Monday, February 25, 2013

[XIAMEN] Fun Getting Lost at Gulangyu

Gulangyu should have been the first stop of this tour, as most itineraries would suggest. It seems like everyone would readily volunteer that island if you ask which one place in Xiamen should not be missed. It almost fell victim to that it’s-near-anyway-so-I’ll-just-go-there-later phenomenon, but at least I still got to go. I was getting out of the guest house to head to the island when I met my new Filipino friend. We said we would still go in the evening because his German roommate said it would probably be more enchanting sans the tourist infestation. As we stared at the night ferry that evening, however, we all just agreed that it would be better left for the next morning. And so they went the next day while I was exploring Hakka tulou. I could have gone with them but I could no longer cancel the tour I booked earlier. Oh well, alone time in a tourist island. Emo mood on!

It takes just five minutes by ferry from Xiamen to Gulangyu. You pay RMB 8 going to the island, while the return trip is free. Well, not really. The token they give you that resembles a casino token chip is swiped at the turnstile to let you in. Hold on to that chip because you surrender it before your return trip by inserting it in the turnstile at Gulangyu’s port. You can try to swipe it in vain the whole afternoon but one of the friendly staff at the port will make you understand one way or another that you have to insert it into the coin slot. After that, you are free to sail back to Xiamen.

You can spend an additional RMB 1 to access the roof deck which is really a 50-50 thing. On one hand you get to see Gulangyu clearly and with the advantage of a good vantage point for taking pictures while approaching the island. On the other hand, the trip is just five minutes long, but then you only pay how much? Around PhP 6.50 if converted? So yeah, up to you.

What's clearly visible from Xiamen is Koxinga’s statue which is made to look as though he's watching over Xiamen, always on the lookout to ward off pirates and invaders. Symbolic! However, it's not the first landmark that you'll see once you disembark from the ferry. If memory serves me right, it's a kilometer away from where you dock. The thing about Gulangyu is that walking could always be done in a leisurely place. It IS a very touristy place, and it is easy to get involuntarily stranded somewhere just to admire the scenery. Having said that, walking one kilometer is not really that long a stroll. Trust me.

If you legs bail on you, there will always be the golf cart taxis. You see, this island is supposed to be purely pedestrian but it seems there have been a great number of lazy bodies and couch potatoes taking a shot on a more active life that have decided to come to the island in droves. We can safely assume that they are the target market. The cost is a bit steep but you could choose to pay them in monthly installments. Nah, kidding. It IS expensive. Period. If you have the money, indulge. Otherwise, make good use of those legs.

I suggest going to the island in the morning so you'd have enough leeway in case you end up having so much fun and forgetting the time. I came in late afternoon and have thus far regretted the decision. I'd have enjoyed lazing at the beach all day. Instead, I was always strolling fast in a race with the sun before nature’s very own lighting meant game over for my cheapo phone camera.

The island reminds me of Macau, maybe because they share the same Portuguese heritage. It is said that this island was “invaded” by the Portuguese back then and they have surely left their Portugal Was Here graffiti all over the place through the architecture. Food? Not that much. Although there are some similarities with Macau, do not expect overdosing on egg tarts any time soon. Macau is more Portuguese than Gulangyu could ever wish to be, after all. But why are we talking about Portugal again? Back to Gulangyu!

I knew I wouldn't be able to really explore the place thanks to my laziness so I just decided to prioritize some sights that I really wanted to see, first among which was Koxinga. And so I took a leisurely stroll along the coast. The weather is so cool that you won't really be drenched in sweat despite all the walking and climbing. There are several attractions along the way that merit a photograph. Snap one, with or without you in it. Some panoramic shots are waiting to be posted on your Facebook cover photo spread! There are two giant rocks where you could strike a pose while you annoy the hell out of your companion by turning him or her into an instant paparazzo.

That particular area is quite popular for couples. The day I was there, there were two couples in full wedding attire taking as many photos as they could as souvenirs once they decide to have a divorce. But let's not be too gloomy. The background is just as awesome because you see a panoramic view of Xiamen’s coast starring its buildings and the flyover by the shore. There will always be a good angle wherever you are and you'll probably be spending the whole day exercising your forearm and your pointer finger. Koxinga is not too far away from this area. If you have no intention of meeting him, then you could always get lost in one of the streets leading to various corners of the island. But in case you do want to meet the statue, then you have to go to Bright Moon Park which is where the statue is along with some other sites like a memorial wall with horses and soldiers as well as the European inspired collection of mini chateaus that you could rent overnight for around 500 renminbi.

After Bright Moon Park, I explored the beach that serves as the entry point for one giant rock island near the shore. It was already swarming with tourists so I just snapped a photo from afar. Besides, this is my punishment for arriving late. Stroll here, stroll there. I stopped by a café with tasty looking crepes but they only had the menu in Mandarin. No, they didn't speak English. The last thing I wanted that day despite being famished was an octopus flavored crepe that would have been the product of miscommunication thanks to the language barrier. I resisted hunger and walked along. There was a path lined with books made of aluminum or steel. And then there was another café that looked like a Spanish villa. And then there was this memorial park next to the New World souvenir pastry shops.

Pastry! They have their own version of that pineapple pastry thingy that I love munching on whenever I'm in Taiwan!!! So yes, most of the shopping went to food, which is the only way I am shopping if books are not involved. Along with some nougat bars, I think I spent around 200 yuan for food which is more expensive than what I paid for three days of accommodation, but what the heck. I was feasting on those pineapple thingies while brisk walking back to the port because it was already getting dark.

Before the brisk walking episode, I still had the chance to take a walk by the beach where you can see Sunlight Rock staring at you up there. You either hike up or ride the cable car, which I bet would probably be as costly as my pastries, or even more expensive than the golf cart taxi thingy ride. Because I already splurged on food, I opted not to go to Sunlight Rock anymore. I mean, come on. What for? The awesome panoramic view waiting for me up there? The divine breeze that would have been caressing my face had I decided to go up? Okay, why am I suddenly feeling bitter? Whatever. This is part of my punishment for coming late!

There are many more places to see on the island. There is even a piano museum! But you do not have to see them all. Just pick what interests you the most. If you want to stay overnight, I saw a dozen boutique hotels or so each looking unique and quaint. If one day would not suffice for the island to charm you, then staying overnight is probably a good idea. No, do not ask me about internet connections. I wouldn't really have an idea because I went back to Xiamen that night to catch my flight back to Manila. Oh, and I saw SM on the way to the airport! My Xiamen trip is complete!

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