One week ahead of time, the flights back from Nangan on Saturday December 3rd were full. I do not know if this was due to the sudden drop of the temperatures these days and of the rain in Taiwan in general and Taipei in particular, but when I checked again at D-2, there were seats available. I did not hesitate for a long time, because as you can see below, Matsu (the very last line of the table – that gives you an idea of the priority of that destination for the Taiwanese) was that week-end the only Taiwanese territory where I could expect to see the sun.
For those who missed my other FRs, Matsu, served by MFK and LZN, is an archipelago next to Mainland China's coast to which the Taiwanese clung hard, at the cost of an all-out militarization and of all kinds of Chinese attacks: aerial and naval battles, bombardments, frogmen commandos: they had it all but nevertheless held out like in Kinmen, and on other islands which are even more inaccessible to ordinary mortals.
The beautiful brochure printed on glossy paper that I received in a professional exhibit the year before does not hesitate to claim that in the beginning of spring and summer, the rain and mist shroud Nangan's mountain with a mystical beauty (sic). Understand that in spring, the archipelago is continuously fogged out, so much so that the flights are cancelled several days in a row, week after week. I had better take the first winter opportunity to get there, despite the competition with an incompatible plan of sleeping late that week-end.
Since the last flight back is at 17:20, I had to take the first flight at 6:50 to have enough time there. A taxi ride was mandatory, because the first subway around 6am would have been a tight race.
It was the first flight out of TSA that morning, and it was not crowded at check-in with Uni-Air.
Between the temperatures which fell dramatically (12°C minimum, 17°C maximum is very cold for a Taiwanese) and the early schedule, the flights to Matsu (LZN and MFK) did not sell very well: they were not booked full.
There was nearly nobody at the checked luggage counters
But that was going to change, because a group of Tzu Chi members were leaving for Kinmen. Tzu Chi is a charity which spread well beyond Taiwan where it was created by Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun. The ten million Tzu Chi members are nicknamed the Blue Angels, for their dedication and the color of their uniform: plain navy blue for women, white trousers and navy blue top for men. They were over fifty of them, and from their luggage, they were not leaving for a week-end picnic outing. Most probably, they were going to Mainland China, through the Kinmen-Xiamen ferry: the Tzu Chi is one of the only foreign charities which are allowed to operate in Mainland China.
Cloudy but standard weather in TSA, and all other flights are predicted on time.
I head towards the security check and its welcoming mascot
There are two planes pier side, seen here through the tinted glass panes of the terminal: a Mandarin Airlines E-190:
And a Uni-Air MD-90
… with more natural colors here just before boarding the bus.
During the short bus ride, a TransAsia Airways A321, in front of a JAL 767 and an Eva Air A330, all pier side at the international Terminal 1.
Plane spotting at TSA is slightly repetitive, especially in the domestic zone, so I propose as a bonus and for a change a view of the most crowded portion of Taipei's airspace.
I found this shop by pure chance in the vicinity of the Taipei 101 tower. It is easy to find if you know that it exists and where it is hidden. If you consider renewing your own airline's fleet next time you go to Taipei, I'm available for details. For your information, the Air France B747 was priced at a rock bottom 800 TWD, but for a recent aircraft with the markings of a serious airline, the tag can reach 2,400 TWD.
Let's go back to the boarding room which was still quite empty.
But behind one of the pillars in the back, there is a computer for internet access (the other one is switched off), and guess which website is displayed?
After checking FR, it is time for boarding
This is the passenger bus, the same as usual at TSA
For LZN, Uni-Air was evidently not going to use one of its MD-90. The plane is therefore a Dash-8, slightly warped by Autostitch.
The inside of the aircraft which was half empty. The first three rows and the last rows were empty, probably for mass centering purposes.
The seat pitch is reasonable – sorry, I neglected to take a picture. Uni-Air had a copy of the China Post (an English language Taiwanese daily) for the only foreigner on board, which the FA took out of a secret storage place and gave me when she saw me boarding. One bonus point.
Take off is ten minutes late. In flight service is minimal on Taiwanese domestic flights: green tea or coffee, but Uni-Air's coffee was exceptionnally acceptable, despite being really milk coffee.
We are quickly in the clouds, and then above both clouds and water
But when approaching the destination, the clouds clear up, and I my first glimpse of Nangan was under a bright blue sky. It was no chance that I had asked for a window on the left: I knew that that side provided a view on the island during the descent.
We are still quite high, but landing is imminent.
… it occurred 1'07 later, according to the time stamping of my pictures.
Not much taxiing to reach the terminal, precisely on schedule – and take the passengers' way painted on the tarmac.
The quasi empty interior of the aircraft:
The terminal and its oversize Taiwanese flag: they really want to remind visitors that this is really Taiwan, even though it is not obvious from the geographical point of view.
A last look at the heron which brought me there
And after renting a scooter in town (a small one, albeit the largest of the Matsu archipelago), back to the airport for a few additional views of the airport. The Dash-8 has already left, and I was not going to waste my time plane spotting, but there are excellent places for that, and I went there another time. The drawback is that there is one and only type of plane.
LZN is 232 feet above sea level, and never has been this expression so well deserved. On each extremity of the runway, there is a sheer drop of at least 150 feet. That is the reason why the plane was still that high above the sea just before landing, and why the plane could not land the last time I went to the archipelago – I'll tell that story in another FR.
In the background, nearly aligned with that of LZN, it is MFK's runway, on the other side of a few kilometers of water.
Why wake up before dawn to go to LZN that Saturday morning? Nangan was going to be one of my favorite destinations for a day trip out of Taipei; the tourist bonus is in the FR of the return flight here.
Taipei City - TSA
Nangan Island - LZN
The interest of this flight is its destination, an island which like its twin Beigan (MFK) is very exotic for the Taiwanese themselves: none of my Taiwanese colleagues has ever set foot there. They do not know what they miss.
The accessibility of TSA is optimum : it is in the center of the city, served by a subway line and cheap and plentiful taxis if your flight is too early. That of LZN is nearly as good : it may not be apparent when you land there the first time, but it is within walking distance of the (small) town. They have a good tourist office too, with an excellent free map of the islands.
Uni-Air perfectly fills the need: a minimum service flight, with smiles on the ground and in flight. It is not a low cost airline, but you have the flexibility to change the reservation for free: it precisely because others changed theirs that I had a seat for the return flight.
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