Day 3 Downtown
Start another day of adventure in Xiamen with a bowl of hot, tasty satay noodles at Wutang Satay Noodle. One of the city’s renowned diners, the shop only opens in the morning and closes around 1pm every day.
The 70-square-meter shop is easy to spot on Minzu Road because of its long queue and many cars scattered around the No Parking signs. Wutang uses a secret recipe for its rich, flavorful and aromatic soup. There are 20 kinds of toppings to choose from, including squid, shrimp, fish balls, dried tofu and pork liver. The homemade satay sauce makes a nice gift.
Spend an hour or two strolling inside the South Putuo Temple. First built in the late Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it was destroyed many times during conflicts, and rebuilt. South to sacred Putuo Mountain in Zhejiang province, it was renamed Putuo in 1684 by General Shi Lang who retrieved Taiwan for the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) government. Admission is free and it’s popular for Buddhists and tourists, but the architecture is impressive. The sprawling temple complex contains three palaces and a number of halls and pavilions, all ornately decorated with stone and wood carvings. Pillars, beams and ceilings are decorated. And the upturned “flying” eaves are decorated with glazed tiles and mythical creatures.
Head up to the Xiamen’s commanding height, Wulao Peak, at the rear of the temple for a bird’s-eye view of the city. The wooded route isn’t crowded with tourists. It’s a hike, but there are viewing platforms halfway; it’s worth the trek to the summit for the view.
The temple offers award-winning vegetarian set meals for lunch. You can grab vegetarian pastries for a snack and then have a proper meal at Xiamen University. Lunch at the student canteen next to Furong (Hibiscus) Lake brings back memories of college. Visitors are only allowed onto the third-floor canteen, which offers a variety of snacks and popular Fujian and Sichuan province dishes. Prices are much cheaper than outside. Expect big crowds and long lines to get the food and pay the tab. Those looking for pleasant dining ambience can visit chic cafes and Japanese restaurants opposite the university’s west gate.
Explore one of the most enchanting university campuses in China, Xiamen University. Founded by Chinese Singaporean Tan Kah Kee, it is China’s first modern university funded by overseas Chinese. The majestic “playground” used to be grounds where General Zheng Chenggong drilled his troops, which went on to retake Taiwan. The viewing tower was burned down when Zheng was defeated by the Manchu troops and retreated to Taiwan in 1680. Tan is said to have built the school in this location in hopes of carrying forward the ancestral spirit and reviving the country.
Students unleash their creativity through graffiti in the school’s Furong Tunnel. The walls of the 1.01-kilometer tunnel are covered with scenes of young people confessing their love, friends at graduation, ambitious dreams, and prayers for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
June is the best season to visit when clouds of phoenix flowers are in full bloom. The landscape and teaching buildings reflect an East-West style that incorporates large roofs with verandas typical of southern Fujian.
A trip to Xiamen wouldn’t be complete without dinner at a seafood street restaurant. Foodies flood to Xiao Yan Jing (Little Glasses) Street Restaurant on Hubin Road M. for its superb range of ultra-fresh seafood including squid, clams, razor shells, small abalone, crab, prawns and freshwater clams nicknamed sea watermelon seeds. Without much seasoning or spices, ingredients are simply scalded or fried with soy sauce. Another option are the seafood restaurants, street diners and barbecue stalls in the small fishing village of Zhengcuo’an. Some of them, such as Yajian Street Restaurant, are on a par with Xiao Yan Jing both in variety and flavor. Try fried seaweed dumpling and steamed animal-shaped buns filled with red bean, or cream custard and egg yolk. Day 4 Zengcuo’an
Spend some time wandering around Zengcuo’an fishing village, an up-and-coming tourism magnet, sometimes called the next Gulang Islet. Here Buddhists live with Taoists, Christians and Muslims, and the area is filled with temples and churches. There are old Western-style buildings as well as residences, temples and halls built by overseas Chinese from southern Fujian province. They combine architecture from the region, including flying dragons and delicate ironwork from Luzon Island and ceramic tiles from Taiwan under Japanese rule.
Time for last-minute shopping in SM Lifestyle Center in the maze of shops selling high-street and luxury brands, handicrafts including lacquer sculpture and bead embroidery. Or go back to Zhongshan Road for dried seafood, pastries and dried pork slices.