Tradition and warm beaches: modern Xiamen makes ideal business and holiday destination
Visitors should consider going to Nanputuo Temple, a Buddhist temple dating back more than 1,500 years, and Gulangyu, an islet just off the coast
Xiamen is one of China’s best-kept secrets. Long a successful port on the country’s southeast coast, Xiamen was also the departure point for thousands of migrants out of China and the first stop for many a foreign trader. The city stands out from others in China due to its climate and pristine beaches and its ability to maintain a clean streetscape.
The lights and clubs of the city itself and the nearby beaches are attractions enough, but there are also several popular sights and sounds that every visitor to the city should take in.
A visit to Xiamen’s Overseas Chinese Museum, founded by native son Tan Kah Kee, is one of the best ways to learn about and understand the city’s history. Xiamen’s adventurous people have ventured all over the world, setting up businesses and Chinatowns from Jamaica to Italy.
This museum tracks many of their feats and great accomplishments. Within walking distance of the museum is the Nanputuo Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple dating back more than 1,500 years. At the back of the temple is Wulao Feng – the Peak of Five Old Men – which affords spectacular views of the harbour, nearby islands, and the sprawling city as well. The temple boasts some of the best-kept and most serene grounds you will find anywhere.
Gulangyu, an islet just off the coast of Xiamen, is the city’s most famous tourist attraction. Gulangyu was a concession to imperial powers following the Opium Wars, and as such hosted as many as a dozen consulates in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Today, the islet is almost always busy with tourists from the mainland – especially up and down the first few streets from the port. Hawkers and vendors and artists crowd the small alleys and streets of Gulangyu during the day, when the tourists are swarming. Venture further on, however, and you will be treated to a mixture of East and West that has few rivals anywhere in Asia.
Old colonial homes within a distinctly Chinese backdrop reflect the brilliance of Xiamen’s embracing of all architectural practices: the tiny little islet is a bonanza for the eyes. Tourist traps and trinket salesmen abound, but heading up towards the heights leaves much of this behind, offering a glimpse of 17th century Chinese hero Zheng Chenggong’s Fort Gate, and views of the bright city from the heights of Sunlight Rock.
As you walk through Gulangyu, keep your ears open; the islet is known for its piano teachers, and a small, beautiful piano and organ museum.
Xiamen is a breed apart. The overseas Chinese community has contributed a lot to the city’s distinct character and affluence, but it is also history and tradition that makes Xiamen a very comfortable city to live in, and also a great place to visit for a few days.
The beaches along the coast, heading north and south of the city, rival any beaches in China and are far less developed than most; and the local lifestyle makes for a spicy nightlife and a host of new and constantly evolving options for socialising over food and drink, or stimulating oneself with some fine cultural entertainment.
For all of its bustle, Xiamen still remains a gem of a tourist destination,. Finding a cafe, buying one of the locally made marionettes, or watching the sunset beside one of the old Western fortresses from days gone by is as easy as could be in one of China’s most beautiful cities.