for its second year! It was inaugurated in November 2017 and is without a doubt a one-of-kind marathon. Most marathons flag off and end at the same point, the Penghu Cross-Sea Marathon however would take you through a point-to-point course. This allows you to conquer the island on foot while taking in the beautiful scenery at the same time.

Click here to sign up now!

Race Date: 4th November 2018
Categories: 5km, 21km, 42km

With these two events in mind, mark you calendars and start planning for your marathon cum vacation. Put your limits to a test as you pit yourselves against against some of the best runners in the region and the world. At the same time, stay adventurous as you explore experience Taiwan’s beauty on foot.

Underwater Paradise of Taiwan’s Green Island

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Taiwan boasts over a dozen of its own unique offshore getaways, which thanks to their quiet landscapes and low-key lifestyle, often go unnoticed by most visitors to the country.

One of the best among these is Green Island. Situated in the tropical seas of Taiwan’s southeast coast – while it used to be better-known as a former penal colony (the sardonically named former prison, Paradise Villa), today it’s arguably one of Asia’s best dive destinations.

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Small Wonder: Taiwan’s Little Liuqiu Island

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Located about 14km off the southwest coast of Pingtung County, Xiao Liu Qiu (or Little Liuqiu) is a small coral island that’s known for its geological formations, coral beaches, and an abundance of green turtles. Visit during the quieter weekdays, and the island is a perfect getaway where you can swim with sea turtles, explore the coral reefs, visit various temples, stroll through coral caves, or simply relax on the beaches to enjoy a picturesque sunset. While you can visit this island on a day trip, you can also spend a night here at one of the few themed B&Bs or camp by the beach.

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Kaohsiung and Taiwan’s south

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Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s southern metropolis – once relegated as an industrial city – is now a bustling city that is known for its hipster culture, particularly around the Love River and Pier 2. As the main city in the south, with its gleaming skyscrapers and wide open boulevards, the pace is much slower than in Taipei.

Kaohsiung is also a convenient base if you’re visiting some natural gems like the Maolin Valley and Tianliao Moon World.

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Taipei’s Taoyuan Int’l Airport MRT is offering 25,000 passengers free rides

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As some of you would know, there’s finally an MRT that connects Taoyuan Airport to Taipei City. Even though the 51km-long Taoyuan International Airport MRT line stops at 21 stations, it still cuts commute time to the airport to 35 minutes, a journey that usually takes more than one hour to drive due to traffic.

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