Ch 6, Magong, Tianhou Temple, Inner courtyard 1

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The Taiwan Strait Islands

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The Taiwan Strait Islands, sprinkled across the windswept channel that separates Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China, hold endless fascination for travellers and Chinese history buffs. With enormous geopolitical significance that far transcends their tiny size, the islands to this day form a natural buffer between the two versions of China.

Closest to the main island of Taiwan, the Penghu Archipelago is littered with ruins from the Dutch colonial period as well as successive Chinese regimes, and boasts some of Asia’s most magnificent golden-sand beaches and unspoilt coral reefs. In the warmer months, regular commuter ferries allow for easy island-hopping here, opening up possibilities for a variety of watersports, from the region’s most underrated snorkelling and diving to some of the world’s most celebrated windsurfing. In addition, the curious basalt columns that buttress the sheer cliffs of many of Penghu’s islands give them a mysterious, primordial dimension and make them eminently photogenic.

Kinmen and the Matsu Islands, huddled just off the mainland Chinese coast, were once among the world’s most austere Cold War flashpoints but are now becoming the main bridges for closer ties between Taiwan and the People’s Republic. Despite the damage caused to these islands by heavy PRC bombardment in the 1950s and 60s, many historic monuments and relics remain largely intact, testifying to their prolific histories and strategic importance as maritime trading entrepôts. Kinmen, an island of extensive tunnels and imposing military installations, boasts especially well-preserved Ming dynasty structures and entire villages of hybrid Chinese-European houses.

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