Xiamen has been an important port city in China’s Fujian Province for several centuries. There were high and low periods. The latest, beginning in the mid-19th century, brought a colonial feel to the southern Chinese city now preserved as China’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site on Kulangsu Island or Gulangyu Island.
After seeing the Fujian Tulou, the other big thing we wanted to do in Xiamen was visit Gulangyu. We got to the main ferry terminal in the morning and were told the tickets were sold out. Then, they told us to go to the International Cruise Terminal. We walked up the road to the next terminal and told to keep going. Then another and another where again the tickets were sold out. One worker finally admitted that it may have to do with BRICS 2017. She said all tickets were sold out.
I didn’t want to give up, so we got some bikes and found the International Cruise Terminal. At first, we were told the tickets were sold out. We asked if there were room for two and they found a way to get us to the island. We had to wait a little while, but we got to the island.
The moral of the story, get tickets the day before, through an agent, or online in advance. According to the workers, this was not usual, but perhaps it will be more often than before.
Walking the Island
Gulangyu is a pedestrian island. No cars or bikes are allowed. However, there are some tourist shuttle golf carts. The island has beaches around the edges as well as rocky cliffs. It has some steep climbs and lots of narrow winding streets. The highlight is the collection of architecture built from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century by the foreign parties who called the island home. I’m sure during those days the island would have been more peaceful and quaint. Today, the island is bustling with tourists, and the main historic commercial districts are full of hawkers, squawkers, and shoppers.
Two of the destinations on Kulangsu are gardens. The first is one of the reasons the island is called Piano Island. Shuzhuang Garden is a traditional style garden built in the early 1900s by a Taiwanese businessman. It has koi ponds, manmade grottoes, and foot bridges.
The main attraction though is the Piano Museum with its collection of more than 70 historic and interesting pianos. Some of them are really beautiful. Some are just strange, like one built for a corner.
The other main garden or park attracts visitors because of the iconic sculpture crowning a massive rock growing out of the edge of the island. The general on top is said to have “returned” Taiwan to China during the Ming Dynasty. From the spot his likeness stands, he is said to have given remarks before the campaign.
Since we didn’t get to the island until mid-afternoon and needed to get back to Xiamen for our flight back to Beijing that evening, we didn’t get to see much more on the island. We did wander the streets to and fro. Partially because we wanted to see the architecture, but also because we had to find an ATM because the garden and park didn’t accept AliPay or WeChat Pay.
We missed the Organ Museum, the highest point on the island, and just wandering most of the rest of it. I can say I’ve been there, but I’m not too sure I will return if I go back to Xiamen. If I do I will know a little bit better what to expect.