Fri, Sep 08, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Dongju: an island on the edge of the (Taiwanese) World

One of the most remote outposts of the Taiwan-controlled Republic of China, Dongju remains a picturesque getaway

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing Reporter

The beach at Fuzheng village is one of the largest and finest in Matsu.

Photo: Richard Saunders

The Matsu archipelago, lying just off the coast of China (about 200km northwest of Taipei) remains one of the last frontiers for tourism in Taiwan. Although it briefly rose to prominence in world news during the lead-up to the war, which finally broke out in 1958 between the Republic of China and the Communist People’s Republic of China, Matsu has since sunk back into its former status as a remote, little-visited backwater, about which little is known, even among most Taiwanese.

Civilian visitors were banned from visiting the islands until well into the 1990s, and although curious tourists started trickling in after the islands were declared a National Scenic Area a couple of years after they opened up in 1995, the biggest boost to the islands’ status as a tourism destination came with the promotion, a couple of years ago, of the strange and beautiful natural glowing algae, dubbed “blue tears,” that grows in the sea around several of the islands.

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The stunning east coast of Dongju island.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Matsu’s famous blue tears (fascinating as they are) are only a seasonal occurrence, and not as clear to the naked eye as those beautiful time-lapse photos that crop up in tourist literature about the islands would have us believe. Happily though, Matsu has vastly more to offer the traveler than glowing algae.

SMALLEST BUT PRETTIEST

The trail to the Little Mysterious Coast offers some of the finest cliff walking in the ROC.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Any of the seven accessible islands in the Matsu group — Beigan (北竿), Nangan (南竿), Dongyin (東引), Xiyin (西引), Dongju (東莒), Xiju (西莒) and Daqiu (大坵) — would be a great place for the traveler wanting to get away from the crowds, but if you could pick only one island, I’d suggest spending your time on Dongju. Tiny, exquisite Dongju is one of the smallest of the inhabited islands in the group, just 3.5km long and 1km wide at its widest point, and is not only one of the quietest of the inhabited Matsu islands, but also perhaps the most beautiful.

IF YOU GO

To reach Dongju you must first get to Nangan (南竿), the largest island in the Matsu group. There’s a useful overnight ferry from Keelung (8 to10 hours; about NT$1,200), or you can fly from Songshan Airport in Taipei with Uniair (立榮航空; about NT$2,000 one-way). From the airport at Nangan take a taxi (about NT$150) to Fuao Port (福澳港), and from there take a ferry (50 minutes, NT$200) to Dongju. A good source of info on the various planes and boats to and around Matsu is the Matsu National Scenic Area website: www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw


One of its great attractions is that, unlike the other islands in the group, it’s been largely demilitarized, and it’s possible to explore many of the old military strongholds (although watch your step, and don’t pick anything up) which lie abandoned and open to all, and follow side roads to jaw-dropping views over the island’s magnificent east coast.

You could easily see all the main places on Dongju and follow a few trails in a day visit by boat from the much larger island of Nangan, but I’d strongly recommend staying the night. Dongju is a remarkably friendly and relaxing place, and the pace of life is slow and peaceful; plus a sunset walk along the east coast may well prove to be one of the most magical experiences of a trip to Matsu.Daytrippers and overnighters all arrive at the island’s main harbor, backed by a small settlement of old stone houses, and a pretty crescent of golden sand. The beach is known for Matsu’s second weird, phosphorescent micro-organism, called dinoflagellates, a kind of plankton that washes up on the shore between May and September and glows when trodden on. If staying the night on Dongju, definitely come down here at night to take a look. The island’s main settlement, Daping (大坪), is a pleasant if relatively new small village in the hilly center of the island, less than a kilometer from Mengao Harbor (猛澳港). It’s a 15-minute walk, or a very short hop by scooter, which can be rented at the harbor. Daping is an attractive small place on a hillside, and the main place for both accommodation and food.

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