Looking for the best unique things to do on Kinmen Island, Taiwan that are the best hidden gems? No worries! I’ve got the insider scoop to help you craft the ultimate Kinmen adventure.
The Kinmen Islands are a place with a reputation in Taiwan. Yeah, most people immediately think “war” and “military.” But hey, there’s way more to this spot than just its combat past. But I’m here to unravel Kinmen’s history beyond its military background as its story has layers upon layers. Let’s peel them back, shall we?
As an American who lived there for a year as an English teacher, I’ve explored the island from top to bottom. I can say (at least among non-Taiwanese people) that I’ve probably created the largest collection of videos on the island. I’m proud to say that my content has captured places that have potentially never been recorded before, and when people search for unique things to do on Kinmen Island, my content is that resource.
In this article,In this piece, we’re diving into Kinmen! From its intriguing history to how I bizarrely found myself calling it home. I’ll share tips on moving around, the ideal duration for a visit, some heads-ups to be aware of, and of course, my top 10 unique places to visit in Kinmen you won’t find written about anywhere else.
And if you’re just here for the unique things to do on Kinmen, you’re welcome to skip the story and head onto the list here. Although I do, at the very least, recommend reading things to be cautious of in Kinmen.
Kinmen Island, Taiwan is known for its history as a battleground during the war between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (China). Since the late 1930s, the island has been occupied by the military, starting with the Japanese military and then Taiwanese – and it was an especially tense place to live until 1992 when the island endured marital law, bombings, and battles.
And to be fair, It was only tense until 1992 because that’s when martial law ended, but even after, it would still be another 20 years before almost 100,000 land mines would be officially cleared from the islands. To put simply, the Kinmen I got to enjoy and love, such as exploring abandoned places and secluded beaches, has only been possible in the past 10 years.
Today, there’s still “tension,” but having lived there, I never felt afraid of the threat of China, and people lived their lives. If anything, the “tension” may be between the people of Kinmen and those on the main island of Taiwan as Kinmen has a closer relationship with China due to its proximity…but that’s a WHOLE other conversation that even with my knowledge and experience, I cannot elaborate on well enough.
But what about before the war? Kinmen has thousands of years of history, so it’s a bit much to get into. Instead, check out the official tourism page to delve into Kinmen history as far back as the 1300s.
One part the website page doesn’t get into, though, is the blossoming of Kinmen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Kinmenese sought work abroad, building empires in countries such as the Philippines and Singapore. That’s why, around Kinmen, you’ll spot these massive Western-style mansions built by those who had earned fortunes.
Sadly, many of these mansions built in the early 1900’s – 1930’s could not be enjoyed for long as Kinmen would soon be occupied for military purposes, leading us into the history most people know today.
Still, you can see Kinmen’s historical gems everywhere – from hundreds of years old villages to abandoned military tunnels soldiers once slept in. And while the island is still occupied by the military, have no fear; it’s a calm place that welcomes tourists.
And any travelers willing to go definitely should, as it’s a whole other side of Taiwan, including its people, story, and way of life.
My Life on Kinmen Island
How I Got There
If you’ve stuck around to read, you might wonder how I ended up in a place like Kinmen?
It’s a question many people have, but it’s not that unique.
When I got to Taiwan, I came intending to teach English. Through the bushiban chain I was recruited, there were placement opportunities – Kinmen being one of them.
Initially, I said “no,” as I wasn’t too sure. After all, it’s an island right next to China that’s an hour-long flight away from Taipei.
Returning to the city to have fun (as there are no clubs or many bars on Kinmen Island) meant a whole flight. Or going to Xiamen, China, a short ferry ride away.
After some contemplation, research, watching YouTube videos (which weren’t many), and more contemplation, I said “yes.”
The thought was, when will I ever have the opportunity to live somewhere like Kinmen? I wanted to see what it had in store for me.
It could either be a complete disaster (e.g., super boring, terrible school) or a smashing success. Regardless, I signed my contract and went.
How It Went
Before I moved to Kinmen, the online content was limited primarily to vlogs and blogs of the best unique things to get in Kinmen, really only covering the most popular tourist attractions.
As a place to live, I would have to discover for myself what it was like.
And it was a smashing success.
Things at my school were decent, and I LOVED exploring Kinmen. It was full of abandoned places, I lived near the beach, and there were hiking trails.
It was like my own playground.
I genuinely wanted to explore every spot on Kinmen. Having made a few local friends on the island, I loved immersing myself in the culture and seeing places I never would have found on my own.
And while COVID had just begun to spread around the globe, Taiwan did well to protect itself. The world seemed to be burning, and I lived in a bubble where I was free to explore.
Sadly, I couldn’t get my visa to visit China, so short trips to Xiamen were off the table. My whole year living there, I only flew back to Taipei once or twice.
When I moved to Kinmen, I also wanted to get started as a creator, and with the birth of my YouTube channel, I started making videos about living on Kinmen.
I wanted to create the videos I wish I had when I first came to Kinmen. I wanted to share unique places on Kinmen and share my story about what it was like to live there.
While most of my audience was Taiwanese, many foreigners also saw my videos. I was glad I could bring something different, to bring a perspective of Kinmen people hadn’t seen before.
To wrap it up, I became like a little celebrity on Kinmen. Locals had seen my videos, travelers would watch my videos before going or even contact me with questions, and I was known as “Kinmen Girl.”
How to Get to Kinmen, Getting Around & How Long to Visit
The only way to get to Kimen is by flying. Luckily, you can fly there from a variety of cities in Taiwan. However, from my observation, the cheapest is flying from Taipei (Songshan), Taichung, or Kaohsiung.
In my experience with UniAir, a round trip costs around $100 and includes a 10kg checked bag (over 10kg, the fee per kilo is small). I’ve never been nervous about my bag going over 10kg as the cost is minimal compared to what a US airline would charge.
As for arriving at the airport, I suggest arriving one hour ahead of the flight time, as check-in and bag drop start not long before the flight time. Being from the States, I sometimes came two hours early and found myself waiting around to check my bag as it wasn’t open yet.
I love getting around Kinmen Island because you can experience the scooter culture of Taiwan without all the hecticness of the city (and without an international license!).
While I lived in Kinmen, I rented a scooter to get around from KMFun. They have two locations, Jincheng and Shanwai, making switching out the scooter battery convenient.
Without a Taiwan license, you can only rent the electric scooters, which go around 40 kph max, so they’re easy to manage for new drivers. Plus, the batteries last quite a while!
With that said, traffic can be everywhere in the small towns on Kinmen, so be careful when passing people and expect people to stop randomly on the road. While there is less traffic than in major cities, you can often tell who’s a tourist on Kinmen as people will stop driving and ponder where they’re going, which then they usually start going again or turn unpredictably.
You can also rent a car from them but will need an international driver’s license.
How Long & When to Visit
I can stay in Kinmen for up to a week and not get bored – as long as the weather is good! But I’m also a bit crazy.
If you’re short on time, I’d recommend at least three nights, but if you find Kinmen interesting and want to explore it all, five days is a good idea to do most things while not rushing it.
As for the best time to visit, the middle of summer is crazy hot (like most of Taiwan), and the winter is…brutal.
It’s not the cold that’s so bad, but if you rent a scooter, it’s miserable getting around with ice-cold wind blasting in your face. You need a thick coat, gloves, and maybe even some goggles to protect your eyes.
From personal experience, Spring to Fall is fine, although March to May is fog season, which can put a little damper on the trip. December to February, I would avoid altogether, especially if you’ll be on a scooter. I once went in January and left because it was so cold and brutal I couldn’t travel far without tears running down my face from the piercing winds in my eyes.
Some Warnings About Kinmen
I’ll keep this short, but after a year on Kinmen, there are a few things I learned to be cautious of when exploring because while there any many unique things to do on Kinmen Island Taiwan, exploring off-the beaten-path can be risky.
And no, none of it has to do with being afraid of China.
But if you’re adventurous like me, take note:
- If renting a scooter, be wary of dogs, especially on the small paths that line fields or general dirt paths in the middle of nowhere. They’re usually on a chain but can be very aggressive. I’ve had MANY dogs jump out at me and have even been chased once.
- If you find isolated beaches, be wary of mines. While Kinmen Island has been de-mined, there could still be potential mines on remote parts of the island. I’ve been on many isolated beaches and never encountered a problem, but it’s important to know.
- If you plan to explore abandoned buildings, consider their condition. Sometimes, there are holes in the floors, unstable ground, and wasp nests. There is no maintenance on most of them, so since I’ve visited in years like 2021, they’re only continued to deteriorate.
- This will sound crazy, but Burmese Pythons can be found on Kinmen. Yep, that 16 foot long or so snake. To be honest, the chance of seeing one is almost none. Check out this research article here to see photos. Although the research hasn’t been updated in a while, they are still around. In my first year there, I never saw one, but on a 5-day visit in 2023, I was riding my scooter in the dark and saw a massive snake-like shape in the grass close to a bush. I noticed the glint of an eye and couldn’t believe it. I turned around to look again because I was so shocked; unfortunately, before I could record a video or get any proof, it slid away.
- Swimming – unless you’re at Chenggong Beach, I wouldn’t. Due to old military defense systems and fishing, there’s often metal defense barriers or rods in the sand and sometimes those are hidden under the shore during higher tides.
Before we dive into my top 10 hidden gems and unique things to do on Kinmen Island, read this.
I’m sharing these destinations because I want travelers to see a side of Kinmen off the tourist path and provide an insight into Kinmen most travelers won’t get.
With that said, while all of these destinations require respect, please be especially respectful around destinations that are abandoned buildings, mansions, and bases.
While I don’t advise entering a Western-style mansion, if you do, do not do anything to break in or damage anything. Many of these buildings, in fact, still have owners. Yet, they may live overseas and have left the buildings to deteriorate as it’s costly to repair them.
Buildings such as the Shanwai mansion are pieces of living history that someday may be inaccessible due to deterioration and overgrowth, so it’s essential to treat these sites with respect as historic gems.
By reading this list, you may be one of the few people in the world to experience these unique things to do on Kinmen Island in Taiwan, so treat them respectfully.
1. Hunt Down the Kinmen Island Heart-Shaped Rock
Of all the abandoned military bases on Kinmen Island, this must be one of the best to explore. It’s adventurous, but not too scary, quite extensive and one of the best unique things to do on Kinmen Island for a thrill.
Plus, the route will bring you to a broken heart-shaped rock (or it’s a flower, I forget), which is said to have been created when Kinmen was being bombed and the rock was hit and split down the middle.
The rock sits on a little island, which is only accessible during low tide. As you meander through the tunnels, you’ll eventually come to the spacious area where large artillery would have been used. I don’t know military terms well enough, but there are large “windows” you can climb through to wander out to the island and see the rock. The view from the top is also great!
Below is my video of the site, so you can get an idea of what to expect at the hidden gem on Kinmen Island. My advice is to go with friends, not only for more fun but for safety!
2. Admire the Sculptures at the Da Shi Gong Taoist Temple
While Kinmen is loaded with temples, including the famous Haiyin Temple (海印寺), which you can visit at the end of the Taiwu Mountain hiking trail (btw, it’s more like a paved road), the Da Shi Gong Temple (大士宮) is a bit smaller, yet full of incredible statues.
Located on a corner of a road just outside Shamei, most tourists might not even pass by. Heck, even I passed by it multiple times before I decided to stop and look.
And when I did, I was in awe.
The statues are impressive and there are so many of them. Sadly, I don’t understand what each of them is. However, it’s still a unique way to admire the culture of Taiwan and one of its major religions and to ponder the roles each of these statues represents.
3. Unique Thing to Do on Kinmen Island, Wander the GaoDong Tunnel
The GaoDong tunnel is one of the unique things to do on Kinmen Island for someone who wants a bit of adventure without committing to exploring the darkest and more secluded Kinmen tunnels.
Plus, it’s just totally epic.
It’s not one of the most hidden gems on Kinmen Island, as I’ve seen a reasonable amount of tourists there. Still, it has yet to make it onto the list of one of the top things to do.
Upon descending the steep hill, you’ll be treated to ocean views, and out of nowhere, the massive GaoDong tunnel will appear on your right. It’s quite a sight, and I’ve often wandered into the tunnel or sat on the cliffs over the ocean.
The best part about GaoDong is that you can walk through it to an opening over the ocean where potentially a howitzer or other military weapon once sat to defend the island.
It gets a bit dark on the way through. Still, overall, it only lasts a few moments and is the perfect spot, especially if you get claustrophobic as the tunnel is massive.
There are some additional side tunnels, although they are not very extensive or interesting, so I wouldn’t suggest exploring them unless you’re really curious.
4. Taiwan off-the-beaten-path Western-Stlye Buidlings: The Twin Mansions
I don’t know the history of these buildings but I call them the “twin mansions,” as they’re two side-by-side Western-style mansions with identical characteristics.
I love visiting this place because it’s a genuinely off-the-beaten-path part of Kinmen. Getting there is an adventure on Kinmen’s small pathways, leading you through small villages and farmland.
The buildings hone many attributes of Kinmen’s past, with broken glass shards lining the high walls and magnificent architecture that remains beloved in Kinmen despite being left abandoned.
Of the buildings, you can only enter into one of them – walk in between the buildings, and the door on the right should be open (last I was there in early 2023, it was open). While I don’t advise entering most Western-style buildings, there’s not much space to explore in this one (thus, fewer hazards) making it one of the better Western-mansions to see when finding unique things to do on Kinmen Island.
Still, as the condition of these places is ever-changing, there may be new growth or progressed deterioration of the building, so if it’s difficult to go inside or appears hazardous, take caution and admire from the outside.
5. Creepy & Historic Kinmen Hidden Gem: Granite Hospital
Passing by the Granite Hospital initially spooked me. Well, actually, it still does, but I have a much more fond memory of it now and an appreciation surrounding its story, as visiting it is one of the unique things to do on Kinmen Island most visitors overlook.
From the outside, Granite Hospital boasts two impressive archways leading into the giant granite mass. It’s literally a hospital built into the landscape of Kinmen Island, hence the name Granite Hospital.
Built-in the late 1970s, the hospital was designed to withstand war shelling, thus protecting those inside – basically a bunker that served as a hospital. And in the case of invasion of the hospital, there’s an eerie stairwell in the back that spirals up into the rock with an apparent escape out the top. I’ve seen the stairwell but didn’t dare go up.
As I slid through the fence of the giant archway gates myself, I’ve felt the empty hallways’ cool air and seen the remnants of medicines and surgical gear left behind. In addition to the two large entranceways, there’s a side door through the hospital kitchen to the right and up the outdoor staircase. This entrance is actually very eerie.
As times change in Kinmen and more barriers (or sometimes just simple “do not enter” signs) are put in place, enter at your own risk – whether at the hands of law enforcement or in the depths of the dark hospital hallways.
Again, my advice is don’t go in. But knowing some people will, take a photo of the hospital map, plastered on the inside, at the end of the large entrance tunnels before you enter the narrow, dark hallways.
A look from the outside is quite incredible to witness, and think this was once an ordinary hospital for both military and citizens.
6. Snap Some Photos at the Shanwai Painted Houses
Taking a photo with the painted homes in Shanwai is one of the unique things to do on Kinmen Island that is often overlooked.
As there are so many touristy spots to visit, there’s a chance you’ll pass by them on the way to other destinations, potentially missing them.
While they’re not somewhere to spend much time, if you pass through Shanwai, stop to check out these cute and picturesque buildings lining the river. The colors reflect off the water, and it’s a gorgeous photo spot.
There’s also other mural art along the walls of different homes and establishments along the river, so if you want to check out some local Kinmen-themed artwork, spend a few minutes to walk along the river and enjoy the creative strip of Shanwai.
7. Marvel at Kinmen’s Hidden Gem: The Shanwai Mansion
The Western-style mansion in Shanwai has to be one of my absolute favorites. Nestled among the small side streets in Shanwai, the white mansion, surrounded by high walls, is quite a sight.
History-wise, the extent of what I know is it was built by a wealthy Kinmenese in the 1920s, then it was occupied by military and then became a bar and Karaoke entertainment center.
When it closed down and was abandoned, I don’t know.
I’ll never forget how I first went inside.
From the outside, there are metal doors, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to get in. I was curious but about to give up. Suddenly, an old man appeared, saying in Mandarin, “很漂亮” (very beautiful), and I agreed it was a beautiful mansion.
Then he approached the door and untwisted this small metal wire holding the door shut. How had I not noticed?! It was as simple as that.
He opened the door, waved for me to go inside, and mentioned to be careful.
How could I not go in after all he just did for me?
Inside the walls, there’s what looks like a dancefloor or social area; you can see old stoveware, and the entrance into the mansion is incredible. The porch hones beautiful tile work, imported from Japan and considered a sign of wealth. The intricate carvings in the main doors are also lovely.
Since, I’ve been inside a few times and have even climbed the stairs up to the balcony on the roof. Shoutout to that old man for helping me in the first time, I really discovered a gem because of him.
If you absolutely must go in if you visit, would I advise exploring beyond the first floor? While absolutely magnificent, I’m not going to recommend it’s another building that’s consistently deteriorating over time, and I feel fortunate I was safe those times I went.
8. Find The Boulder Viewpoint Hiking Caicuo Historic Trail
This is for all my hikers who love a fantastic view and a bit of a challenge. Okay, well, it’s not a huge challenge, but I like this destination because you get to do some dipping, weaving, and climbing to reach one of my favorite secluded hang-out spots in Kinmen Island – on top of a giant boulder.
To get here, head to the Caicuo hiking trail and hike to the top. After reaching the top, take in views and the feeling of your success.
Then start hiking in the same direction, and you’ll see a spray-painted arrow not far from the top. It’ll be on your right if coming from the top going down, your left if going from bottom to top. You’ll also see an official sign saying this is not the main trail and to go at your own risk.
You’ll have to clamor down a rock and follow the path until you hit an end with a bunker up top. Continue from here for about a minute or two, and soon, a huge boulder will appear on the right. As you pass the boulder, you’ll notice a path on your right that heads downwards and trails along the boulder.
Here, you’ll climb down and through a small yet very open natural tunnel, stroll along the boulder, and climb up.
This is truly one of my favorite natural spots to go on Kinmen Island. The view is just gorgeous over Kinmen and China. Plus, you won’t see people here often, making it one of the best-hidden gems on Kinmen Island.
For further clarification, check out my YouTube video below on the destination.
9. Discover the Underground Tank near Xibian
One of my favorite unique things to do on Kinmen Island is tank hunting...and here, in searching for one abandoned tank in Kinmen, I found this one instead!
Upon first arrival at this former base turned small attraction, I entered the main gate, not sure what the place was.
Turns out, someone was working here, and he invited me in, showing me the military artifacts on display, such as boots and coats. It was like a little museum.
Then he pointed me down a dark tunnel. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect.
The tunnel, while dark, was no problem; after all, why else would he point me down there?
Well, as I went into the dark room at the end of the tunnel, there was a massive, rusting tank, making the room look tiny in comparison.
I was amazed – for example, how did it even get in there?! And today, it sits in this room with a wide front opening, overlooking the ocean, pretending to play defense as it once did.
10. Admire the Massive and Unique Kinmen Mazu near Xibian
One of the fun ways to explore and enjoy one of the unique things to do on Kinmen Island Taiwan is by tracking down all the Mazu statues. This one, is one of my favorites.
Mazu, a sea goddess known in coastal areas, particularly in China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, is said to protect those out at sea. In fact, there are many stories and legends about Mazu, so if you want further information, check out this article.
Around Kinmen, there are Mazu statues of varying sizes, and while they’re usually quite large, some are of epic proportions. This is why I want to share one of my favorite Mazu statues to visit – the Mazu near Xibian Beach, on the far East side of Kinmen Island.
Aside from admiring the epic Mazu, from the details in the robe to the head ornaments, as it’s located on a hill, the Kinmen coastline is spectacular (perhaps one of my favorite views of the island).
Plus, it’s pretty much one of the off-the-beaten-path places on Kinmen Island where even the journey there will be an adventure, so enjoy the drive through small villages and fields that tourists rarely encounter, and maybe even stop along another thing you find along the way that interests you!
Enjoy these unique things to do on Kinmen Island! You now know some of the best hidden Taiwan Gems.
If you have any Kinmen Island travel questions, feel free to ask me on Instagram @kaylacosmos