Day 2 Gulang Islet
Head up to Lujiang Avenue for a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, along with an al fresco breakfast in the harbor-view restaurant on the 7th floor of Lujiang Harborview Hotel (www.lujiang-hotel.com). Enjoy the amazing vista of red-roofed buildings nestled in the lush greenery on Gulang Islet opposite. Savor tidbits of Cantonese dim sum and local snacks, such as seaweed and shrimp cake, taro pastry, sea worm jelly and chicken’s feet.
Catch a ferry from the pier on Lujiang Avenue to the historic gem of Gulang Islet, a must-visit destination for a trip to Xiamen. It is the nearest place on the Chinese mainland to Taiwan’s Jinmen Islet. The best way to enjoy the island is to get lost in the labyrinth of churches, mosques and buildings of varied European architectural styles. After the First Opium War in 1842, more than a dozen European countries, along with Japan and the United States, set up consulates on the island.
Adventurers, traders, missionaries and overseas Chinese merchants all left a strong stamp on the history and culture of this nearly 2-square-mile islet commonly called an architecture museum. Around 70 percent of the buildings were constructed between 1900 and the 1930s. Except for historic landmarks, most buildings have been turned into boutique hotels and upmarket restaurants, bars and cafes where visitors can imagine the grandeur of the past. Since there’s no public transport and no taxis on the island, excursions must be on foot, which is relaxing and leisurely.
It can easily take several hours to explore and many visitors choose to stay overnight to appreciate the laid-back local life.
Mark target spots on your map before you set out so you don’t miss them amid all the delightful sights. The Piano Museum is highly recommended for its astonishing collection of more than 700 pianos. The islet has incubated a star-studded list of Chinese pianists and musicians, leaving the “Piano Island” an impressive musical legacy. It is said that every two to three families on the islet own a piano. Other spots worth a visit include Chiang Kai-shek’s villas and the former residences of writer Lin Yutang (“My Country and My People,” “The Importance of Living”), famous obstetrician and gynecologist Lin Qiaozhi, and poet Shu Ting (“To the Oak”).1pm
Experience the island’s hustle and bustle on its business center, Longtou Road, which lined with numerous food stalls, chic restaurants and diners that serve local delicacies. Grab a skewer or two of barbecued fish balls, take a bite of the highly praised dried pork slices, and wash them down with a cup of refreshing mesona (a kind of mint) jelly with milk tea or creamy peanut soup. Remember to save room for fried oyster and seafood thread noodles. Food aficionados can bargain with street vendors for fresh seafood and veggies carried by handcart from the port every day.
Enjoy the cool while walking through the two tunnels on the islet — Bishan and Longshan Tunnel, and head down to the Sunlight Rock for the glorious sunset and a great bird’s-eye view of the whole islet, signature red roofs dotted in sinuous asymmetry against the terrain. The admission to the rock is 30 yuan after 6pm, half the price before sunset, which is 60 yuan.
Hop onto the ferry back to Xiamen and head to the laid-back “coffee street” on the southern bank of Yundang Lake, about 10 minutes by cab from the ferry pier. Lined with refined European-style restaurants, cafes and bars, it’s a favorite with local young people and expats looking for good coffee, steaks, spaghetti, and freshly brewed ales and dark beer. Pick a spot on the balcony overlooking the lake, and when night falls, enjoy a parade of cars pulling in for dinner, which include Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes.
Stroll along the lake and head west to the seafront bars and clubs in Harbor Park. Try Me & You 2 for its Belgian-brewed Stella Artois and thin-crust pizza in more than 100 flavors, or Havana Beach for its rich cocktail list, the vibrantly-colored decor and the exotic music. The rodeo bull machine at JJ Bar & Grill attracts flocks of bull riders to prove themselves after a drink or two.
For hardcore movers and shakers, walk along Hubin Road S. to the east of Yundang Lake to check out the city’s hottest nightclubs, with pulsing beats, cool dance floors and unleashed souls. Nearby Mingfa Plaza offers performers well known to party animals, such as Muse and Hong Kong’s signature Lan Kwai Fong.