2019 Taiwan Day 1: From Singapore → Xiamen → Kinmen
Date: 14th November 2019, Thursday
The start of a journey was always tiring, not from the trip itself but having to wake up early to catch the morning flight. And also because I had a light fever this morning. It was not a good thing to be having a higher temperature on the day when I needed to pass through four customs checks to get to Kinmen Island in the Taiwan Strait. Luckily, I was prepared and took two paracetamol tablets to suppress the fever before leaving my house.
Dawn was just breaking when I reached Changi International Airport. Checking in was speedy, took less than 10 minutes and I was through immigrations. By 7:30am, I was already sipping coffee at one of the cafes.
Boarding started at 8:10am. XiamenAir Flight MF874 departed at 8:55am and touched down at Xiamen's Gaoqi International Airport (厦门高崎国际机场) Terminal 3 at around 1pm. It was a good thing to have lunch onboard the flight and I could head straight to the ferry terminal for Kinmen Island without losing time to settle lunch.
By the time I cleared the airport’s immigration checks and walked to Gate 7 of Terminal 3 for the shuttle bus to Wutong Passenger Wharf, it was already 1:40pm. The staff at the Airport Shuttle Bus Ticketing Counter, located across the road from Gate 7, was helpful to inform me that the next shuttle bus to the ferry terminal (Line 5) would be at 2:37pm. An earlier bus had just departed at 1:30pm. She advised me to take a cab there instead of waiting one hour for the next bus. It would take about 15 minutes to the ferry terminal either by shuttle bus or cab. So, I took a cab to the ferry terminal for CN¥25 — the shuttle bus would cost CN¥10, but it was not a big difference, compared to wasting an hour at the airport just to save CN¥15, which was about S$3.00.
Along the way to the ferry, I noticed that the air in Xiamen looked hazy and felt hot despite that it was supposed to be 21°C as indicated at the airport — probably the side effect of air pollution. When flying over Xiamen earlier, the city did seem to be engulfed in a light haze as observed from the sky.
Wutong Passenger Wharf (五通客运码头) was equipped with auto-ticketing machines for travellers who could use China’s online payment methods, but for most foreigners, we had to go to the manual ticketing counters with our passports and cash.
While I was walking towards the ticketing counter, a young Chinese lady asked if I wanted to buy some dried mushrooms. She said that the mushrooms were very much cheaper in China than in Taiwan and would fetch a good price if I were to sell them in Taiwan. One of the things I learnt from my travels was “if things were as good as they sound, why would they even offer it to you?”. I declined and walked away.
At the counter, I asked for a ticket for the next ferry to Kinmen, which was at 2:30pm as displayed on the overhead information board. The fare was CN¥155 (including CN¥1 for insurance). The time was 2:05pm, 25 minutes left, I hurried to immigration clearance on level 2.
There were not many passengers at that time. I was through the customs check in 10 minutes and boarded the waiting ferry, named Xinwuyuan (新五缘). I counted less than 20 passengers in the sitting area. The ferry departed 5 minutes earlier since all passengers had boarded. The journey to Kinmen’s Shuitou Commercial Pier (金门水头商港) took about 30 minutes.
I had chosen to use the air-sea route via Xiamen to Kinmen instead of flying to Taoyuan International Airport and changing to a domestic flight for Kinmen at Songshan Airport. The latter would be more expensive, longer travelling time and longer distance. And it would probably take a whole day to reach Kinmen. Getting there via Xiamen was much faster and cheaper.
At about 3pm, I was on (Great) Kinmen Island. In fact, my island-hopping journey had already started when I reached Xiamen — which was also an island but hardly known to many people since the city was not commonly addressed as “Xiamen Island”.
Getting through Kinmen's Customs was real fast with no other foreigners but me. Seeing that I was from Singapore, the cheery immigration officer asked if I could understand Minnan language (闽南语), one of the Hokkien dialects. I modestly replied I could speak Singapore Hokkien but not sure if the locals could understand me. He assured me not to worry as they should be pretty similar.
After immigration, I was waved through customs check and I noticed several passengers being held by the customs officers and had their particulars taken down. On the floor were bags of dried mushrooms with tags on them. (I googled about the dried mushrooms later and understood that there was a 1kg limit to bring in dried mushrooms for personal consumption — due to high demand in Taiwan and mushroom price had soared as a result. If the mushrooms were to be carried by several parties and later consolidated for resale in Taiwan, it would be classified as “smuggling” and involved parties could be charged.) What a relief! I was right to reject the Chinese lady's mushroom-offer at Wutong Passenger Wharf.
The weather on Kinmen was supposed to be the same as Xiamen, but at 21°C, it was much cooler in Kinmen, probably due to the winds and lesser air pollution.
Perhaps it had been too long since my last trip to Taiwan that I forgot to purchase an Easycard from the 7-Eleven outlet at the pier even though I did get a bottle of drinking water there. I boarded the local bus without any change in coins and paid for the NT$12 fare with a NT$50 coin. Stupid me!
Local Bus 7 / 7B operated between Shuitou Pier and Jincheng Bus Station (金城车站). I alighted at Kinmen Health Centre, one stop before the bus station, where I then found my way to Backpack Home 497 in an alley and checked-in.
It was already 4pm after checking-in. I was feeling a little tired and the morning fever had returned. But I hit the streets after popping another two anti-fever tablets, not wanting to waste the first day in Kinmen.
I started with scouting around the inn. The primary objective was to get familiar with the surroundings so I could find my way back later. The other objective was to locate all the eating places nearby. I also went to a nearby 7-Eleven store and bought an Easycard for NT$100, which I topped up with another NT$200 right away. The Easycard could be used for public bus rides, trains, ferries, etc, throughout the whole of Taiwan.
Thereafter, I walked to Jincheng Town's old district, where Kinmen Military Headquarters of Qing Dynasty (清金门镇总兵署) and Mofan Street (模范街) was located. It was a 15-minute walking distance from the inn. The old district were still pretty much the same as 7 years back — when I was last in Kinmen.
The Kinmen Military Headquarters of Qing Dynasty was closed for renovation during the off-peak season. Well, I had visited the admission-free attraction 7 years ago, so it was not a pity to miss it this time.
Then I took a brief stroll along Mofan Street, where the architectures of the shophouses consisted of both Japanese and Minnan styles. Most of the popular shops, local delights, souvenirs, etc, in Kinmen were located here.
And also the old street of Jincheng Town with eateries, local products shops and market. During the off-peak season, when there were fewer travellers, most items were with discounts.
After wandering around the old street for an hour, I came to the Chastity Arch of Qiu Liang-gong’s Mother (邱良功母节孝坊) or the Chastity Arch (贞节牌坊) for short. The popular oyster puff stall (蚵嗲之家) next to the arch was closed on Thursday. No worries, I still had 3 more days in Kinmen.
In East Asia, the sun would set at around 5pm and most shops would start to close for business around this time, but restaurants and some local eating places would open till much later.
To realise one of my travel goals to Kinmen, I popped into Liang Jin Farm (良金牧场), just beside the Chastity Arch, for dinner. Their signature "warm-bodied" beef noodle (known as “温体牛” in Taiwan) were available only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays — they would slaughter the cows on the designated days and serve the fresh beef on the table without being frozen. Since it was a Thursday, all the more I should not miss it.
After dinner, I strolled through the old district on the way back to the inn. It was getting colder and the winds had picked up speed. Most of the shops were closed for the night but many of them were closed for the off-peak season till March next year.
(Well, there are pros and cons of travelling during peak or off-peak seasons, what matter most is whether I achieved what I set out for.)