Beautiful, well off the beaten path for most Western travellers and as chock-full of culture and history per square kilometre as you’re likely to find in East Asia, Taiwan’s outer islands abound with opportunities for those intrepid enough to make the trip.
Kinmen and Matsu, both in the Taiwan Strait, have remained out of the travel spotlight until very recently. Situated between mainland China and Taiwan, these islands have been a source of tension, war and fierce political debate for more than half a century. Because of their location and history, they offer a superb window into Taiwan’s turbulent military past and also the rich cultural heritage of coastal Fujian. As trade and travel relations between Taiwan and mainland China develop, these islands are being transformed from barriers into gateways.
Penghu, the most visited of the Strait Islands, is a popular resort destination that attracts beachgoers – both local and foreign – who flock here in summer for the fine-sand beaches and water sports. As autumn sets in and the winds pick up, the archipelago attracts sailors and windsurfers, drawn by its combination of excellent water and high winds. Off Taiwan’s Pacific coast lie Green Island, with beautiful hot springs and pristine coral reefs, and Lanyu, Taiwan’s furthest outpost in geographical and cultural terms.
The outer islands are still a well-kept secret among travellers, but as Taiwan seeks to promote the beauty of its farthest-flung counties both nationally and abroad, more and more people are finding a side trip to the outer islands a highlight of their Taiwan experience.