Xiamen – 2. Day: Gulangyu Island

Western Breadkfast Buffet

….hm, that’s something I haven’t enjoyed for quite some time. OK, the masochists amongst us could certainly still go with rice soup, fried noodles, dumplings and the like. But the enjoyers went for omelet, müsli, baked ham and beans, juices (unfortunately not fresh), fruits and the like. And the coffee was actually drinkable.
Tomorrow again!

The Island Gulangyu (鼓浪屿)

Getting there…theoretically simple. Take a ferry. I went to where I yesterday already found that the ferries to the island start. There was one counter, which wanted to have 3 RMB for the admission from the island to Xiamen. Hm, a bit strange, let me get TO the island first I thought, and went to another counter 10 meters down the road, which wanted to have 10 RMB, but at least gave the direction correct towards the island. I got on the ferry and picked a nice outside seat at the very front on starboard (for the non-sailors: that’s on the right-hand side). I decided for starboard because on the expected short trip to the island the sun would be on the left, so that there was supposingly shadow on the right. Well, it was, for half the journey… 😉

Why do I always pick the queues or vehicles, which take off last? Before our ship finally started off, two others on the other 3-RMB-pier had already set off. That made me nervious. I got out the small slip of paper, which I got as a receipt, and started deciphering the characters. I could only make out 厦门, “Xiamen”. I could especially NOT find the characters for Gulangyu Island… Well, it was 10 RMB only. Let’s see where 10 RMB can bring us. I stayed together with hundreds of Chinese tourists.

The ships in front of us set off earlier…

Little passenger waiting.

Another little passenger, who I offered my seat, she was in more need than I 😉

Finally we set off, heading towards the island. And then missing the island’s pier…slowly turning right behind the island…and started a sightseeing trip around the entire island. Well, not bad actually. And I had a starboard seat, so all the time perfect view onto the island 😉 So I saw the entire thing before setting foot on it. Nice actually, very nice. Very green, small houses only, all with in a Mediterranean style. Not just touch (as so many other Chinese buildings, which try to embrace some western styles, but often overdo it and, thus, fail), it was genuine. Could be situated in Italy or Spain.

A full round around the island

My only concern was if the ship after rounding the entire island would finally land on the island or just go back to the Xiamen pier. What sense would it make to go back to Xiamen…? And, yes, after the full round it headed for a pier on the island. While we still were approaching land, the captain came out and started talking to me. I had never expected a small-boat captain in south-east China to speak English, but he did. Awful pronunciation, but we got to terms. He was very surprised to learn that I travelled on my own. As so many other before him he guessed I’m American, but also as so many others before started to praise German goods once he knew I’m actually German. I couldn’t get the very last part though…something about carrying huge amounts of something…I didn’t get it sorry. And as so often I answered that China is coming, their goods flooding our markets, good quality, blabla…hey, it’s actually true, especially if comparing the price-quality ratio. The captain was so kind to note that with my 10 RMB ticket the return trip is already included. I asked when the last ferry would go and his answer surprised me: 24h service, you alway can get back. Hm, I did not put that to a test….

Xiamen skyline seen from sea

We did not land at the main pier. The one we used was also on my map, which I got the day before from the hotel. But the map was very rough and barely useful. The streets on the island are all very narrow. No traffic, for god’s sake! But a lot more lanes and ways than my map had charted. That actually means: As soon as I left the coast promenade I was lost. But that didn’t matter. I had time. Every once in a while there was a sign pointing in all directions of the compass and announcing some nice scenic spots. Some repeating, some occurred only once (so the system of sign-posts was not fully understandable…). At that stage I didn’t care too much. I just enjoyed the small lanes, the mixture of Mediterranean building structure with Chinese way (and smell ;-)) of living. I had not thought of before, but the island was still populated with residentials, not only holiday guest.

Once while trying to make up mind in front of a sign-post, which direction of the compass I should follow, two young Chinese tried to help me. They gave me the Chinese name of the central garden, which unfortunately was sign-posted only in a real English translation, while my map noted it in Chinese and Pinyin. With the help of them I decided I wanted to get there. But I refused there hint of which street to take. The arrow on the sign was not really clear. It turned out that my own choice was the better one.

I followed the signs through half the island. Then also hitting some of the main tourist roads. I remember that my Lonely Planet stated that somewhere in the area, in which I must have been by that time, you could get “budget eats” of good fish. Well, the fish was offered as so often in China alive. I guess you would pick one out of the basins, tell the chef how to prepare, and he would do. Well, I would not be able to do the talking. But the restaurant stalls were fairly empty anyway. Even all the Chinese around did not really take that offer, although lunch is a must-have here. (I actually usually go without a lunch through such a day and eat more during dinner then.)

Streets and…

stree life.

And that’s a local fish restaurant. Pick your choice from the colored basins, sit down somewhere in the back and enjoy.

Some nice villa somewhere on the way.

The First Garden: Riguang Yan (日光岩)

Eventually I reached the entry to the first garden. Shit, I thought, paying again…but actually, Lonely Planet had warned already. I studied the price list and decided for a 100 RMB much-inclusive ticket, which covered the main attractions, instead of paying already 60 RMB for the garden at hand. It was worth it!

Describing the gardens is always a bit difficult. This first one grouped around the highest rock on the island (full 93m!), which certainly could be walked up to. And many people did. That was one of just two places where I found security personnel: They organized the last narrow stairway to the very top, which could only be used one-way alternatingly.

The entry.

Somewhere on the mid-levels.

Getting to the peak means walking a couple of stairs.

Some scenic spots inbetween allow for taking breath. Here, please pay special attention to the Chinese way of handling security: There is a sign “Danger! Slippery”, but hand-crafted concrete steps leading up this slippery rock. I certainly went on top of it: Well, one wrong movement and you could fall pretty deep…

The peak. And many Chinese.

On the way down. Still many Chinese (the first foreigner except for me I only saw three hours later). These funny hats, which you see in front, were sold all over. Folded together the look like vase.

Chinese making picture of Chinese. And in Germany I was told the Japanese are worst…

The view from top was fantastic. First across the island’s villages, with Xiamen’s skyline in the back.

Then to the sea-side, with the one of the beaches laid out below. We’ll come back to that beach…

I took a small rest somewhere in the mid-levels. And did not again make the same mistake like the day before to eat nothing…fresh fruits on ice were on offer. No cheap (10 RMB), but exactly the right kind of thing. Temperatures were up to 30°C again. In the sun quite hot. I was sweating all over again.

The park had some more spots worth a visit:

A Chinese tourist group having fun with horse and soldier sculptures. No, it’s not only kids… ;-))

I’m not sure if these platforms are actually what was announced as “Marine Command Stand” on previous sign-posts, but the construction was definitely interesting. But facing the Xiamen land-side. Doesn’t make too much of a sense for a Marine Command, does it?

My 100 RMB much-inclusive ticket also covered the cablecar, which I otherwise would probably have skipped. But as I had paid for it I decently waited I-don’t-know-how-long in the queue to finally get onto it to be carried from one hill to another. Yeah, great fun. With the Chinese tourist group in front I would probably have been faster on foot.

I love these Chinese signs…I read all of them…they don’t just give the boring facts, they also entertain. They always tell you how great everything is (“Tourists sit in safe and comfortable cabins…”, what a lie) and what you personally must do (“…viewing the seaside scenery…enjoy the beauty of nature”). If you don’t obey (for example by enjoying the architecture of the houses beneath you), you will probably be kicked out in mid-travel… In order for me to reach the other side safely I concentrated heavily on the beach to my left, so heavily that I even forgot to take a picture of that.

I hope the other picture can pass as “enjoying nature”…not that police hunts me down here in the Hollywood Bar of the Crown Plaza…

Aviary, Second Garden: Qinyuan (琴园)

Another attraction included in my 100-RMB-much-inclusive ticket was the aviary, which actually was not that great. The gratis one on Hong Kong Island is a lot better. Despite the huge aviary (some sign did give all the details and great achievements, sorry, didn’t take it down) most of the birds still live in cages.

Well, birds. Don’t ask me for their English names…In German it’s some kind of “Pfau”, and the others are Australian “Strauß” birds.

And what these huge fruits are many people wondered. Well, I don’t know either.

The aviar was embedded in yet another garden with nice walkways, in which you again could get lost.

And the suddenly you were greeted by a soldier with a pistol.

Apparently a monument for one of the last battles of World War II.

Another beach on Gulangyu Island.

And a beautiful villa build into the mountains, with not interruptable view on the ocean. Nice place…


Throug a long stairway downwards through much green, and finally along a promenade way along the coast, I reached the beach. Well, it really looked much like any other beach I have seen: White sand, water, many tables and chairs, many people, but also pretty dirty water. Some few people really swam in that muck. I sticked to just wading bare feet through the shallow coastal water.

Didn’t really dare to openly take pictures of the people. So here’s what I got with hip shots.

After walking the beach I dried my feet during a break on a green next to the beach.

The Third Garden: Shuzhuang

The third garden, which was included in my much-inclusive-ticket was yet another style. It started with some installations into the ocean. Then featured a piano museum. Uups, surprise. China is not really famous for their piano production and not even known to make much use of pianos in their local music. But the museum had some really nice and rare examples of pianos from various areas of the world. About half of them actually from Germany! A guided tour was going on when I entered, but I let them pass…rather than polishing my little Chinese I trusted the English signs next to most of the pianos. Many of them would in Europe be safely closed away or at least be put under glass. There were many pieces of the late 18. century, some made from walnut wood. Rare models with two keyboards, or one build in a 90 degree angle to fit into a room corner. Unfortunately, taking photos was not allowed in the museum. So you have to go there on your own…

In the beginning, the garden played with the coast line.

But similar to a Souzhou garden (see the Souzhou document) it featured artificial labyrinth-like pathways through rocks. Not as great as in Souzhou, but still nice.

The Fourth Garden: Haoyue Garden (皓月园)

Also included in my ticket, so I had to get there. Took me quite some while as the signs were awful and my feet started to get tired. I entered through to top gate, and the garden started a bit slow. But still had some nice places including a huge monument, Zhenchenggong Statue, situated at the edge of the island, thus, well visible also from the channel between Gulangyu Island and Xiamen.

As I really got a but tired I sat down on a bench and just watched the few people, who were still busy on the beach, which belonged to this garden. One group of kids were particularly successfull in collecting small crabs. A small boy of maybe four years came running along every other minute, each hand holding one small crab, to his parents, who sat next to me. The father willingly collected all the specimems. Later, when exiting the garden, I saw that the boy proudly carried a bottle with water, holding all his crabs.

This was also part of the garden: A holiday club.

However, other visitors took the chances to take pictures. I verified that at least one of the houses was really occupied by some people, supposingly on vacation.

That monument from two angles.

A small light-house on a rock in front of the island.

Going Back

It was about 6pm. Not late, but I got tired. So I decided to head home. I gave the main streets a last chance to come up with a decent, suitable-for-westerners restaurants, but it failed.

Some impressions on the way: A young couple enjoying the sunset view on Xiamen.

Sunset through trees at the main ferry pier

The entrance to Underwater World, which I skipped.

I still had my 10 RMB ferry ticket, with which I entered the island. Remember, the captain said, it includes the return trip. So I resolutely walked up to the ferry entrance, and the guardian lady indeed lat me pass after toring off a piece of the ticket slip. The rest she handed back to me. Other people paid another times 3 RMB to get on the ferry (remember: they had to do that on the to the island already). On the ferry, I strait headed to the upper deck again towards the place I also had on the oncoming trip. It’s a bit hidden around a corner, so not taken immediately. There was service personnel on the upper deck, which surprised me, then an announcement in Chinese and English, but the crowd was to noisy to understand. Then this service personnel walked around and collected Yuans from people. Well, I had a ticket, showed it, and they let me alone. Only when arriving in Xiamen and heading down to the exit I saw the sign reading: “When going upstaird please pay 1 RMB.” Yeah, now I remembered: There was something about an additional fee when travelling on the upper deck…ok, a quick calculation: I paid 10 RMB one time for a return ticket, and apparently legally sat on the upper deck. People taking the direct ferry without the beautiful roundtrip around the island would need to pay 3 RMB twice, plus 1 RMB twice if going on the upper deck. Makes 8 RMB in total. So I got a round-the-island-tour for just 2 RMB! That’s a deal! 🙂

After having Italian food yesterday I tonight decided for the Chinese restaurant in the hotel. That one was nearly empty. I originally wanted to have a cooked or steamed fish dish as this area is famed for their fish. But surprisingly the only fish on offer was pan-fried. There were thousand of expensive things around shark-fins and bird nests, but I was not up to spend hundreds of RMB for just one bowl of soup, which in the end probably just taste like fish soup. I instead went for crab and fish meat soup, sweet-and-sour shrimps, and beef slices on onions, which was also very enjoyable, however, not fish…

Categories: Shanghai

Originally Created: 10/05/2005 03:08:37 PM
Last Edited: 10/05/2005