The airline with the best average rating is Far Eastern Air with 7.3/10.
The average flight time is 1 hours and 0 minutes.More information
Welcome to a continuation of my Taiwan journey in the time of COVID.
This report shares a domestic trip within Taiwan that I did from Taipei to the island of Kinmen (金門).
This island is only a few kilometers (i.e. swimming distance) away from the Chinese city of Xiamen — and has a fascinating modern history as a front line of the Cold War. One historical teaser: China's People's Liberation Army shelled Kinmen every other day between 1958 and 1979.
For those who are interested in learning more, here's a recent Washington Post article that provides a pretty good overview of Kinmen's geopolitical and historical status.
Since the flight was only one hour, this report may be heavier on the tourism bonus than the actual flight ;)
As a refresher, here's my overall journey routing…
I woke up bright and early and headed to Taipei Songshan Airport to catch my 9:20am flight.
Since Taiwan did not have any COVID lockdown, I was able to take the subway—which provides direct access to the airport. I'll share pictures of the subway in my return journey; I must've been too sleepy and jam-packed at morning rush hour to take pictures on this leg.
…and welcome to the Domestic Terminal of Songshan Airport!
Songshan primarily serves domestic flights, but does have international ones as well (though fewer during the pandemic). If you're unfamiliar with Taipei's airports, Songshan is like the equivalent to Seoul's Gimpo or Tokyo's Haneda.
There were very few people checking in, even for domestic flights. This was the check-in counter area.
Right now, Taiwan only has two main domestic carriers: UNI Air (a subsidiary of EVA Air) and Mandarin Airlines (subsidiary of China Airlines). I would be taking Mandarin Airlines - whose checkin counters are on the far right of the picture.
A sampling of flights. All of these flights go to outlying islands.
After breezed through security, I emerged into an extremely sparse terminal.
I quickly located my plane.
You might be wondering: "Isn't this report for Mandarin Airlines? Why does this plane say China Airlines?"
Well… as mentioned above, Mandarin Airlines (AE) is a subsidiary of China Airlines (CI). Apparently CI lent a 737-800 to AE… so I wouldn't actually get to fly on AE metal. Otherwise, AE mostly flies Embraers and ATRs.
With time to kill, I did a bit of planespotting. Here's what I saw…
UNI Air A320, probably borrowed and repainted from EVA Air. EVA Air's livery is quite similar to UNI's though, so it probably wasn't that hard of a paint job ;)
Custom UNI Air Bad Badtz Maru livery just arrived!
Many avgeeks may know that UNI Air's parent airline EVA Air has famous Hello Kitty liveries. Not to be upstaged, UNI decided to take some Sanrio characters for itself too ;)
Behind the UNI Air ATR are two MD-82s from Far Eastern Air Transport, a Taiwanese airline that went bust in 2019. They had the unfortunate English abbreviation of "FAT," which you might be able to make out on their tails.
Anyways… it was soon time to board. The process happened quickly and unfortunately I do not have pictures.
Here was my seat. The plane's exterior might've said China Airlines, but at least they changed the headrest coverings!
Mandarin Airlines inflight magazine.
Mandarin Airlines route map
B738 safety card
A333s at the international side of Songshan, from out of my window.
Our takeoff was quite uneventful despite the gray skies. Unfortunately the cloud cover meant I wasn't able to get any cityscape photos of Taipei.
Cabin in flight. Load factor was maybe 40%.
On this one hour flight, we were given a drink service of wheat tea. It was quick, efficient, and polite.
Soon it was time to land. Here you can see the Taiwanese-controlled island of Kinmen in the foreground, and the Chinese city of Xiamen in the background.
Coming to a stop at a gate next to an EVA Air A320 operating for UNI Air.
One last shot of the airport terminal before I got picked up by a car that my hostel sent.
And thus ends the flight portion. Now check out the travelling bonus!
As mentioned, Kinmen is within swimming/shelling distance of the Chinese city of Xiamen. Here's some pictorial evidence of that…
During the Cold War, residents of Kinmen were not allowed to possess items like basketballs for fear that they would use them as flotation devices for defecting across the strait. Despite these measures - people defected in both directions.
One famous defector from Taiwan/Kinmen to China is Justin Yifu Lin — who eventually became the Chief Economist of the World Bank.
There are also many stories about frogmen from both sides sneaking across on missions. Supposedly to graduate from frogmen training, frogmen from both sides had to go to the other and bring something back.
A picturesque islet called Jiangongyu which is only accessible at low tide.
Do you fancy a long, romantic walk on the beach? Perhaps these anti-landing spikes can keep you company!
Propaganda speakers aimed at China.
Interesting fact: as the Cold War is now less hot, Kinmen is no longer as militarized as before (obviously, given I was able to go there as a civilian).
Now, it primarily serves as a tourist destination — and usually caters heavily to Chinese tourists who are just a short ferry ride away. Sorta ironic given its history of conflict but… hey… time to make some money ;) (Here's a NY Times article and a Washington Post article for more context)
Anyways: this truck is prime evidence of those Chinese tourist flows. It contains messaging from the Falun Gong (Falun Dafa), a religious organization banned in China (and also responsible for a bunch of pro-Trump misinformation in the US, but that's another story).
If you go to places with many Chinese tourists, look closely — you will probably see Falun Gong posters like these. Because they can't proselytize in China, they conduct their influence campaigns outside China in places where they can still reach Chinese. I've seen Falun Gong posters in tourist sites throughout the US, the UK, hell, even Kyiv!
HOWEVER — because of the pandemic, there were ZERO Chinese tourists when I went to Kinmen. The pandemic is really hitting the local economy harder than it is hitting other places in Taiwan. Yet, it poetically speaks to a broader geopolitical struggle Taiwan must navigate between making money from ties with China, versus protecting its sovereignty/safety.
Military brothel exhibition hall. There were multiple officially sanctioned brothels on Kinmen to serve the soldiers. This one is now a museum.
There was a Taiwanese movie called "Paradise in Service" made a couple years back about this interesting phenomenon.
Brothel room exhibit.
Remember how I said earlier Kinmen got shelled every other day? As part of the island's militarization, the authorities built seaside tunnels to allow for loading/unloading of ships in case of heavy shelling.
And finally, some food and drink!
First, we have special beef noodle soup with the soup poured straight on raw beef. The beef is from cows fed with kaoliang, a sorghum liquor that Kinmen is famous for.
Next is Guangdong style porridge and a youtiao (no idea if there's an English name), which is like a deep fried savory pastry.
Then is the Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor company's factory. Kinmen kaoliang is highly prized in Taiwan, and they make special editions available for sale in the factory (which are usually pretty hard to get elsewhere). Pictured in this gallery is a Kaoliang special edition featuring Han Kuo-yu, a populist, Donald Trump-esque politician who lost Taiwan's 2020 presidential election in a landslide and shortly after got recalled from his mayoralty of Kaohsiung City.
Lastly is a picture of a crossaint head mascot that I included for its cuteness value.
Unfortunately there are not many detailed English sources about Kinmen and its unique history. If you are looking for one though, "Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line" (Quemoy is another, older transliteration of Kinmen) is a good book. Americans may also know the name "Quemoy" from a famous exchange between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy during the 1960 US Presidential Debate.
Thanks for reading!
Overall... not much to say about the flight itself. The crew were as efficient/friendly as could be for a 1 hour flight, and the plane was decently clean. The flight itself was smooth, the airports efficient.
As a history enthusiast though, this trip to Kinmen was a great intellectual escape amidst the pandemic. Don't miss the tourism bonus!!!