Located on the shores of the Taiwan Strait, and with a prosperous economy, Xiamen is gaining a reputation as a Chinese Miami.
Xiamen is easily one of China’s most pleasant cities and even a short visit here will reveal why. Relatively compact, occupying an enviable island location on the shores of the Taiwan Strait, and with a prosperous economy, Xiamen is gradually gaining a reputation as a Chinese Miami. Beaches sit alongside ancient temples and magnificent colonial architecture while steel and glass skyscrapers increasingly pepper the skyline.
From a Singaporean perspective Xiamen is a place of great historical interest, since many Singaporean Chinese claim ancestry from the migrants who departed from its historic harbour. The city has for centuries been an outward-looking trading town, and has received outward attention in return. The beautiful islet of Gulangyu, just off Xiamen’s main island, was a colonial enclave during the city's time as a Treaty Port, housing traders from all over the world, and is easily Xiamen’s prettiest sight.
In recent years Xiamen has become a popular weekend getaway location, with an abundance of leisure activities, good restaurants, fun nightlife and a balmy climate. Yet there are still some areas that lie off the beaten track, hidden old colonial tenements crumbling with age, and local customs and language surviving in the old areas of the city. Xiamen is a gem that deserves to be discovered.
Xiamen has a subtropical climate with spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November) the best times to visit. Summers can be very hot and humid but the city’s coastal location makes it bearable.
Singaporean citizens can visit China for a period of 15 days without a visa, while most other nationalities require a visa in advance. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket.
China’s currency is the yuan (Y), also known as renminbi, or colloquially as kuai. There are currency exchange booths and an ATM at Xiamen International Airport (departure level) and there are a number of ATMs in the city itself. Most of the large Chinese banks (including Bank of China and Construction Bank of China) accept international credit and debit cards, and HSBC has a number of branches here.
Taxis are to be found in abundance throughout most parts of the city though at the drivers’ shift changeover time (5pm) it can be difficult to hail one. Buses are also clearly labelled and relatively simple to use, and running from the south of the island to Jimei District is the inexpensive Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
Xiamen is generally very safe, even late at night, although shoppers in the Zhongshan Road area should be careful of their belongings. There are numerous hospitals and general medical clinics throughout the city, as well as one Taiwanese-run hospital, Chang Gung Hospital, in Haicang District.
The Consulate General of Singapore is located at No.189, Xiahe Road, 05–07/08, The Bank Centre (tel: (86) 592 268 4691).
Dial 110 in an emergency. Police stations and police officers are quite common on Xiamen Island and Gulangyu. Walk-in inquiries should be directed to Xiamen Public Security Bureau, #45, Xinhua Road, Siming District (tel: (86) 592 2025 501).
|How are you?||Ni hao ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hen hao, xie xie|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Qing wen!|
|Thank you||Xie xie|
|What's your name?||Ni jiao shen me ming zi?|
|My name is…||Wo jiao…|
|Nice to meet you||Jian dao ni hen gao xing|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Nin zai shi yong Facebook/Twitter ma?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Wang ba zai na li?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Wo ke yi zai na li zhao dao chu zu che?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Qi che zhan/huo che zhan zai na li?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yi zhang dao…de dan cheng/shuang cheng piao|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||You yi/liang ren de fang jian ma?|
|When's check out?||Ji dian tui fang?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Ni neng tui jian yi jia hao can guan/jiu ba ma?|
|A table for two, please||Qing gei wo liang ge ren de zhuo zi|
|A menu, please||Qing gei wo cai dan|
|The bill, please||Qing gei wo zhang dan|
|Where's the toilet?||Xi shou jian zai na li?|
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Occupied by colonial powers until World War II, the island of Gulangyu is Xiamen’s main attraction, a laid-back, hilly retreat full of colonial architecture, accessed by ferry from the city. Peace and quiet is a big part of the appeal – there are no cars, motorbikes or even bicycles allowed, although the occasional electric buggy now trundles slowly along the pleasant leafy lanes. The island measures just 2 sq km (0.75 sq miles) in area, so even if you get lost (most people do), it’s easy to retrace your steps. Pick up an information guide at the ferry pier.
Running the length of Xiamen Island's east side next to the sea, Huandao Road is an elegantly landscaped road with relatively little traffic. Cycle hire is possible at numerous points along it but the best place to hire bicycles is at the southern end. The ride is leisurely and the scenery beautiful, and there are a number of sandy beaches where it's possible to stop off for a swim en route.
Xiamen's most famous temple is Nanputuo Temple, which lies just north of the university in the southeast of town. The Tianwang Dian (Heavenly King Hall) at the entrance is home to the Bodhisattva Milefo, Weituo and the awesome Four Heavenly Kings. The name of the temple echoes Putuo Shan (a mountain that's an important site in Chinese Buddhism) and effigies of the goddess Guanyin are in abundance. Walk up the steps over the hill behind the Temple for great views of the city and sea. A descent is possible over the other side of the hill and into the Botanical Gardens.
Xiamen's Old Town is focused around the lower end of Zhongshan Road and the streets that lead off from there on both sides. Crumbling colonial-era tenements and crowded streets are home to markets, tradesmen and a proud local community. Minnanese is widely spoken and occasionally a stroll in the neighbourhood can feel like going back in time.
Overseas Chinese Museum
It is only appropriate that Xiamen has an Overseas Chinese Museum given its role as a departure point for many emigrants, and more recently as the focus of the diaspora's investment in China's boom. The museum has an outstanding collection of pottery and bronzes, gathered with the help of donations from members of the huge overseas Fujianese community. There is also a section on the diaspora itself.
Undoubtedly Xiamen's top cultural sight is the island of Gulangyu. Take the ferry across from Zhongshan Road and explore the small alleys and beautiful colonial buildings on foot. It’s a cliché, but the best way to discover Gulangyu really is by heading off the beaten track and getting lost. Parts of the island feel as though time has stood still for decades, and the limited traffic adds to this sense of history. Grab lunch in one of the small seafood restaurants or cafés near the pier.
Head back to Xiamen Island by ferry (or private speedboat if you have the need for speed), and begin strolling south-eastwards towards the University district. Following Minzu Road will take you past what remains of one of the city’s last small-scale fishing harbours, and through one of Xiamen’s oldest communities. An alternative walking route via Siming South Road is available to those keen to explore the Overseas Chinese Museum. Housing a wonderful collection of bronze and ceramic artworks, it has fascinating exhibitions on those who emigrated overseas from the southern Fujian area.
Continue walking east until you reach Xiamen University, now a popular choice with foreign students studying Mandarin, which is reflected in the area’s cosmopolitan shops and restaurants. Nanputuo Temple is a short walk from here and is the city’s largest and most famous temple complex. This is a good place to see Buddhist statuary and Chinese temple architecture, and on a weekday can occasionally offer some sense of tranquillity.
Gulangyu, Small-scale fishing harbour, Overseas Chinese Museum, Nanputuo Temple
When the weather is good, Xiamen is the perfect place to get outside and get active. With beaches, cycle paths, a substantial marina and some hill tracks, there’s a lot on offer for those who know where to find it. Get up early and head to the <b>Wuyuan Bay Marina</b> at the northern end of Huandao Road. Both the Fengshui Sailing Club and the Wuyuan Bay International Yacht Club offer a range of water sports, from OP Sail Boat training to windsurfing and jet-skiing, making this a fun place to spend a morning.
Head south from Wuyuan Bay along Huandao Road, where it’s possible to rent a bicycle. Cycle paths run alongside the main road and provide a leisurely ride next to the sea and long sandy beaches. If you’ve ever considered kitesurfing, Haiyuntai beach is widely renowned as one of China’s best kitesurfing spots, and has one or two small schools in the vicinity. Continuing your cycle south around the road will bring you to Pearl Public Beach; most bicycles can be returned by the road here.
Continuing on foot westwards will take you past Huli Cannon Fort and to Xiamen University’s beautiful campus. Stroll through here and up to Nanputuo Temple, which besides its architectural and religious delights also contains a path up the mountainside behind it. The views from here can be spectacular, particularly around dusk, and watching the sun set over the harbour and temple rooftops is the perfect end to an active day.
Wuyuan Bay Marina, Bicycle ride, Kitesurfing at Haiyuntai beach, Nanputuo Temple walk