In addition to Kinmen Island, the area also includes Little Kinmen (Little Jinmen, also known as Lieyu Island, 小金門/烈嶼), a tiny island to the west of Kinmen.
KinCheng, meaning Golden City, is the main city in Kinmen, located on the greater Kinmen island. The secondary city is Shanwai. The ShangYi airport is between the two cities. Be aware that there is also a small village in the southwest part of the island called Jinmencheng (金门城), to avoid confusion.
Kinmen means "Golden Gate". It is considered as part of Fujian Province by both the PRC and ROC. Its status as a territory controlled by Taiwan is therefore somewhat complex, being part of the ROC on Taiwan, but not of Taiwan province.
Kinmen has traditionally been a gateway from mainland China to Taiwan. It has been the basis of many Chinese emigrants and of Chen Chenggong's resistance to the Qing dynasty and military campaign to Taiwan to oust the Dutch.
China's communist People's Liberation Army attacked the main island in 1949 and was defeated. It was only able to land around half of the troops it had planned for the campaign and severely underestimated their opponents, who were more numerous and fortified than the PLA had thought. The defeat resulted in the PLA putting its plans to attack Taiwan on hold. Since the battle, there have been several exchanges of artillery fire, the biggest of which was in the late 1950s. The ROC heavily fortified the island and used to station up to 200,000 troops there, but this number has been reduced significantly.
The economy of Kinmen is now based mostly on tourism and the famous Kaoliang liquor (高粱酒). Dried meat from Kinmen is also sold in Taiwan's main island.
Inhabitants speak the Min dialect of Chinese, but in general they all also speak Mandarin. Be aware that few people speak English, especially outside of tourist areas.
Access is by air from Taiwan or by boat from Xiamen to Shuitou on the main Kinmen island (this link is now open to foreigners). You can take a flight on 3 of Taiwan's 4 domestic carries from the three bigger cities on Taiwan several times a day. One way tickets cost a little over 2000 NT dollars, or as little as around 1200 for promotion fares.
There are ferries to Xiamen in mainland China. Boats are NT$600 from Shuitou to Xiamen and 140 RMB from Xiamen to Shuitou and run once an hour between 0830 and 1730 in each direction. Departure in Xiamen is from Wutong (五通客运码头) in the east of Xiamen. A bus can be taken from the airport to Wutong (6rmb/person in Feb 2015) This terminal is far from the city center, but slightly closer to Xiamen airport and also to Kinmen. You can find the schedule at this here (in Chinese) starting from 8am in the morning until 6:30pm in the afternoon. The schedule can be seasonal and you should double check. Customs procedures are pretty quick and easy, but still allow about 10-15 minutes at the terminal. Understand that visa requirements are the same as for Taiwan, so Chinese nationals will still need a special entry permit. The DongDu (international cruise centre) ferry has stopped recently as of early 2014. That ferry terminal has been moved to Wutong.
There are also ferries from Quanzhou.
If you are arriving by ferry from Xiamen, the ferry terminal does have a tourist information desk that can help find you an inn. There is also a free wifi network around the terminal. There are money exchange counters in the departure hall, however they only will exchange RMB to NT$. They will not exchange US$.
A public bus connects Shuitou ferry terminal to Kincheng town once every 30 minutes, departing opposite the departure hall. There are also buses from the airport to Kincheng and Shanwai.
Kincheng town is small enough to get around by walking, but most of the interesting sites are outside of the town, requiring a bicycle or motorised transportation.
Kinmen has a bus service specifically for tourists. Day tickets are NTD 200 and include bus rides and guided tours at all destinations (Chinese only). Departure is from the bus station in Kincheng at 8:30and 13:30.
Public buses also go to all parts of the island, including the major sites, the ferry terminal and the airport (red 1 line, 紅一). Buses 7/7A/7B run from the Shuitou Pier, to Shuitou, and finally to Kincheng. Buses 9/10/11 go to the northwest part of the island, particularly the Shuangli Wetland Area and Guningtou Battle Museum. Bus fares are NTD 12 or NTD 24 for long distances (such as from Kincheng to the eastern half of Kinmen). For Little Kinmen, the fare is NTD 10. Understand that buses can be rather infrequent and many do not run late. Also, the bus drivers will skip a station if there is no one waiting there, so press the "get off" button when you want to get off. Kincheng has a major bus station with buses to many parts of the island and also has a very useful tourist office.
There are taxis on the island, though you need pretty good Mandarin or Taiwanese skills to negotiate a flat rate with the driver. They are also concentrated mostly in the city center, so you can't count on finding one just anywhere.
By scooter or bicycle
You can rent a scooter or bicycle in various rental shops, including in Kincheng near the bus station and in the airport. You can get a 150CC for about 550 NT dollars per 24 hours. Roads are all paved and there are good maps at every village and in every hotel. Road signs are written in both Chinese Characters and English/Hanyu Pinyin, so it is hard to get lost. Bicycles are free to borrow for the day and can be picked up at various key locations, such as Zhaishan Tunnel, Jinshui Primary School (金水國小) in Shuitou, the Shuangli Wetlands Area close to Guningtou Battle Museum, Siwei Tunnel on Little Jinmen, as well as various other locations. They are a spectacular way to see the sights around the island. Rental stations will keep your passport until you return the bicycle. Be aware of when each rental station closes. Little Jinmen is particularly great for bike riding as there is a bike path ringing the perimeter of the island, connecting most of the important sights.
The late President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, left a calligraphy inscription in Kinmen, urging the ROC troops to fight on and to one day re-take the Mainland from the Communist bandits.
Wind Lion Gods
The Wind Lion Gods of Kinmen are unique statues all over the island, you can either see the originals in the villages (this can take some patience and hunting skills) or just go to the new Wind Lion God Park near the ShangYi Airport.
Culture and architecture
If you can find all 63 "official" wind lion god statues, the ones that are represented in the park, and present proof to the park office, they will give you a special gift.
There are two main categories of accommodation in Kinmen. Hotels that are mostly located in Kincheng town and traditional houses outside of the town. Both usually charge 1400 or more, but discounted prices as low as 1000 can be found in the winter months, especially when booked online. The tourist offices in the ferry terminal and airport can help you to arrange staying in a traditional house. Little Kinmen has very hotels, so it's not a good idea to overnight there.
Small eateries line the main streets of Kincheng. Kinmen is famous for a sticky peanut candy that can be found in various shops along the side streets.
Most villages have very limited dining options, so it's best to head into Jincheng for meals, especially for dinner. Check here for a comprehensive list of special dishes on the island. Little Kinmen also has very few restaurants, so it's a good idea to pack a lunch before going there.
Kinmen is the home of Taiwan's distinctive "Kaoliang" liquor, a tequila-like hard liquor popular all over Taiwan. The factory is located right in the middle of the island, not far from the airport and is hard to miss with its distinctive smell and two two-story liquor bottles guarding the front gates.
Though formal hostilities with the PRC ended by the early 1980s, Kinmen is still very much a front line area. Visitors are strongly advised not to wander off paved roads when exploring the island due to the possibility of running across old unmarked minefields. It is also advisible to avoid traveling to certain sensitive areas after dark, such as coastal areas or areas near military installations. Visitors should also obey all orders given by military personnel and avoid entering or photographing sensitive areas.