When I first visited Taiwan in 2008, I travelled there by ferry from Okinawa, Japan. Unfortunately this Japan-Taiwan ferry service ceased operations shortly after that, so the only way to Taiwan from Japan these days is to fly. There is also no sea connection with Korea, but in recent years a few ferry routes with China have been established:
China – Taiwan ferry route summary
1. Fuzhou to Keelung via Matsu islands (Fuzhou-Matsu islands 2 hrs, overnight stay in Matsu, domestic Taiwan ferry Matsu-Keelung 10 hrs)
2. Pingtan – Taichung or Keelung (fast 3-hour hydrofoil)
3. Xiamen – Keelung (overnight ferry)
4. Xiamen – Kinmen island (but no onward ferry from Kinmen to mainland Taiwan)
Fuzhou – Matsu Island ferry (and domestic Taiwan ferry from Matsu to Keelung)
In 2015 I took the ferry from Fuzhou, China to Nangan in the Matsu Islands, a group of small islands located just off the coast of China’s Fujian province but administered by the ROC (i.e. Taiwanese government). The ferry only takes two hours, running daily in the morning (as always, see the excellent Seat61 for schedule details); you get stamped out of China before boarding, and stamped in to Taiwan upon arrival in Nangan. From there, it’s still quite a long way to the main Taiwan island; there is a ferry (8 to 10 hours) from Nangan to Keelung (a port city near Taipei, see below) but it’s a daytime crossing and leaves Nangan before the Fuzhou ferry gets in, making it necessary to stay for one night in Nangan if you don’t want to fly.
After disembarking at the port in Nangan I messed around for a while trying to work things out and buy a ticket for the next day, but the staff just said to come back at 8 (I think it was 8! Obviously make your own enquiries) the next morning and buy my ticket before boarding. I then found a reasonably priced hotel a short walk from the ferry terminal, and spending the night in Nangan is certainly no bad thing – it’s an attractive little island and I took an afternoon walk along the coast; you could also rent a scooter and drive around the island in a couple of hours. If you have a couple of days spare, you can also visit the other islands in the Matsu group, as there are ferry connections to each of the larger populated islands from the same terminal at which the Fuzhou ferry arrives.
As Matsu would very much be on the front line if conflict were to break out with China, there are a lot of military installations on the islands and a lot of military personnel stationed there; my ferry did the crossing via Dongyin Island (the northernmost of the Matsu Isands, and in fact the northernmost piece of Taiwanese territory), and a bunch of young military guys were onboard from Nangan to Dongyin. They, and most of the other passengers on board, disembarked at Dongyin and the ferry was mostly empty for the rest of the crossing to Keelung – I spent most of the day reading and snacking, and at one point went up on deck and was treated to the fantastic sight of a pod of dolphins somersaulting and surfing in the boat’s wake. Much more enjoyable than flying!
The Taiwan ferry terminal in Fuzhou is in Mawei, just outside the city to the south. It’s called the Fuzhou Port Mawei Passenger Terminal (福州港马尾客运站, Fuzhougang Mawei keyun zhan), and the address is Luoxing East Road 77 (罗星东路77, Luoxing Donglu 77). If you arrive at Fuzhou South station (the new bullet train station on the coastal high speed line) as I did after coming up the coast from Shenzhen, it’s a long way from there to central Fuzhou and then a long way back out to the ferry terminal. I arrived late at night and took a taxi into town to find a hotel, then woke up early to take a taxi to the terminal; each taxi ride was around 80 RMB, and it would be much more efficient to take a taxi from Fuzhou South station directly to the ferry terminal on the other side of the river, avoiding Fuzhou (which didn’t strike me as a very interesting place). For that to work though, you’d have to find a hotel near Fuzhou South station for the night – not something I investigated (and the Mawei port area definitely didn’t look like a place you could stay). On the other hand if you arrive at Fuzhou’s main station (as you will if coming from Beijing or points inland), it’s in the middle of the city and there are lots of cheap to midrange hotels in the side streets off the main road to the south of the station (which was where I stayed).
I took a taxi from the hotel around 7am and got to Mawei terminal around 7.45 I think, and bought the ticket on the spot at the ticket counter.
Pingtan – Taichung hydrofoil
The Hai Xia Hao is a fast hydrofoil connecting China’s Pingtan island to Taiwan’s Taichung and Keelung ports, and is by far the fastest Taiwan ferry option; seat61 has the schedules (sort of). In 2015 I took it from Taichung to Pingtan; the scheduled departure time was 2pm, and it’s a 3-hour crossing. Upon arrival in Pingtan, if you don’t plan to stay on the island you need to get from the ferry terminal to the bus station; if everything goes according to schedule, you should be able to catch the last bus of the day from Pingtan to Fuzhou. It’s quite far from the ferry terminal to the bus station so you can jump in a taxi, or there may or may not be a local bus – I don’t know, because when I did this journey the ferry departure was delayed by a couple of hours and by the time we arrived in Pingtan we were stuck there for the night…
We disembarked in the evening dark at a ferry terminal which was promptly closed up and locked once everyone cleared immigration, with nothing but a desolate concrete expanse outside. Luckily I’d got chatting to a Taiwanese-Canadian businessman on the ferry, and along with a group of mainland Chinese students we clubbed together for taxis into town to find a hotel. Good thing too – I would’ve had no idea what was going on with the bus connections etc without their help and would’ve probably wasted the evening in a futile attempt to reach Fuzhou! We all checked into the same hotel, and in the morning over breakfast they made sure I knew how to get to the bus station; the students were staying in Pingtan for a few days, and my new friend from Montreal was heading south to Xiamen to go visit his uncle on Taiwan’s Kinmen Island (see below), so I said farewell, took the bus to Fuzhou, and then managed to get a same-day bullet train ticket from there to Wuhan with only a couple of hours to kill at the station (from Wuhan I continued on to Xi’an and Xining, as my ultimate goal for that trip was Tibet – though that didn’t work out in the end).
A high speed rail connection is planned between Fuzhou and Pingtan; the line connects to both Fuzhou main station and Fuzhou South station, and once completed will enable you to get from Fuzhou to Pingtan in 30 minutes. This’ll make the Pingtan – Taiwan ferry way more convenient than it presently is, and will also make Pingtan more convenient than Mawei (where the Fuzhou – Matsu ferry departs from, see above). Until the train opens you’re stuck with the bus though, which takes almost two hours.
In Taichung, be aware that the ferry terminal is a long way from central Taichung. Bus number 308 connects the ferry terminal to Taichung’s main rail station, and takes the best part of an hour. The terminal’s official name is 台中港旅客服務中心 (Taizhonggang luke fuwu zhongxin), which translates as Taichung Port Passenger Service Centre. Going from the terminal into town after disembarking from the ferry should be easy enough to work out; going the other way as I did, from Taichung main station to the terminal, isn’t so straightforward. The bus stop is in front of Subway (as in the American sandwich shop) up one of the streets across from the station’s main entrance… but I suggest you go to the tourist information office in the station, as they can give you clear directions and can also call the ferry office for you to check the schedule (the online information for this ferry isn’t so clear, so I went to tourist info when I first arrived in Taichung (I stayed in the city for 3 nights) and they confirmed the sailing dates for me). With the ferry leaving at 2pm, allowing time for the bus and for buying a ticket and clearing immigration means you want to be getting moving in good time – the bus isn’t all that regular, so really you want to be aiming to get the bus before 11am (again, ask the tourist info office for the bus schedule). You could always take a taxi of course which would be way faster, but fairly pricey (I would guess around a thousand NTD).
Another thing to be aware of is that Taichung’s HSR (High Speed Rail i.e. the bullet train) station is in Wuri on the edge of the city, miles from Taichung main railway station. The new red line connects Taichung HSR and Taichung main stations, but if you plan to head straight to Taichung port from the HSR without visiting Taichung itself, the closest rail station is Shalu; if you get off the HSR at Taichung HSR station, you can get on the TRA (regular) train at neighbouring Xinwuri station, from where it’s 5 stops (25 minutes) to Shalu. From Shalu station, you can take a taxi (or the 308 bus, if you can work out where the stop is) the last 5km to the passenger terminal.
This hydrofoil appears to basically do two sailings a week from Pingtan to Taichung & back, and also runs from Pingtan to Keelung & back once a week; Keelung is much more convenient for Taipei (see below), and a more convenient port in general (if you don’t have a car).
Xiamen – Kinmen ferry
Like the Matsu Islands (see above), Kinmen is an ROC (Taiwan) island immediately off the coast of China. Kinmen is connected by multiple daily ferries to China’s Xiamen city; however, unlike Matsu there’s no domestic ferry from Kinmen to mainland Taiwan. This means if you want to head to (or leave) Taiwan via Kinmen, it’s necessary to take a domestic flight to / from mainland Taiwan itself. You could of course just visit Kinmen and then go back to Xiamen (as long as you have a double-entry Chinese visa, see below).
The ferry terminal for Kinmen is Wutong Passenger Terminal, 五通客运码头, “Wutong Keyun Matou“. You can see the exact location here, ferries leave hourly until around 5pm.
This ferry may be a useful option for those wanting to do a visa run out of China and back, but for those wanting to travel from Xiamen to Taiwan proper overland, take the Keelung ferry instead:
Xiamen – Keelung ferry
This overnight ferry connects Xiamen and Keelung; I haven’t used this one yet, so I’ll just refer you to Seat61 for the details.
Keelung port access
Keelung is the largest port in the vicinity of Taipei, located on the northeast coast of Taiwan; it’s just 40 minutes or so from Taipei main station to Keelung on the TRA line, and the Keelung ferry terminal is conveniently located a short walk from Keelung station. For anywhere in northern Taiwan or the east coast, Keelung is far more convenient than Taichung’s port.
Visas for China – Taiwan ferry trips
If you intend to travel from Taiwan to China, be careful with your visa situation; I say this because there are no Chinese embassies in Taiwan (due to the political situation) so it’s impossible to obtain a Chinese visa after arrival in Taiwan. In other words, you need to have your Chinese visa in your passport before you reach Taiwan; if you want to go from China to Taiwan and back to China again, you’re going to need a double-entry visa to do so. This is true even if you’re only planning to visit Matsu or Kinmen, even if only for a few hours; when boarding any of the ROC-bound ferries, to any of Matsu or Kinmen or mainland Taiwan, you will be stamped out of China and your existing entry will finish then and there.
If you’re already in China and wanting to take the ferry to Taiwan & back but you only have a single-entry China visa, you can head down to Hong Kong to get a new double-entry visa. I’ve done this twice, using Forever Bright Trading on each occasion; I found them to be reliable and convenient. (However, do note that the Chinese visa office could potentially deny you a new visa, especially if you’ve already been in and out of China too much recently – if this were to happen, you’d then have no choice but to fly out of Hong Kong. It’s a slight risk, but one you should be aware of if thinking of picking a new visa up in Hong Kong)
China train tickets: buying train tickets in China used to be a complete pain in the ass, but thankfully it’s become easier in recent years. You still have to line up to show your ID and collect your tickets, but at least now you can search, book, and pay for the tickets online; you’re given a booking code which you just need to show at the ticket widow (along with all passengers’ IDs) in order to collect your tickets. Obviously it’s a good idea (if you know your dates) to book a bunch of journeys in advance and collect all the tickets at once. Without a Chinese ID you can’t use the official booking site, but Trip.com is a foreigner-friendly alternative.
Taiwan train tickets: in Taiwan there’s no need for ID checks, you can just buy a ticket at the station from a machine or ticket window, or book online on 12go. It’s all very user-friendly, pretty much the opposite of China.
Also make sure to sign up for a VPN service before heading to China so you can use the internet as normal (what’s a VPN and why do I need one?). I always use Express VPN:
Have you taken the ferry to/from Taiwan? How was it? Any changes future overlanders should be aware of? Do you have any questions? Leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you.