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Hidden Trails You Probably Don't Know about on Matsu Islands 1: Nangan

Posted by:  Anusha Lee
Published date: March 5, 2022
I made a three-day trip hopping Matsu Islands in December 2021, ON FOOT. As you can guess, this is a non-conventional travel post about Matsu. My friend Mr. Jeffery Chang 張建舫 and I connected the small trails on Nangan, Beigan Islands, and Dongju Islands and did loop hikes/walks three days in a row. The first of this Matsu series is the hidden trails on Nangan Island.
Nangan Island of Matsu
My friend Mr. Chang is an expert on Matsu Islands.
My friend and I visited Matsu in the offseason, and we were almost the only visitors on the islands. I didn't see the Blue Tears and many famous tourist attractions, but I'm glad that I saw many amazing landscapes if you are willing to explore them on foot.
Nangan Island of Matsu
The famous landmark: Zhen Ge Dai Dan 枕戈待旦, meaning staying alert.
A quick info about Nangan Island: the area of Nangan Island is 10.4 Km2 (4.01 miles2), about the size of 1,988 American football fields. The registered population is close to 8,000 people. Nangan is also the biggest island among Matsu Islands.

Table of Contents:

How to Get There

By Flights:

Book your flights to Nangan, Matsu from Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA), or Taichung (RMQ) to Nangan from Uni Air. You can download Uni Air app to book your tickets, check-in, etc.
Nangan Island of Matsu
Overlooking Taipei 101 from the plane
A one-way ticket is NT$2,007 (US$73 63 Euros) from Taipei Songshan Airport and NT$2,455 (US$88, 77 Euros) from Taichung Airport to Nangan.
It takes around 50 minutes from Taipei Songshan Airport and 75 minutes from Taichung Airport to Nangan.
Notes:
Flights in and out of Matsu are subject to weather. Please check with Uni Air before your flights. You must check in 30 minutes before your flights.

By Ferries

You can take either Taima Star or Tai Ma Ferry from Keelung Port. Keelung Port is next to Keelung Train Station. You can check out the port's GPS coordinates of Keelung Port: 25.134587, 121.741067 to get there.
Nangan Island of Matsu
I took this photo from the ferry to Dongju.
The ferry fares range from NT350 to NT5,250 per adult, depending on the cabin class or seat. Please check here for the schedule and fares.
It takes around 10 hours from Keelung to Nangan. Most passengers will get a cabin to stay onboard overnight and arrive on Nangan Island in the early morning.
Note:
Since January 28, 2022, passengers must test negative from a self-test kit before on board, according to The Central Epidemic Command Center covid-19 guideline. For any updates of the guideline, please check Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.

Transport on Nangan Islands, Where to Stay and Mobile Phone Signal

On Foot, like what we did.

Rent A Scooter or A Car:

If you are comfortable with riding a scooter, this can be a time-saving option. To start your journal, you can pick up the tourist attractions or the trails I mention in this post.
The fare is around NT$500 – 600 per day. You can find the list of scooter rentals here.
If you are a foreign national without a local driver's license, you can check here for details. You can also find car rental information.

By Bus:

There are two bus services on Nangan Island: the local bus and Taiwan Tourist Shuttle.
The local bus service provides two lines: the Mountain Line and the Coast Line. Please check here for stops and timetable information (link Chinese only).
The second one is Taiwan Tourist Shuttle, and the bus will stay at each stop for a while. Passengers can get off to explore the attractions. Please click this Taiwan Tourist Shuttle's website, click Islands, and then click Lienchiang County for details.

Hire A Taxi:

If you want to hire a taxi from point A to B, the fare depends on the mileage. Please check here (link Chinese only) for the taxi drivers.
If you want to hire a taxi for the whole day, the price according to this website ranges from NT$2,500 to NT$3,500.

Other Transports on Nangan Island

For other transports, please check here for details.

Accommodations and When to Visit:

For accommodations, please check here.
The best seasons to see Blue Tears are between late April and September. Summer is the high season and can be very crowded. The weather is scorching in Matsu, too.
For me, the best season is winter. When my friend and I visited Matsu in December for 3 days, we got 2 wonderful sunny days. It was even much warmer than I expected. But it can be cold in winter. So please dress in layers and prepare rain gear or a windbreaker.

Mobile Phone Signal:

It's pretty good in most areas on Nangan Island. My friend said sometimes he would receive signals from the telecom carrier from China. That didn't happen to me.

Map/GPX Data

Date of Hike: December 3, 2021

Route map for Matsu Islands - Nangan by Anusha Lee on plotaroute.com

Click Menu in the map to download, print or share the map.
You can see more options after clicking Play button.
Click timer to change the speed to meet your condition.

7 Hidden Trails/Spots with Amazing Views in Nangan

There are many short trails on Matsu Islands, and you can connect them into a big loop hike. Or you can rent a scooter and ride it to the next trail you'd like to explore.
Nangan Island of Matsu
Photo fy Jeffery Chang 張建舫
Please note that I mainly focus on those less known locations or places, and some can only be reached on foot. However, you can always get a map and ride a scooter or drive a car to the tourist attractions without my help - for example, Mt. Yutai 雲台山.

7 Hidden Treasures (in My Opinion) I Enjoy on Nangan Island

  1. The Trail Next to the Airport
  2. The Trail Next to Matsu High School
  3. The Trail Next to the Bus Office and 831
  4. The Trail Next to Dahan Stronghold (My Personal Favorite)
  5. Sunset Trail 1: A Trail to Shengtian Road
  6. Sunset Trail 2: A Trail Next to Matsu Blue Tears Ecological Museum to See Sunset
  7. Shi Er Ju Dian 12據點 (Stronghold No. 12), Niujiao Trail 牛角步道 and Niujiao Beach

1. The Trail Next to the Airport

GPS coordinates: 26.157474, 119.954440.
After you arrive at Nangan Airport and get ready to start, there's a trailhead right next to the airport.
Trail Condition: This section is mostly pavement, and it's easy to follow.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. You can start hiking right after getting off the plane.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  2. The views of the beach near Ao Kou Park 澳口公園 at Jiaoshou Village are beautiful!
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  3. This section is short, and you will get to Jieshou Shizi (meaning lion in Chinese) Market 介壽獅子市場 to enjoy the local food. I highly recommend Amei Fish Noodles 阿妹鼎邊糊.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, fish noodle soup
    My friend and the owner of Amei Fish Noodles are good friends.

2. The Trail Next to Matsu High School

GPS coordinates: 26.15745,119.9544444
The trailhead is next to the front door of Matsu High School 馬祖高中.
Trail Condition: It starts with steps. When we were there, it was apparent that not many people had visited this section for a while. At one point, the path was covered by dirt and fallen trees. We just bypassed it. We reached Zhongyang Boulevard 中央大道 very soon.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. You can see Mt. Bi (Bishan) 壁山 and Mt. Nigu (Nigushan) 尼姑山 on Beigan Island. This section is more like hiking than walking.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
    Mt. Bi is the furthermost peak on the left.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
    The trail entrance next to Matsu High School. Photo by Jeffery Chang 張建舫
  2. If you continue to take Zhongyang Boulevard, you will see four distinguishable houses that still keep the traditional stone house style: Xu Yuan, 旭園. Those are private homes,
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  3. According to my friend, the homeowners didn't seem to mind visitors going to their backyard to enjoy the coastal views.
    Nangan Island of Matsu

3. The Trail Next to the Bus Office and 831

GPS coordinates: 26.147467, 119.937592
We walked from a small footpath next to the gas station, but you can start from the one next to the Bus Office.
Trail Condition: Most steps around the old military camps. Matsu Government has transformed those old buildings into exhibitions to commemorate the history.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. Speaking of 831, pronounced Ba San Yao in Chinese, only people with a certain age in Taiwan what that means. It's the code for a military tea house, aka brothel, also called Military Paradise 軍中樂園. 831 was the first 3 digits of the telephone number of the tea house, which later became the code for the brothel.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Teahouse 831
    The path to the tea house 831
  2. The tea house welcomed its customers between the 1950s and 1990s. Female waitresses (military prostitutes) were recruited to provide sex service to officers and soldiers.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Teahouse 831
  3. The old tea house was divided into two parts, one for the officers and the other for the soldiers.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Teahouse 831
  4. There is a small bridge called Que Bridge or Magpie Bridge 鵲橋. Magpie Bridge represents the sad story that two separated lovers could only see each other on the 7th of July every year.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Teahouse 831
  5. This story is about the Qixi Festival 七夕. Qixi Festival is also a Chinese version of Valentine's Day. But here at 831, it was meant to remind soldiers not to overindulge themselves with lovers. "Once a year was enough," which is my interpretation of the text printed on the floor.

4. The Trail Next to Dahan Stronghold (My Personal Favorite)

GPS coordinates: 26.139927, 119.928925
I'm sure you will put Beihai Tunnel (to see Blue Tears in summer) and Dahan Stronghold in your itinerary. But there's a hidden gem if you go beyond the fort.
Trail Condition:
  1. Steps, road, dirt paths, and walk on the granite rocks. It can be dangerous.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  2. Please note that many broken glasses are left from the old days to prevent Chinese frogmen (combat divers) from climbing up those rocks (or Taiwanese soldiers sneaking out?). Most of them are retreated and not sharp anymore, but still, pay attention when you walk on among them.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. We went to Dahan Stronghold 大漢據點 first.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Dahan Stronghold
    Photo by Jeffery Chang 張建舫
  2. When we climbed up to the steps that led us out of Gun No. 2 (I think), I was greeted by the open view of the ocean and the granite rocks.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Dahan Stronghold
  3. My friend took me to the trail he did before. The footpath was easy to follow.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Dahan Stronghold
    This is the view we saw after leaving the bunker.
  4. Then we reached a house and found the trail behind it. Some sections were rougher than those previous sections but not difficult for people who are used to the trail terrains in Taiwan.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  5. When we reached the other side close to the road, I saw a small footpath out of the corner of my eye. I told my friend about that path, which was new to him. So, we decided to take the same way back to explore the new footpath.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  6. This turned out to be a great delight. The primal landscape, the rocky coastline, and the great weather made this detour perfect.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  7. In the middle of nowhere, there was a chair. My friend and I took several pictures here.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  8. I suggest you follow this trail all the way out to see the stunning coastline. If you follow the trail, you will reach a sign pointing to Tongmen 銅門 and Military Base No. 46 (46據點).
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  9. The road isn't far from here, and you can make a loop hike back to the tourist center near Beihai Tunnel.
    Nangan Island of Matsu

5. Sunset Trail 1: A Trail to Shengtian Road

GPS coordinates: 26.145725, 119.912509
The entrance of this sunset trail is close to the beach at Jinsha Village 津沙村. We climbed up the steps and passed several old Matsu houses. Many of them were under renovations.
Trail Condition: Some steps and the rest are on the road.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. This place is one of the best locations to see the sunset on Nangan Island.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
    Many old houses were under construction and transformed into B&B.
  2. You will walk past Shengtian Park with a traditional Chinese pavilion and a reservoir.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  3. You can walk all the way to the Statue of Mazu from here, too. The sunset there is stunning if you survive the long steps.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
    Before reaching Mazu Statue, we passed Matsujin Mazu Temple 馬祖境天后宮 first.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
    Looking at Mazu Statue through the beautiful pillars of Matsujin Mazu Temple.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
    Photo by Jeffery Chang 張建舫
  4. This Matsu statue is gigantic. As always, she was accompanied by her faithful generals, Qian Li Yan 千里眼 and Shun Feng Er 順風耳. Qian Li Yan means he could see things a thousand miles away, and Shu Feng Er had a superior hearing.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
    This is Qian Li Yan. Shun Feng Er was on Mazu's right side.
  5. We took some time to enjoy the view.
    Nangan Island of Matsu

6. Sunset Trail 2: A Trail Next to Matsu Blue Tears Ecological Museum to See Sunset

GPS coordinates: 26.168101, 119.919050
There's another great spot to see the sunset, and it's right next to Blue Tears Museum, which can be accessed by scooter at Siwei Village 四維村. The old name of Siwei Village was Xiwei 西尾.
Trail Condition: Most are steps and small roads to walk at Siwei Village.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. This was a tranquil village to wander, making the sunset even better.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
    The Sunset Trail was next to Blue Tears Museum.
    Nangan Island of Matsu
  2. You will find a Xiweijing Tianmu Temple 西尾境天母宮. You might guess this is another Mazu temple, but it’s not. According to a Matsu local page, the deity or god they worship is the mother of the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝, Heaven Jade Empress 天上皇母娘娘.
    matsu-nangan-Xiweijing-Tianmu-Temple
  3. We still could see Mazu Statue from the trail, and the statue looked so far away.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, sunset
  4. My friend and I walked through the village with the setting sun by our side.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, sunset

7. Shi Er Ju Dian 12據點 (Stronghold No. 12), Niujiao Trail 牛角步道 and Niujiao Beach

GPS coordinates: 26.166847, 119.951647
This trailhead is on the northeast side of Nangan, Fusing Village, and can also be accessed by scooter. The old name of Fusing Village is Niujiao. You just follow the signs, and you will see the steps soon.
Trail Condition: Steps. You can walk all the way to the beach.
Difficulty Level:
Highlights:
  1. We were supposed to finish this section on our first day of Matsu, but it went dark after fishing Siwei Village. So, we did this after our trip to Beigan. This site is the closest to Beigan.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, sunset
    We walked to Niujiao Trail from Nangan Fuao Harbor. The Mazu Statue was visible.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, sunset
    This location is also the closest spot to Beigan Island.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village
  2. There's a small café shop/bookstore on the cliff, The Throne Bird Café 刺鳥咖啡獨立書店, but we didn't get to visit. That will be on my itinerary next time.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village
    The coffee shop on the cliff
  3. After following the steps, you will turn to the beautiful white sand beach at Niujiao Village and the traditional old stone houses. This place is famous for Matsu-style architecture.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village
  4. You will pass the entrance of Motianling Trail 摩天嶺步道, which is only 300 meters long.
    Nangan Island of Matsu, Niujiao Village

About the Goddess Mazu and A Brief History of Matsu from Veterans' Perspective

Mazu Temples

Matsu Islands, officially known as Lienchiang County under the Fujian Provincial Government, is an archipelago of 36 islands and islets, including 4 townships and 5 major islands: Nangan Township (Island), Beigan Township (Island), DongyinTownship (Island), and Jugang Township (including the other 2 major islands: Dongju and Xiju).
Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
Jinbanjin Mazu Temple 金板境天后宮
Among so many temples on this archipelago, 9 of them worship Goddess Mazu, and 4 of them were built between 1761 and 1809.
Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
Matsujin Mazu Temple 馬祖境天后宮
If you are interested in temples, you can check out this website, Matsu Gods, maintained by Lienchiang County Government.
Nangan Island of Matsu, Mazu temples
Beautiful details of Matsujin Mazu Temple
We passed 2 of the 3 Mazu Temples on Nangan Islands: Jinbanjin 金板境 and Matsujin 馬祖境. The Mazu statue at Jinshajin Temple 津沙境 is a dark-faced one.
Mazu Temples play an essential role in Matsu people’s daily life. I’ll spend more time on Mazu Temples when I revisit Matsu.

Military Life Now and Then

Matsu Islands and Kinmen Islands were under martial laws from 1949 to 1987, since the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT) retreated to Taiwan.
On November 7, 1992, Taiwan abolished Battle Field Administration. The military government was lifted on Matsu and Kinmen. The restrictions on entry to the areas were eliminated on May 31, 1995.
Adult male citizens in Taiwan were obligated to take military service for two years. My friend told me her mother cried her eyes out when it was time for her big brother to serve in the army about 30 years ago.
Nangan Island of Matsu
Many propaganda slogans are everywhere on Matsu Islands.
During that time, serving in Kinmen and Matsu Islands was the worst nightmare those male adults could have ever had but also the most memorable part of their adult life.
Why serving in Kinmen and Matsu was a nightmare? One reason was that life was strict and dull on the remote islands. Plus, flying back home to mainland Taiwan wasn't easy.
The second reason was those islands were very close to China. This location made them target of the possible shelling or frogmen (combat divers or water ghost 水鬼 in Chinese) ambush.
Matsu Nangan Island
Old propaganda slogans still can be found in Matsu.
My friend A served as an officer on Nangan Island about 30+ years ago, and he shared things that may not be good to be put here. He recalled the tremendous pressure, and he wasn't sure he could make it back to Taiwan in one piece.
Many soldiers killed themselves or got killed. When they stood guard in the middle of the night, they might get the most severe consequence if they exchanged the wrong code words.
Civilians were not allowed to approach the bases, either. So, my friend A and his counterparts had to deal with the enemy from the other side and the potential confrontation from the local people.
To him, those years he served in the military are the darkest memory in his life.
Matsu Nangan Island
Old cannons and statues at Beihai Tunnel
When I mentioned a friendly soldier told me that I couldn't take photos in certain areas, my friend A was shocked. Things are much different now. I guess if I had approached the base during that time, I would have become the shooting target within a few seconds.
After martial law was lifted, it was less stressful to be a soldier in Matsu. The relationship between the military and local people is much less intense. When tourists accidentally approach those sensitive bases, the soldiers on guard ask them to leave in a friendlier manner.
Nangan Island of Matsu
Old constructions in the military have transformed into tourist attractions.
Now Matsu has embraced a new identity and tried to become a vacation paradise to attract tourists. The stringent life in the frontline facing the enemy is one of the bestselling features of Matsu. Who would think of such a vast transformation in the old days?

Other Attractions worth Visiting

Here are the other attractions I like during my visit to Nangan Island.

Beihai Tunnel

I visited similar tunnels in Kinmen many years ago. Beihai Tunnel is a must-visit attraction on Nangan Island.
Matsu Nangan Island
Inside Beihai Tunnel and boats to see the Blue Tears
Matsu Nangan Island
Beihai Tunnel from the outside

Ten Martyrs Monument 十烈士紀念碑

While standing there, you will see Mt. Yuantai and the beautiful coast. But, unfortunately, you'll also see the poor urban planning in Taiwan that will never change, the abrupt residential buildings on the hill, the ugly warehouse right in front of the monument.
Matsu Nangan Island - 10 Martyrs Monument
Other than that, this is still a great spot to enjoy the view.
Matsu Nangan Island - 10 Martyrs Monument
The mountain in the center is the highest peak on Nangan Island, Mt. Yuantai.

The Beautiful Golden Sand Beaches

Most beaches in Taiwan are dark and gray, but the beaches around Nangan are light golden shades.
Matsu Nangan Island
Some expats said Matsu beaches are JUST OK, and they only care for Kenting for the beach destination. To me, the beaches in Matsu are perfect the way they are. They don't need to impress humans anyway.
If I had enough time, I'd be delighted to sit there sipping my coffee.

Old Stone Houses

Jinsha Village also has many traditional Matsu stone houses. But I also see many new constructions going on. My friend said those were renovated and transformed into B&B to accommodate tourists.
Matsu Nangan Island
I was lucky to see the interior of the stone house before the renovation.
Matsu Nangan Island

Dan Tsai (Mussels) 淡菜

When my friend said we would have Dan Tsai, I had no idea what that was. I thought it was vegetable because Tsai 菜 means vegetables in Chinese. It turned out those were mussels. They were the most gigantic mussels I've ever had. Very tasty. Winter is the right season to enjoy mussels in Matsu.
Matsu Nangan Island

There Are More...

Nangan Island isn't big, but we still didn't get to see many things, like Mt. Yuantai, Iron Fort, etc.
Matsu Nangan Island
Iron Fort 鐵堡

Things That You Need to Know Before You Go

Wear A Pair of Comfortable Footwear

If you plan to visit Nangan on foot, please don't wear hiking boots or slippers. As a hiker, I'm so used to wearing a pair of hiking boots. My feet ended up being swollen on the first day already. But, I sucked it up to finish the rest two days.
Nangan Island of Matsu
My step counter. No wonder my toes hurt.

Spring is the Fog Season

the fog season is between March and May. Therefore, the flights might be canceled due to heavy fog or poor weather conditions.

It Can Be Very Windy in Winter and Scorching Hot in Summer

Matsu is much colder than Taiwan due to its higher latitude. Northeast Monsoon also makes Matsu much colder in winter. If you want to avoid the floods of tourists in summer, please prepare proper clothing accordingly.

Blue Tears Phenomena

If you want to see this unique algae phenomenon, you should visit Matsu between late April and September.
And prepare for the crowd while waiting for this phenomenon.
Nangan Island of Matsu
As a cat person, I have to put this photo.

Related Posts:

On Taiwan Hikes

Matsu's Dongju Island
Matsu's Beigan Island

English Posts

Our Guide to the Matsu Islands 馬祖列島懶人包
Matsu National Scenic Area Administration, Tourism Bureau
A Travel Guide to Matsu Island in the Taiwan Strait
The Matsu Islands: Taiwan’s Northernmost Frontier
The Matsu Islands Have The Most Magical Water We've Ever Seen
China’s Bioluminescent Blue Tears Are Beautiful and Associated With Toxic Blooms
Matsu Islands

Posts in Chinese Only

Gods of Matsu 馬祖好神
Matsu Food 馬祖好食
Everything about Matsu 馬祖資訊網
Facebook Page: Go To Matsu 馬祖卡蹓趣
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