Xiamen (厦门), Fujian Province
The coastal city of Xiamen is one of China’s more cosmopolitan. In the 19th century, it was a treaty port, and in the 20th, it was one of the early Special Economic Zones. The city’s architecture reflects this long history of contact with Western countries. This is most clear on the nearby island of Gulang Yu, which was once home to the city’s foreign population. Xiamen has a few museums and temples of its own, but with just one day to explore the city, we focused on exploring Gulang Yu.
- Places to See
- Eating in Xiamen
- Getting Around
- Elsewhere in Fujian: Yongding County Tulou
Places to See
Gulang Yu (鼓浪屿)>
When foreigners settled in Xiamen in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were relegated to this small island, which they did their best to turn into a small slice of America or Europe. The Western-style villas and shopfronts still stand, and now the island is one of Fujian’s most popular tourist attractions. There are a few parks on the car- and bike-free island, some of which have pretty stiff entrance fees, but we spent a few pleasurable hours simply wandering the island’s narrow roads and lanes (for free!). There are plenty of places to eat on Gulang Yu, ranging from nicer seafood restaurants to McDonald’s and Dairy Queen.
For a full write-up of my day on Gulang Yu, read this blog post from March 2010.
Ferries run from the riverfront to Gulang Yu frequently throughout the day (as often as every 10 minutes), and the ride takes about five minutes. The ride over from Xiamen is free, but you’ll need to buy an 8 RMB token for the trip back to the city.
Eating in Xiamen
Seafood Restaurant, Name Unknown
Failing to write down the name or phone number of this restaurant was a classic moment of Travel Blogger Fail. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Xiamen. The city is known for its seafood, and most restaurants (including this one) let you choose your fish and shellfish straight from the pens. We chose fish and shrimp, both of which the kitchen prepared to perfection, and supplemented that with boiled dumplings, a green vegetable and ugly-but-delicious seafood patties coated in dark green seaweed fuzz. It’s worth tracking down.
The restaurant is just down the street from the Xiamen Baijiacun International Youth Hostel, at the intersection of Liaohua Lu and Huyuan Lu. There are red signs all around the entryway, and when it’s warm, most of the seating is in an outdoor courtyard. A large dinner for three cost 85 RMB (28 RMB/person).
Xiamen Baijiacun International Youth Hostel
This pleasant centrally located hostel is housed in a hodgepodge of old buildings across from Zhongshan Park. The rooms are modern and immaculate. However, we encountered two problems during our stays: Our room could be easily opened through the window, even when it was locked, and the staff was not great with directions. This is not a hostel that is going to be able to arrange your trip for you, but it is a fine place to crash for a night or two. Just be careful to lock up your belongings!
A bed in a four-bed room costs 50 RMB. You can make reservations at Hostelworld. The hostel, located at 20 Liaohua Road, is within walking distance of the ferry pier for Gulang Yu and is near bus routes for both long-distance bus stations and the airport.
Xiamen has two long-distance bus stations: the Songbai station and the Hubin Lu station. We took a bus to the Yongding County tulou from the Hubin Lu station, but our return trip deposited us at the Songbai station. Best to check with your hotel or hostel and then be sure to give clear instructions to your driver.
City buses run to the long-distance bus stations as well as to the airport (bus 27). The airport bus departs from a bus station directly across the street from the Gulang Yu ferry and makes several stops downtown, including one near Zhongshan Park and the Xiamen Baijiacun International Youth Hostel. Allow 60-90 minutes to get to the airport — it’s a long ride.