24 Hours in Xiamen

"Dear Doctor Teacher Fiona, 

If you have time , Please come to Xiamen China to help me. I want to set a triage system in my hospital. I apply a project, invite specialist like you to help us. The deadline of this project is NOVEMBER 10."

So began my unusual invitation to Xiamen, from a doctor I had once taught in Shanghai. 

Now he was Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Xiamen Number One Hospital, and was attempting something no-one else in China had ever done before. He wanted to establish triage, a system of sorting the sickest patients from the rest so they get medical help sooner, in his chaotic emergency room where 800 sick children arrived every day and were cared for by just five doctors.  

For China it was nothing short of a radical idea, and he needed outside support. Of course I would come, I told him. 

Xiamen is an island city I had long wished to visit - I heard it was beautifully tropical and lush, with warm weather, wonderful seafood and clean beaches, and old colonial architecture from its days as a treaty port. Like Hong Kong, Xiamen (then called Amoy) was ceded to the British in 1842 following the disastrous Opium Wars.

If you have just 24 hours to pack in the best Xiamen has to offer, here's some suggestions. I spaced out my sightseeing over a week between helping out in the Emergency Room, giving lectures, writing reports and...er...visiting restaurants. 

There was lots of eating - of course! - and I'll be covering Xiamen's top foods in the next post. 

Morning: Gulang Yu Island 鼓浪屿
Gulang Yu is the essence of Xiamen, a small jewel of an island off a bigger island. Rimmed with gold sandy beaches and crowded with the stately mansions and consulates of Xiamen's colonial past, it's just a few minutes by ferry from western Xiamen.
The island has no cars, and its winding small streets are perfect for strolling. Just head in any direction form the ferry and see what you find amongst the palms and fig trees.

The five main attractions - the Sunlight Rock (from where they say you can see Taiwan on a clear day), beachside Shuzuang Garden and the Piano Museum, Bright Moon Park, and the Organ Museum all require ticket entry. Several of China's most famous pianists have come from Gulang Yu and the island is also known to locals as 'Piano Island'. This might explain why all the tourist signposts are in the shape of a grand piano!
Sunlight Rock - a heady climb to the island's highest point, from where you have spectacular 360-degree views
Bright Moon Park, with a massive stone statue of hero Zheng Chenggong
I think Gulang Yu's best attractions are actually its old houses. Consulates of foreign governments, churches, schools and an old hospital, they speak of a wealthy and decadent past on the island. Many are now abandoned and are overgrown with vines and tree roots, but are being gradually restored and preserved by the government. 

Before you head back to Xiamen from Gulang Yu grab some lunch in one of the island's many, many seafood restaurants. Most famous are the oyster omelettes (hail jian 海蛎煎)at 189 Longtou Lu.

Gulangyu Island: Details
The island is reached by a ten-minute ferry from the main pier near the western end of Zhongshan Lu.
Ferries run every ten minutes from early until midnight.

You can buy boat-only tickets (8 yuan) or a combination ticket that includes ferry, and entry to all five major sites for 108 yuan.
You can purchase tickets to individual attractions on the island itself, but you will save about 35 yuan by buying the combination ticket.

Allow at least three hours to see Gulangyu, although if you plan to climb Sunlight Rock and have a swim, make it 4-5 hours. Swimming is permitted off the main beaches, and the water is very clean.

Afternoon: Fan Tian Temple 梵天寺
After a good lunch, head north off Xiamen island itself to the stunning Fan Tian Temple. It's a good ninety minute drive from downtown, but the temple is beautiful and well worth visiting, situated high on a hill in the middle of a nature reserve full of walking tracks.  

The original temple site is over 1500 years old, but the temple itself has been rebuilt several times.
If you walk up and over the hill behind the temple you will find yourself walking back downhill through a beautiful sculpture-filled park to the tiny but wonderful East Mountain Ancient Temple (Dong Shan Gu Miao 东山古庙), more than 600 years old and creaking with age. It's roof is crowded with glazed ceramic wonders - dragons, fish, warriors on horseback, gods riding tigers and more. 

'Heavenly official bestows good fortune'

Fantian Temple: Details
Lunshan Lu, Tong'an District, north of Xiamen Island
Admission free, open seven days

Night: Zhongshan Lu Pedestrian Street 中山路
Night time is the best time to meander along neon-lit Zhongshan Lu, a pedestrian-only street in downtown Xiamen. The street has a great laid back vibe and starts in the east, running westwards towards the waterfront. 

It's lined with shops selling local delicacies like pineapple cake, dried shrimp, pastries and sweets, and the middle of the street has been given over to outdoor cafes selling tropical fruit juices and desserts, a perfect antidote to the warm weather (even in November!).

There is a terrific street food market running along Ding'an Lu, between Zhongshan Lu and Zhenhai Lu. Find a stall you like the look of, choose from the heaving tables filled with seafood and have it cooked to order. 

Zhongshan Lu Pedestrian Street: Details
Open 24 hours
Most shops close at 9pm, restaurants open later.

Next post: Ten Must-Try Foods in Xiamen

Labels: , ,