China Expat & Travel Blogger. ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO IN CHINA. See My Fun TRAVEL Adventures in China!
Ah, Spring Festival--the time of Chinese New Year that calls for the world’s biggest annual human migration. Hundreds of millions of people will not only travel far and wide across China to bring in the new year with loved ones, but they'll also set a record number of trips in and out of the country to explore popular tourist destinations.
And well, after 5 years of living in China, I too have participated in the 'beautiful chaos' of it all more times than I can remember, from adventuring back to my hometown of Los Angeles on occasion to traveling far and wide across China with friends.
And where'd I end up this year? Which overcrowded, overbooked, but highly adventurous city did I wind up in? Well, look no further than China's very own Xiamen, one of the region's most renown seascape cities. And ... here ... we ... go!
First up, did I mention that it was crowded, cause it was c-r-o-w-d-e-d-d-d-d-d! In fact, it was so crowded that despite having a hotel booked, we arrived to find that our online agent actually hadn't booked our hotel at all, and as 99% of hotels in the vicinity were sold out for the New Year, we'd end up having to pay triple the price to stay at another. Ah, let the good times roll!
And so it was on. Day 2. Slightly overcast, but eh, still warm enough to have a great time. We--my girlfriend and I--met up with a colleague and set off on our first activity: a half hour cruise around Gulangyu Island.
Truth be told, there are 4 things I always look for whenever I travel: hit an observation deck, hop on a bus tour, ride a cable car, or take a boat across water. So yep, the cruise was a no-brainer.
We got a great look at Gulangyu Island from the outside. It's just too bad that we couldn't actually pay it a visit--trips to the island had been sold out over the next few days--but it turned out to be a fantastic way to kick start the day.
Now I've seen my fair share of temples across China, but I must say, Xiamen's Nanputou Temple definitely deserves a spot amongst my top ten.
Built during the reign of the Tang Dynasty, it had everything you'd usually get housed in a temple--Buddhist statues, stone carvings, lotus ponds, bridges, wishing wells, pagodas, and plenty of vibrant decorations. But you want to know what really stood out? The jaw-dropping mastery of good 'fengshui' oozing out of every corner of the temple's grounds.
Wait, you've heard of 'fengshui, right?' The Chinese concept of what happens when wind meets water, nature meets man-made design, and environment meets, well, you. The belief that the placement of yourself and objects within your surroundings can directly have a positive or negative impact on your qi, or energy. Yeah, that's it!
Everything, from the layout of plants and trees to the ensemble of colors used to paint the walls was carefully crafted to evoke a feeling of peace, serenity, beauty, and an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Oh man, if only my house looked like that!
Afterwards we'd hike Wulao Mountain, which, as it turned out, was the closest I'd ever get to my dream of standing atop an observation deck. Aside the fact that it was free and sat right behind Nanputou Temple, we got to see all of Xiamen from 200 meters up. Baitang Beach, Wanshi Botanical Garden, Gulangyu, the Twin Towers, and Xiamen University were all in sight. And speaking of Xiamen University ...
It was the 2nd of only two universities I had ever visited in China, and what's crazy is that we actually had to wait in line just to get in. A line! Can you believe it? It was like an amusement park, but instead of rollercoasters, thrill rides, and games, tourists flocked to see, well, dormitories, buildings, and some pretty decent natural scenery.
But I did eventually find out that that wasn't all they had come to see. In actuality, Xiamen University is renown as one of China's top-ranked institutes of higher learning. It opened in 1921 and was the first university in the country founded by a person of the Chinese diaspora born overseas. It's got a graduate school, 6 academic divisions, 40,000 students, and 236 partnerships with universities around the world.
You better believe that it's these kind of stats that makes it one of the star attractions in the city.
Next up? Baicheng Beach. *Gasp*. Never had I ever seen a beach so crowded in my 29+ years on this planet. Ever. Old, young, friends, families, couples, tourist groups—just about every one you could imagine showed up. But hey, that's how it goes for any top tourist attraction during China's Spring Festival.
And the funny part? No one was even swimming—a huge sign declared it was prohibited—so most could only spend their time taking in the sights, building sand castles, flying kites, cycling, and racking up hundreds of selfies.
As for my girlfriend and I? Heck, this was the beach—we wanted to have fun. We'd walk the shores, dip our feet in the water, laugh at funny characters on the beach, and eventually hop aboard a water cycler.
What's more, the party didn't stop there. After all, seeing the crowds on the beach was one thing, but our next destination would prove to be even more peculiar.
Taiwan Snack Street
Welcome to Taiwan Snack Street, a small alleyway adjacent to Zhongshan Road and dedicated to offering the most unusual street snacks and seafood one might ever see in their lifetime. No kidding.
Two foot long lobsters, sesame pig feet, squid salad, and ... penis shaped waffles? Yep, bizarre to say the least.
There were a bunch of other tasty-looking treats available too, including fruit smoothies, fried shrimp, fish balls, fresh crab, and meat on a stick.
You know what? Taiwan Snack Street was the perfect reason as to why I love to travel. It's not just about meeting new people and exploring different terrains, it's also about scarfing down new foods and experiencing other cultures through their distinctive cuisines. What an awesome street!
Final destination of the day? Zhongshan Road, the heart of Xiamen, which is probably why every tourist in the city must have been there.
What can you get? Retail stores, restaurants, milk tea, street snacks, entertainment—the whole nine yards when it comes to shopping, dining, and a little leisurely fun.
And let's not forget about the architecture—Western, Victorian-era style meets Chinese tradition. It was a great touch of flavor for one of the city's busiest streets.
On to Day 3. Early morning and still overcast but it couldn't stop our adventure.
It's funny; it seems that just about every other city in China has got some sprawling park that's made it to the list of top things to do in town. And if you've lived here long enough, you know just exactly what I'm talking about.
Take Xiamen's Zhongshan Park, for instance. As one of the city's oldest parks, it was overflowing with picturesque natural scenery, leisure activities, bridges, and large open spaces for a romantic / family picnic. Come to think of it, it even had an amusement park!
Plus, remember that good 'fengshui' I mentioned? Yeah, we couldn't step foot anywhere without being completely succumbed by it.
I haven't been everywhere in the world, but I've traveled enough across China to know that it's got some of the best parks around the planet. And that you can quote!
Winding alleyways, shoulder to shoulder pedestrian traffic, and vendors shouting at the top of their lungs. This time around we'd end up at Zengcuo'an Village, a vibrant outdoor marketplace jam-packed with stalls selling everything from food and smoothies to clothing and alcohol.
Now this was the place to be. And actually, I like those kinds of places. Again, it was as if the entire city had showed up, eager to try out Xiamen's street snacks, seafood, fresh fruit, and milk tea.
If you weren't hungry, you could shop for souvenirs, arts and crafts, explore a temple, and even hit a bar to smoke some hookah.
Forget Taiwan Snack Street, forget Zhongshan Road—if you really want to do Xiamen, then Zengcuo'an Village is where you'll need to be.
Lujiang River Cruise
Finally! The last leg of our amazing adventure in Xiamen, and what better way to cap off our last night with none other than a 1.5 hour evening cruise down Lujiang River? Booyah.
Yep, bigger, better and more badass. It was a Chinese traditional looking ship, decked out with red lanterns and a live band.
Let's see—Gulangyu Island? Check. Xiamen harbour lit up at night? Saw that. The city's 648-meter Haicang Bridge? Saw that too. A nice breezy evening out on the water with my girlfriend to celebrate the New Year? Man, you just can't beat that.
The Lujiang River cruise left us with a great impression of Xiamen. And though it wasn't the best I had ever rode in China—that record belongs in Chongqing—it was easily one of the best activities we did on our trip.
Back to Shanghai
Day 4. Ah, Spring Festival—I know you. That time of year in China where every major tourist destination is overcrowded, overbooked, and overcharged, but still makes way for one hell of an adventure.
As for Xiamen? Xiamen had just been loads of fun, and there was still plenty left in China's renown seascape city that we didn't see, from famous hot springs and gardens to museums and amusement parks.
Would I go again? Sure. During Spring Festival, China's busiest time of year? Yep, why not? Next time around, though, I just hope that I could stay in the hotel I actually booked! Safe & happy travels!