Difference between revisions of "Xiamen"
Revision as of 13:47, 26 November 2011
Xiamen (厦门; Xiàmén) is a coastal city in Fujian Province in China.It became one of China's earliest Special Economic Zones in the 1980s. It was recently named China's 2nd 'most suitable city for living. Most tourists come to Xiamen to visit Gulangyu Island, a small island which contains some beautiful colonial buildings and is car free.
Most of the city is on Xiamen island. The smaller island Gulangyu and the mainland areas Jimei and Haicang, just across bridges, are administratively parts of the same city, but geographically distinct.
Until 1840, Western "barbarians" were allowed to trade only in Guangzhou (which they called Canton), and only under strict controls. After China lost the First Opium War, Britain took Hong Kong and China was forced to open five Treaty Ports: Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Shanghai.
In Xiamen, the island Gulangyu became a foreign enclave with consulates and luxurious homes. Today it is a quiet area (no cars or motorcycles) and five minutes by ferry from downtown, and still quite scenic.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fujian was a focus of missionary activity. There are still many historic churches in the region.
In the 1970s, Xiamen was made a Special Economic Zone to encourage development and since it has flourished. Technically, only Xiamen island and Gulyang Yu are in the SEZ, but the whole region is flourishing. Xiamen has more Taiwan investment than any other mainland city, partly because Taiwanese is a dialect of Minnan (Southern Min) a family of Chinese languages which are spoken in southern Fujian. There is also a major influx of other foreign investment; among the foreign companies with large factories in Xiamen are Lifetime Products, Dell and Kodak.
It is not Shanghai or Hong Kong, but compared to many other cities in China, Xiamen is definitely a very vibrant, affluent and modern place. It got an international award in a contest for most livable cities in 2002, neighboring Quanzhou won the following year.
Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN) is on Xiamen island and conveniently close to downtown, ¥30-40 and 20 minutes by taxi. Xiamen Airlines  use XMN as their hub. They have connections all over China and some international flights to Asian destinations. Several other Chinese airlines also fly to Xiamen.
If you are flying to Xiamen from North America, consider Korean Air. They offer great discounts, and the Seoul Airport is the most user-friendly on the planet, free internet and nice free lounges with couches to stretch out on. If you are coming from elsewhere, look for cheap flights direct to Xiamen from Singapore, Manila, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok.
KLM now offers direct flights between Amsterdam and Xiamen, creating the first direct intercontinental link for Xiamen. Flights are scheduled three times per week: Xiamen-Amsterdam on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; Amsterdam-Xiamen on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Fast bullet trains connect Xiamen North to Fuzhou (¥85, 100 minutes) and beyond Fuzhou toward Hangzhou and Shanghai. A fast train line South to Shenzhen is under construction, but as of June 2011, not yet in service. There is also regular train service, cheaper but slow since the railroads travel a circuitous route through mountains; a bus is usually a better choice.
Trains to Xiamen include
Buses to Xiamen include
There are actually two different ferry terminals in Xiamen. One is called Dongdu (东渡/厦门国际邮轮中心) on the west side of the island near the Marco Polo and Pan Pacific Hotels. The other is called Wutong (五通客运码头) on the east side of the island near the Xiang'an Tunnel.
Wutong is definitely the better choice because the boat ride is only about 30 minutes, and there seems to be less tour groups moving through this port. If you get seasick (and the waters can be rough in this area) this choice is obvious. The boat ride from Dongdu is about 75 minutes, more than double the time. The only advantage this port could have is that if you are on the west side of Xiamen, and you absolutely need to save the ¥40 taxi ride to the other side. Note however that there is only one port on Kinmen island for Xiamen, and the boat times alternate, so if you are doing a visa run, and you leave Xiamen from one port, it is faster to head back to the other port.
Taxis are cheap, starting at ¥8 (plus ¥1 fuel tax - so ¥9) for the first 3 kilometers. After the first 3km, the meter charge will go up based on distance. Note that although the meter may read with a decimal, most taxi drivers will round up. Also note that for rides over 3km, the fuel tax is ¥2 so add that to whatever the meter reads. During the day time, you should be able to get anywhere on Xiamen island, including the airport, for under ¥40. But be wary that some taxi drivers might take advantage of you if they know that you are not a local and might take the longer route to your destination. For example, if the driver says "Huándǎo Lù" after you tell him where you want to go, say bù (no), because that is the ring road that circles the entire island and although it is scenic, it is likely the most expensive way to go.
The local bus system is very good, but the bus routes are listed in Chinese and do not have English on them. The BRT is Bus Rapid Transit, on elevated bus-only roads; very fast and comfortable but of course it does not go everywhere. Fare is usually ¥1 per person.
There is a frequent ferry service to/from Gǔlàngyǔ. The ferry terminal is just north of the Liujiang Waterfront Hotel. No charge for the journey out; buy tickets near the pier on Gǔlàngyǔ for the return trip, ¥8. More comfortable seating on the upper deck for an extra ¥1 going either direction; you pay for that on the ferry.
To go around by bike is a great way to explore this gifted Island. Try the Island Ring Road (Huándǎo Lù) which has an extra path for bicycles in most of its parts. Start at Xiamen University Beach and go up until the International Exhibition Center. There are various rental stations on the Huándǎo Road, starting at ¥30 per day. Enjoy the sunshine while cruising next to the sea. If you are leaving the path for bicycles, execute caution of the traffic.
Exploring Xiamen by motorbike is a great way as well, although it is forbidden on the whole island! Enforcement is strict in the vivid areas (e.g. Yuandang Lake, Zhongshan Road, etc.). If caught, be prepared to pay a fine, or even to get your motorbike taken into custody. Elsewhere in Xiamen, the enforcement of the motorbike law is more easy. Riding a motorbike outside the island (e.g. Jimei Area, Tongan Area, Haicang Area) is allowed.
The Xiamen dialect of Minnan is taken to be the standard dialect (it is similar to and mutually intelligible with Taiwanese), so Xiamen is an excellent starting place to learn Minnan. Minnan is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, Cantonese or any of the other Min dialects.
Mandarin is almost universally spoken by younger people as it is the only language used in the education system. English is not widely spoken, though staff in higher end hotels will usually be able to communicate in English.
You can enjoy Xiamen's unique scenery not only in the day but also in the night. Take a breather and walk beside Yundang Lake in the evening and you can see how Xiamen transforms into a different setting: lighted artistic sculptures, scent of the sea, and romantic lovers by the lake. Enjoy your stroll and notice that some buildings even have a light show at night, simple laser/light shows that attract attention, which is some form of an advertisement mostly done by newly opened commercial buildings and some residential complexes to draw attention to their business.
With its clear waters, long and wide sandy beaches as well as its stable winds, Xiamen is one of the major hot spots for Kite Surfing in China, and often hosts various domestic and international competitions. Regularly there is a huge crowd who hails from all over China, and sometimes even from abroad to kite in Xiamen. Kite Surfing can be done at best at Haiyuntai, close to the Asia Golden Bay Hotel (Huandao Road).
From April till December you will find perfect cross-shore winds and warm to mild water temperatures. The water is quite flat, choppy waves are seldom. Watch out for some rocks in the water when the tide is low. Swimmers in that area are also seldom which makes it safe to Kite here, even if your skills are not perfect yet. Since there are lots of other Kiters here who always have an eye for each other and will help each other, it will enhance the safety. 16 meters Kite are fine most of the year, however you sometimes might consider a 9 or 17 meter Kite, depending on the wind. From October till April a 5mm wetsuit will keep you comfortable warm.
A Kitesurfing School with Chinese and English speaking IKO-certified Instructors, including equipment for sale and storage, compressor and shower facilities is located on the beach, at the Rasa Sayang Restaurant.
Different nearby facilities like restaurants, hotel or guest houses offers all you need. The seaside patio of the Rasa Sayang, with daily BBQ in the evening, is an amazing chill-out area for Kiters and their friends.
Xiamen has a rich and vibrant nightlife, which is still affordable, compared to Shanghai or Beijing. In all major luxurious hotels you will Filipino-Bands in the Lobby in the evening, creating a perfect atmosphere for a drink after the work is done.
The Discoteques "1801" and "Dushang", a distance of only 200 m, draw a big crowd all night. Although crowded, these places are safe in generally. Genereally means not always, so be careful since fights are picked-up here from time to time, and the safety guards will mainly not try to settle the disputes. If you come after 11 p.m. on a saturday night your entry may be denied, since then the place is overcrowded already.
The main hot spot for nightlife the Haiwan Park, next to the Yuandang Lake. Here you find different Clubs, Pubs and Discoteques. "The Key" is a favourite hot spot, with a Fillipino and a Taiwan Band who bringing the spirit to the top every night. The Discotheque "KK" is worth visiting, but you should be cautious, since fights between drunken people happen here sometimes.
Alternative and cheaper nightlife, with lots of students and younger people, can be found at Zhengcuoan, near to Xiamen University. Here you find a lot of cheap pubs, open-air BBQ´s and casual gatherings of young people who enjoy the sunset and mild Xiamen nights over a drink.
Zhongshan Road Like many other cities in China, Xiamen has a Zhongshan road that runs through a historical part of the city. In Xiamen, there is a pedestrian only section that makes going for a stroll more pleasant. There are many stores here. The opening time is generally from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The major places on the street are Hualian Building, Huahui Market, Paris Spring and Jinlu-Jewelry.
The buildings along Zhongshan Road combine a European architecture style with coastal city character. It is the sole commercial street leading to the sea, which has convenient transportation.
Close to Zhongshan Road there are also Siming North, South, West and East Road and Jukou Street, which are also good for shopping.
Xiamen University Street This street is actually half a street because the other half is part of Nanputuo Temple. Hundreds of shops line the street which is only a few hundreds meters. Most of these shops sell garments and cultural things, and the book stores are also worth a look.
Xiamen has a number of modern enclosed shopping malls that have all the usual chain store suspects and large anchor tenants. Here are just a few:
Dragon Head Road (Longtou Road) and Quanzhou Road in Gulangyu Island Dragon Head Road (Longtou Road) is one of the major commercial roads of Xiamen and also the only way to Gulangyu Island. Shops along this street sell art, handicrafts and paintings. Examples of things you can buy include: beads, lacquer threaded sculptures, color bar, ceramics, plus Chinese antiques, jade, and ceramics. Nanguo nuts shop is popular, it is a good choice for the tourists to take back some dried food and nuts and present to friends and relatives. A Tip: you can bargain with the sellers.
There is a whole strip of cafes and bars along the lake next to Marco Polo Hotel, most with patios or balconies with a view of the lake. On the side street off the lake are several more places.
There are many local dishes scattered around Zhongshan Rd (the Pedestrian Shopping district) and LunDu (the harbor to get to Gulangyu islet). Find the restaurant around the lane. Some worth to trying is ShaChaMian, noodle with peanut soup, there is one old restaurant on the east end of Zhongshan Rd (intersection of Xinhua Rd).
Gulangyu islet is also abundance in cheap and delicious food, especially on LongTou lane. Don't miss the Longtou lane Fish ball soup.
Tea Houses are popular in Xiamen. You will see relaxing people making tea in front of their houses in daytime.
Xiamen Sports Cafe 27 Hubin Bei Lu Shop 103 Haiwan Xincheng (Near KFC, in the back left corner of the forum of shops behind KFC). Nice sports bar popular with some locals but mainly expats. The bar has a reasonably priced food menu, with the pizza being of high quality. Daily happy hour with cheap pints of Tiger. Especially good if it is your first time to Xiamen and you are looking for some advice on things to do.
The Londoner British-themed pub, home of the Xiamen Typhoons RUFC.
'Me & You 2 No.1 Hou Hai Ting, Hai Wan Park, Xiamen Nice bar located near the sea on the Haiwan Park area. Good menu with both Asian and Western options and pizza is acknowledged as some of the best in Xiamen. There is a large range of pizzas from Y45-65 (they also deliver). They have Becks, Tiger and Stella on tap. Happy hour until 8pm (Becks and Tiger are half price). Live music sometimes (in English).
This lists accommodation in Xiamen only. For accommodations on Gulangyu island, see Gulangyu.
Tesco Supermarket Robinson Plaze, at the crossing of Xiahe Road and Hubin Dong Road, close to Xiamen Railway Station. Massive supermarket in the wall-mart style. You can buy anything from fresh veg to LCD TV's. Does not stock a massive selection of western products, about the same as wall-mart across the road.
Wal-Mart China World Trade Center, 878-888 Xiahe Road Massive supermarket where you can buy anything from fresh veg to LCD TV's.
Tastylife 10-105 Jianye Rd, Xiamen (Near Marco Polo Hotel). The most comprehensive collection of western supermarket items including a good selection of international beers.