Wednesday, 8 November 2017

鼓浪屿 Gulangyu Xiamen. UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site

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Any tour to Xiamen must include a visit to 鼓浪屿 Gulangyu (just like any visit to Singapore must include a trip to Sentosa island 😄 ). Like Sentosa and Singapore, Gulangyu island is just a short ferry hop from Xiamen island. Just a tiny 2 Km² island, a visit to Gulangyu is a day trip that involves a lot of walking but it is a truly beautiful and memorable place.

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The hop off point from Xiamen island to Gulangyu island is Xiamen Harbour Passenger Terminal 厦门港客运站. It's a modern and well run facility capable of handling high traffic volume.

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Making our way to the embarkation point to Sanquitian jetty 三丘田码头 in Gulangyu together with throngs of tourists. (It was a Saturday.)

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Whenever possible, visit Gulangyu during off peak season (weekdays) as it is extremely popular. Over 10 million people visit the once idyllic isle a year and the number is increasing 😄

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Take in a bit of the modern Xiamen skyline as the ferry slowly cross the narrow strait.

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We arrived at Sanquitian jetty 三丘田码头 in around 15 maybe 20 minutes - no need for a seat which is limited. It is more interesting to stand at the sides, appreciate the view and enjoy the sea breeze as the ferry make its way across to Gulangyu.

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Welcome to beautiful 鼓浪屿 Gulangyu.

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After exiting Sanquitian jetty, the first building we saw was the former American Consulate. Today, the building houses artifacts from the former International Settlement here.

Following China's defeat in the First Opium War in 1842, 13 countries, including USA, Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Japan etc enjoyed extraterritorial rights in Gulangyu. Gulangyu was chosen because of its mild subtropical climate and sandy beaches. They built consulates, churches, villas, schools etc. which still dot the lush greenery across the tiny island.

Gulangyu is thus like a museum of international architecture from the Victorian Era, which helped earned it the coveted UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site status.

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You can tour Gulangyu by taking a golf buggy. There are no petrol vehicles on the island as they want to keep the air free of pollution. Great idea, but there is still noise pollution as the buggy drivers hit their horns a lot 😄 There are also no bicycles or mopeds on the island.

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You could tour the island on foot - its just 2 Km². It would take half a day of leisurely walking with photo and rest stops - I love the exercise. Walking the narrow alleyways and coming up close and personal with the buildings and old trees is the only way to truly appreciate the wonders of Gulangyu. Every building and old tree have their own fascinating story which may surprisingly connect with you personally.

This was actually my second visit to Gulangyu - the first time was in 2005. For my first trip, we toured the island on golf buggies. This time, we walked. The temperature was 20°C, which was just perfect for walking.

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Thanks to our knowledgeable guide from Xiamen Airlines Travel, I got a lot more from this trip than the previous one 12 years ago. Though walking is more physically demanding, it is well worth the effort, if you have the time and are able to.

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This the old jetty at Gulangyu. It was decreed by the Ching Emperor to be the only departure point from Southern China to Nanyang (Southeast Asia).

If your ancestors left China in the late 1800s / early 1900s for Southeast Asia, they would have passed through this little jetty. My grandfather did, after leaving his hometown in Sze Yup 四邑, Guangdong.

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The old Dutch Consulate.

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The former Portuguese Consulate.

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The old Japanese Consulate.

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You know this place is beautiful when so many people braved the crowds and come here to take the most important photos of their lifetime.

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The stately sand coloured columns of the Union Church makes a great backdrop for couples making their solemn vows. (This building reminded me of Quincy Market in Boston.)

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The Notre Dame of Gulangyu.

To this day, the churches and cathedrals of Gulangyu still conduct mass and worship services.

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I wonder if the Nineteenth Century owners of this grand villa would have dreamt that their old home would be blessing couples in the New Millennium.

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A bride at Indonesian tycoon Liem Sioe Liong's old villa in Gulangyu. The legendary Liem Sioe Liong hailed from Fujian province - it was fashionable for well heeled, successful businessmen in the pre-War era to acquire assets on idyllic Gulangyu - it's like the Sentosa Cove of Singapore today.... the playground of the rich and famous.

Many of the historic buildings in Gulangyu feature a fusion of architectural styles. You will find some with Southeast Asian features like high ceilings, large windows and wide verandas all to let the sea breeze in.

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While most brides chose the Western white gown with flowing veil, this couple opted for the traditional bright red Chinese wedding costume.

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A beautiful flowing red gown.

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Some of the once glorious, luxury villas are in a slightly dilapidated state.

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Others are re-purposed into retail shops and restaurants for tourists. Gulangyu hosts over 10 million visitors every year and growing.

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Our guide took us through Shuzhuang Garden 菽庄花园 built in 1913 by Lin Erjia, a wealthy Taiwanese businessman. The garden features serene pools and pavilions, and sports a splendid expansive view of the South China Sea. From the pavilion we can see the gentle waves wash ashore onto the sandy beach while visitors frolic at the sea's edge just like a century ago.  

The sound of rhythmic lapping waves make a music which perhaps inspired the island's name 鼓浪屿 which translates "Island of the Drumming Waves".

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Inside the grounds of Shuzhuang Garden is Gulangyu's famous Piano Museum.

The people of Gulangyu are passionate music lovers, especially the piano. Gulangyu is known as "The Island of Music" 音樂之島 and "The Home of Pianos" 鋼琴之鄉.

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Pianos first came to Gulangyu with the International Settlement. Every church, cathedral, school and home had a piano. The local population which were musically inclined soon aspired to have pianos in their homes too. According to our guide Nico, Gulangyu which has a population of 20,00 has more pianos than people. (Reminds me of New Zealand which has more sheep than people 😄 )

Piano enthusiasts will find Gulangyu's 200 piano collection interesting as there are many rare and unique pieces. The pianos were the personal collection of Hu Youyi, a wealthy Gulangyu emigre. 

Not surprisingly, Gulangyu is the home town of many world renowned musicians such as violinist Jing Yang and the pianist Xu Feiping who is one of Lang Lang's teachers.

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There are lots of food and gift shops on Gulangyu. Personally, I would shop on Xiamen instead to avoid carrying bags of shopping on the crowded ferry.

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👉 If you are visiting Xiamen, your trip will be incomplete if your did not spend at least half a day in beautiful and historic 鼓浪屿 Gulangyu 😄 It was one of the highlights of my Xiamen trip.


A post shared by Tony Johor Kaki (@johorkaki) on

I travelled to Xiamen by Xiamen Airlines.

✈ Xiamen Airlines MF874 departs Singapore for Xiamen at 8:55am everyday. Xiamen Airlines MF852 departs Singapore for Xiamen at 3:15pm everyday.

✈ Xiamen Airlines MF851 departs Xiamen for Singapore at 9:45am everyday. Xiamen Airlines MF873 departs Xiamen for Singapore at 5:40pm everyday.

Date visited: 2 - 5 Nov 2017





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