Island-hopping among natural wonders — Matsu Islands’ magical fluorescent sea

Matsu Islands – Pearls cast into the Pacific

馬祖藍眼淚。攝於55據點背包客棧瞭望台。|Blue Tears, Matsu Islands. View from No. 55 Hostel’s lookout. (Courtesy of @zian_taiwan/Instagram)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Located on the northwest of the Taiwan Strait under the jurisdiction of Lianjiang County, the Matsu Islands is just a short swim away from the Chinese mainland.

In the past, it had served as an outpost for defending Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, and its traditional architecture is distinct from the rest of Taiwan.

This “string of pearls” floating in the Pacific, comprised of sea-side mountain towns, has earned its reputation as Taiwan’s “Little Greece”.

When talking about this island chain, it’s impossible not to mention the Blue Tears, hailed by CNN as one of the world’s “15 natural wonders.”

Mainly blooming during peak season between March-September and April-June, the special nocturnal algae on the sea’s surface emits a magical azure glow when stimulated, creating an unforgettable dream-like landscape of “blue tears”.

The island of Matsu is composed of dozens of islands and four townships, of which Nangan is the largest island and its political and economic center.

Accommodation in Nangan is relatively convenient, and island-hopping by boat is easy. There are two ways to reach the Matsu Islands: either an 8-hour or so boat ride from Keelung city to Nangan, or the faster way, flying from the international airports of Songshan or Taichung to Nangan (40-50 minutes).

Nangan Island’s area only reaches 10.64 square kilometers, and although it can be toured in just one afternoon by motorbike, it contains the most well-preserved traditional stone houses, vast mountain views, and breathtaking blue sea.

Planning a 3-day and 2-night tour from Nangan to Beigan makes for an ideal trip.

Zooming on a scooter, the first stop is Beihai Tunnel, a 700-meter long subterranean waterway surrounded by rock wall glowing in yellow light, and a row of parked oar boats.  It’s as if you were entering an entirely different world.

Rewinding 50 into the past, many underground docks had been built here to house guerrilla warships, but now it’s become a unique “battlefield” attraction for the island, as well as one of the best spots to enjoy the Blue Tears.

Under a night sky unperturbed by any light, the Beihai tunnel transforms into a fantastical sea of sapphire, a phenomenon similar to that seen in the film “Life of Pi”, sailing through this idyllic shimmering water.

From March to November, tourists can ride an oar boat into the Beihai Tunnel and uncover the Matsu’s Blue Tears.(Shutterstock)

After visiting these historic tunnels, the sun begins to set as the breeze picks up, perfect for mountain hiking with cool weather.

The 248-meter-high Yuntai Mountain is Nangan’s highest peak, equipped with an observation platform where visitors can see an unrivaled 180 degrees view of the ocean, other Matsu Islands, and even China’s Beijiao Peninsula.

Yuntai Mountain, the highest peak on the island, is listed as one of the “100 Peaks of Taiwan”. It has an excellent summit view and is the best place to watch the sunset in the Matsu Islands. (Courtesy of @zian_taiwan: Instagram)

In the evening, head to Nangan’s Jinsha tribe to stroll on the beach and enjoy the most beautiful sunsets, sweeping away any worries or dust left from urban life.

The Jinsha tribe still retains Matsu’s traditional Eastern Min architecture, but unlike Beigan’s Qinbi Tribe, its state is relatively bleak, with vines having grown deep into the stone cracks.

Exploring these mysterious ruins is an adventurous treat in itself.

Nangan’s Jinsha Tribe (Courtesy of @yutzuchennn:Instagram)
Nangan’s Jinsha Tribe preserves traditional Eastern Min architecture, providing each shuttle ride with plenty to see. (Courtesy of @yutzuchennn: Instagram)

As day become night, visitors can stay at No. 55 Hostel (55據點背包客棧), renovated from a former military barracks, and after unloading our heavy luggage, walk back outside to see how the starlight bathes every visitor’s face as if greeting them.

Under this starry sky, you can watch Matsu’s Blue Tears while standing on the hostel’s private observation deck and take in such an unforgettably marvelous scenery.

Night falls, and the Nangan Jinsha Tribe turns on its warm lantern lights, where one can take a romantic stroll under the starry sky. (Courtesy of @zian_taiwan/Instagram)

On the next day, take the boat that leaves Fuao Port for Beigan Township every two hours by purchasing a full-trip ticket there (NT$160). After just a 10-minute ride, you’ve reached the Qinbi Tribe, one of Beigan’s must-visit spots.

Known as the Matsu’s “Mediterranean” town, it currently possesses the largest and most complete settlement of Eastern Min traditional architecture, whose old town leans upward against the mountain, facing the ocean.

Come here for a cup of coffee and brunch to soak in this exotic, Mediterranean-like atmosphere – spending the entire day here shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Qinbi Tribe is also known as Taiwan’s Mediterranean village. (Courtesy of @a_j.couple: Instagram)
The Qinbi Tribe retains the largest and most complete collection of traditional Eastern Min architecture.(Courtesy of @ acezhanggg: Instagram)

When arriving at the Qinbi Tribe,  an authentic taste of the Old Wine Vermicelli Noodles at Jinwo Xiaochibu (鏡沃小吃部) is highly recommended.

The alcoholic aroma emanating from this rich soup, with a slightly charred, crispy fried poached egg on top, makes for a perfect bowl of soul food.

Also, take a bite into the sweet potato dumplings wrapped with peanuts, sesame seeds and sweet powder, accompanied by a clear soup — a meal traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival.

The flavor is sweet but not greasy, making it easy to eat one dumpling immediately after the other. At Jinwo Xiaochibu, just choose any spot facing the sea, lay back and enjoy the food, the ocean — just enjoy the moment!

When you come to the Qinbi Tribe, you can’t miss the Old Wine Vermicelli Noodles served at Jinwo Xiaochibu. (Courtesy of @i.am.olafood: Instagram)
Old Wine Vermicelli Noodles (Courtesy of @i.am.olafood: Instagram)
Sweet potato dumplings (Courtesy of @i.am.olafood: Instagram)
Sitting at Jinwo Xiaochubu, enjoying delicious food with the unmatchable view of the ocean is a memory you will keep for a lifetime.(Courtesy of @i.am.olafood: Instagram)
Sitting at Jinwo Xiaochubu, enjoying delicious food with the unmatchable view of the ocean is a memory you will keep for a lifetime.(Courtesy of @i.am.olafood: Instagram)

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