Matsu Islands: A melting pot of enriching culture and naturally beauty
Matsu islands are group townships namely Dongyin, Beigan, Nangan and Juguang which are located in the coast of China, specifically Fuzhou. They are sometimes referred to as “Pearls of Minjiang River estuary” because of the exclusive history, culture and terrain that they showcase to the world. These are the main islands but there are some that are not frequently visited by tourists. It does not matter which of the townships one decides to visit, you will get to encounter features of the islands that will leave you yearning for more. Travelling to Matsu Islands can be done through a number of ways depending on the area that you will be visiting, so it is important to work with your travel agency on the best way to get there and plan a fun itinerary too.
To better enjoy Matsu Islands, you will need to have an idea of what to expect so that you are excited about visiting this beautiful place. During my recent visit to the breathtaking islands, I got to explore the townships and was awed at the unique cultural heritage and natural beauty that they had to offer to visitors.
What to see in Matsu Islands
- Natural environment
The first thing you will notice when visiting Matsu Islands is the abundance of natural beauty that is seen through the variations of flora and fauna scattered at every point you turn. The main reason for these natural surroundings is the climate of the region which is mostly subtropical maritime due to the location of the islands. To find the perfect seascapes, I suggest you travel to Dongyin where you can have the chance of viewing the blue sea from the top of the lighthouse. The Dongyong Lighthouse is a breathtaking piece of architecture that was built in the 1870s.
Apart from the great views of the sea, birdwatchers have the opportunity to have an up close interaction with the famous tern birds that are popular on the islands. Bird lovers can enjoy watching the terns on rocky islets that are found between Beigan and Nangan islands. To reach the area, you will use boat tours from Nangan Island which leave the shore regularly to transport visitors. If you want to see these one-of-a-kind birds in all their glory, then the best time to visit the islands is from June all the way to August. Some of the terns that you will see on boat trip include Chinese crested tern, black-naped tern, black-tailed tern, bridled tern, Roseate tern among others.
- Traditional architecture
Majority of the homes in Matsu Islands are built in the traditional Eastern Fujian style that is associated with early inhabitants of the area. One of the main characteristics of the traditional type building style is the use of raised gables which were used in residential homes as well as religious temples. Most times, the raised gables resemble brightly colored flames for temples or waves that are common atop modest buildings in the region. Another traditional building style most homes was constructed in has square shapes using yellow granite that was sourced locally or blue limestone brought in from the mainland. These traditional village homes that resemble Chinese stamps are commonly referred to as “chop” buildings and are also traditional Eastern Fujian homes.
Most conspicuous are the roofs of these homes, which are made of tiles but secured using stones instead of permanent material. This has earned them the name “breathing houses” which is a common term used by many of the locals as well as guides on your trips.
- Cultural cuisine
It is said that a visit to Matsu islands without eating their delectable food makes your trip unfinished and you need to plan another visit soon. The food served in many of the guesthouses and eateries consists mainly of seafood that is prepared in diverse ways. Some of the popular sea fish on the islands include clams, mussels, barnacles and sea eels among others. In addition, most meals are likely to have a common seasoning referred to as Hongzao which gives food a unique taste.
Liquor lovers can get to sample the limited products of Dongyin distillery which include the famous sorghum liquor that is a favorite of the natives. The Dongyong Aged Sorghum Liquor can be sampled at the distillery while learning more about the history of its production. In earlier times, the liquor was naturally fermented which took years to master but its final cost is still affordable. These bottles of liquor are good gift items for your friends back home and to remind you of your trip to Matsu Islands.
- Battlefield ruins
Matsu Islands were transformed into a military region being closed off for many years. However, the situation changed and by 1994 were open for tourists so that they could explore its military history. The mystery of the activities that took place in Matsu Islands makes it the exploration of the area quite exciting. Visitors can go into tunnels such as Beihai in Nangan and Andong in Dongyin which give a glimpse of the experiences that soldiers had to ensure during that military period. It is common to see guard posts, gun muzzles and other indications of the tension experienced over that time by soldiers in the tunnels.
- Religious history
The Mazu temple is the primary place of worship for the people of the islands and was built in honor of the “Goddess of the Sea” known as Mazu. She is a popular goddess that is revered by the inhabitants of the islands and is believed to protect those using the sea from all kinds of danger. The ultimate devotion of Matsu residents to the goddess resulted in the setting up of her statue in 2009 and is the tallest of its kind around the world.
Apart from the great Mazu temple, the islands have other smaller temples such as Gods of the White Horse Temple that are also considered sacred. When visiting these temples, you will observe that they have walls that are bright orange in color symbolizing flames. These variations of walls are known as fire sealing and are popular on Matsu islands.
All images provided by TSTA Matsu National Scenic Area