In my travels around China I got to see the A-list cultural highlights such as the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors, as well as seeing the wonderful Giant Pandas.
What I found more surprising about China is the amount of unheralded goodness there is in this country. One such place is Gulangyu, which I had not known about until I arrived in China.
Gulangyu is an island off the coast of Xiamen (which is also an island) in Fujian province on the southeast coast of China.
[Gulangyu and Xiamen]
Gulangyu became a treaty port after the first opium war, and foreign consulates and mansions were soon established here. Many of the mansions on the island are now run-down and covered in vegetation.
[Crumbling mansion on Gulangyu]
Seeing so many old buildings in one place is something of a rarity in China. What makes this island even more special is that there are no cars or motorbikes. You won’t even see bicycles here. It’s a real walkers paradise (no wonder I like it so much).
The interior of the island is covered in laneways that go in every direction. I was delightfully lost many times over as I kept finding myself back at the same lane I thought I was walking away from.
The mansions on the island are in a varied state of repair. Some are done up to boutique hotel standards while many are just lived in everyday houses.
[Mansion house – Gulangyu]
Gulangyu is also known as Piano Island. It has a piano and organ museum as well as being home to some famous pianists of China.
[Piano Island – Gulangyu]
There are no bridges or tunnels to Gulangyu, so supplies are brought by boat from Xiamen. From the port, men with carts carry supplies around the island.
[Gulangyu supply boats from Xiamen]
As you would expect being an island, seafood restaurants are everywhere.
For some reason orange juice is big here as well. This orange juice was squeezed before my eyes for 5RMB (75c USD).
[Fresh Orange Juice]
Walking the circumference of the island takes about an hour and a half. When you first arrive the crowds outside the ferry pier are frightening, but as you walk away the crowd disperses you will soon find plenty of space again.
[Walking around the island]
So there are no cars here, but there was controversy when electric tourist trolleys were introduced to the island. If we keep calling them electric trolleys, we can technically still say there are no cars on the island.
[Stupid electric tourist trolleys – Get out and walk!]
I ended up spending a week here, just chilling out in one of the many cafes on the island (another rarity in China – lots of cafes here that serve real coffee) and discovering lonely laneways. It left me fully recharged to face the crowds and traffic of the mainland once again.
See more photos in the Gulangyu Island photo gallery.