Rain on Gulangyu

It took us ten years to come back to the wonderful island of Gulangu, off Xiamen in Fujian province. Since the Island was added on the UNESCO World heritage in 2017, even bigger crowds of tourists are coming to visit it. While it is surely packed on some days, being off season and with the help of the rain helped us find again the feeling we had in previous trips.

Thanks to gwulo.com, I came with a historic map of the island from 1947 for historical orientation. Since last trip in 2012, the first big change was the harbor. Massive ferries now go to a redeveloped port in a less touristic part of the island, with the original and ferry harbor being reserved for inhabitants. The area around the new port has seen some new construction, matching the old style so it keeps some of the characters. The new port is close to the large tunnel, that it taking people on a quieter side of the island, where we stayed this time and did not know much about before. The new port has directed some tourists to a less developed part of the island, which is good for spreading crowds.

Tunnel entrance on the quiet side

Although historic houses are also found in this part of the island, they tend to be less grand and less numerous than the ones facing Xiamen on the other side. This area was the main fishing port, where the Amoy tinning Co was located, a major employer on the island (Amoy tinning company moved to Hong Kong in the early 50’s but the brand still exist). This whole surrounding area is now a park all along the Coast of the Island. No road or park was indicated on old maps and the harbor reduced quite a bit compared with the old time.

Gulangyu fishing harbour

Going around the island, we reached the (now) main port again, passing by the former American Consulate. I remember that it originally had great view over Xiamen, it is now partly obstructed by new constructions, but still visible.

Amoy former American consulat

With intermittent rain falling, we managed to reach the other side of the island where the largest villas are and we stayed several times (See post “The revival of Gulangyu“). This area has several churches including the beautiful catholic church. Some of the large mansion have been turned to museums, like the Hai Tian Tang Gou Mansion (海天堂构) that was under renovation during our first trip in 2007 trip. The new one is transformation of the beautiful Huang RongYuan mansion into the China Record museum. I think I came to look at this house and took the same picture every time I came Gulangyu. Finally being able to visit it was really enjoyable. I’ll write a post dedicated to the museum itself later.

Back side of the Hai Tian Tang Gou Mansion (海天堂构)

A nice addition to the area is a massive bookstore in a beautifully renovated old mansion and few steps away from the entrance of both museum, it is impossible to miss. Great place to stop for a coffee break in the pouring rain.

strolling in the night

Night on Gulangyu is always a magical time, so I took a stroll after dark. With very few people and very little noise, the island was once again just for me to stroll. Our last day was a Saturday and the weather was much better. Crowd was much larger but not enough to make it unpleasant. Coming to Gulangyu in off peak times is still the best way to enjoy it. We’ll be definitely back again.

For more post about Gulangyu, go to “The revival of Gulangyu” and “Night on Gulangyu“.

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 it did not turn into a metropolis, it became an important trade city. A number of old buildings are still visible on the shore front, including the “Lujian Harbour View Hotel”. 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 had opened on the island. Leeing hotel (www.leeinn.cn) is located in an old mansion on 38 Zhangzhou lu.  The building has been renovated, meaning that only the walls were kept and all orginal fixtures have been removed. The interior is very modern with design 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, great place to sit and relax with a bottle of wine. It is located in side street of Zong Hua lu, the main walk through the island, making it quiet but of short distance to many of the 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. 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 soon before the nice and quiet feeling disappears under the coming wave of KTV and tourist masses.

Next post about Gulangyu is “Night on Gulangyu“.