The revival of Gulangyu

Our third trip to the Gulangyu Island near Xiamen is making it a bit of a yearly pilgrimage.  Xiamen is about 800 km south from Shanghai and the 1 hour flight is enough to transport from Shanghai winter to Xiamen spring. Just like Shanghai,  Xiamen was one of the treaty port open by the Treaty of Nanjing from 1842, although maritime trade in the area was taking place centuries before that. Although it did not turn into a metropolis, it became an important trade city in particular thanks to South-East Asia Chinese returning to Fujian in the 1920s and 1930s. A number of old buildings are still visible on the shore front, including the Art Deco “Lujian Harbour View Hotel” (that was completed in the early 50s). As our taxi driver proudly pointed out, “these buildings are as old as the ones on the Bund in Shanghai”. Like in Shanghai, they are being rediscovered and transformed into tourist attractions.

Gulangyu beach

We have walked the streets of GuLanYu many times before, but this year’s visit was a little bit of a surprise. Since the closure of our beloved Night Lilly guest house in 2006, accommodation on the island was quite limited. Choice was basically between a few state owned hotels (with the delights of the Karaokes and low quality Chinese breakfast) and small chinese hostels that can be really friendly, but not that comfortable like the Boat House hotel where we stayed last year.

Leeming hotel

We were really excited to find out that a real private hotel has opened on the island. Lee Garden hotel ( is located in an old mansion on 38 Zhangzhou lu.  The building has been ruinovated, meaning that only the walls were kept and all original fixtures have been removed. The interior is very modern with fancy bathrooms and LCD TV screens in each room. Like in many Chinese hotels, the beds are hard and the noise insulation is not the greatest point but it makes a comfortable stay. The hotel also has a coffee bar and restaurant, a great place to sit and relax with a glass of wine. It is located in side street off Zong Hua lu, the main walk through the island, making it quiet but of short distance away from many interesting places to visit like the Catholic church, the Huai Jiu Gulangyu museum, High Heaven complex and the beach.

Glass window in Gulanyu
Glass window in Gulanyu

The other interesting place we discovered was the Reminiscence hotel, behind the Huai Jiu Gulangyu Museum on 38 Huangyan lu (tel: 0592-2065000). It is probably less comfortable and modern than the Leeinn, but all furniture are antics and the renovation has left most of the inside fixtures in place creating a really nice atmosphere. This is a great place for history lovers like us and we will surely try it next year.

The most visible change from last year was the opening of many coffee shops on the island. Until last year, the only places to get descent coffee on a terrace after walking around the island was Naya hotel and Cafe, in the former German consulate (12 Lujiao Road, near the harbor), and slowly Cafe (An Hai lu 36). Coffee shops have sprung up around the island, particularly around Zhong Hua lu. Gulanyu is quickly transforming into a new version of Yangshuo or LiJiang with backpackers hotels and small “western restaurants” everywhere. Quite a number of houses are under renovation, showing that more of these places will open soon. Tourists were also in a much higher number than the year before. The quite little island is transforming to become a mass tourism destination. It definitely makes a stay there more comfortable… but a little less private and exclusive. It’s probably best to enjoy it as soon as possible, before the nice and quiet feeling disappears under the coming wave of KTV and tourist masses.

Next post about Gulangyu is “Night on Gulangyu“.

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