The archipelago’s second-largest island, BEIGAN (北竿; běigān) has charming villages and superb scenery, including several secluded beaches with dramatic mountain backdrops. Beigan once boasted the Matsu Islands’ only airport and was the nerve centre for tourism, but since the 2003 opening of the Nangan Airport it has become sleepy even by comparison with its bucolic neighbour to the south. Although some tourists still fly to Beigan from Taipei, many arrive by ferry from Nangan and spend a night in a rustic village homestay.
Nestled in the island’s northwest corner is the village of QIAOZAI (橋仔; qiáozǎi), so named because of the many small bridges that span the gullies carrying runoff from nearby Leishan (雷山; léishān). While most villages in Matsu were settled by northern Fujianese, Qiaozai is unique in that it was founded by fishermen from the southern part of the province. Once Beigan’s biggest, most affluent village, these days it’s not much more than a laid-back fishing settlement, although it is noted for having more temples than any other village in the Matsu Islands.
To the west of Qiaozai along the main road is the unmistakable village of QINBI (芹壁; qínbì), with terrace upon terrace of two-storey stone houses tumbling down a hillside to the sea – arguably the archipelago’s most picturesque community. Spending a night in one of Qinbi’s rustic homestays is highly recommended, but even if you don’t stay here it’s definitely worth a stroll through its narrow lanes and up its steep steps. If time permits, a short swim across the shallow water to Turtle Islet (龜島; guīdǎo) – a granite outcrop in the middle of the bay – yields unrivalled views of the village as well as of the sea to the north.