In the previous post I described our approach to Xiamen, our sole Chinese cruise port destination during our Diamond Princess cruise of October 2018. Arriving at the cruise terminal we knew there would be a wait before Chinese immigration could clear the ship so we took advantage of this time to retrieve our passports from customer services. We’d had to leave our passports out in our room after departing Japan so that the stewards could collect them and so that they could be pre-processed for our visit to China. Had we chosen to or simply been in our room early in the morning then our steward would have returned them to us but for anyone who hadn’t been there – and we hadn’t as we’d been wandering the top deck to take photos as we cruised into Xiamen – it was a simple matter to queue for a minute or two and ask for the passports to be returned.

We’d visited China before back in 2008, at that time hitting Beijing and Shanghai and visiting lots of the historical places of interest. While we’d stayed in Beijing for three days that was mostly as a hotel base and we’d not explored any of the city itself outside its major tourist attractions. In Shanghai we’d visited one of the old water towns on the outskirts of the vast metropolis. The excursions we could find for Xiamen were also non-city-based, hitting the island of Gulangyu or ancient areas or parks, and because we weren’t massively interested in what was on offer and because we’d never really visited a modern Chinese city before we decided that we would do our own thing for a change and check out modern as opposed to ancient culture.

Pulling up a map of Xiamen before the cruise and looking at where the ship would be and how far things that piqued our interest were we reckoned we could do what we wanted on foot. With the benefit of hindsight this was a mistake. To start with, it was a lot warmer than we’d been anticipating so our walking pace was significantly lower than we’d allowed. On top of that when you look at a map you get a feel for distances as the crow flies or as traffic moves but pedestrian routes are sometimes a little more convoluted to navigate especially when you’re somewhere you don’t know. The end result was that our plan to head down to Xiagang, check out some places there, then head back very soon changed to “Let’s just see how far south we can get before X time and then turn around.” We could have gained ourselves some time and possibly stuck to our original plan if we’d taken the free shuttle bus laid on by Princess Cruises that would have taken us halfway to where we wanted to go but, fools that we were, we walked it anyway.

Chinese immigration as we got off the ship was super-easy; a quick flick through to check the visa, glance at the photo, glance at me, stamp the document, and then through. Dear Japan: this is how to do immigration.

We turned right as we came out of the terminal and started heading due southwards soon after.

While we knew we just wanted to hug the shoreline and head south there was a brief moment only about five minutes into our walk off the ship when I pulled my phone out to look at the map quickly as it wasn’t clear which of two roads to head down would be the most direct route. We were standing beside a small bit of parkland in front of some tall buildings and a man was jogging around. He immediately turned and ran to us.

“Hi there! Are you lost? Can I help?” he asked in perfect English. We then spent five minutes talking to him about the city, about the ship (he was fascinated by the ship as he’d never been on a cruise), and about his work (he was actually Taiwanese, had studied in London, and was working in Xiamen). He gave us some advice about places to head to, looked doubtful that we’d make it to Xiagang (he was very right there), and all-in-all that’s the sort of casual, helpful, local experience we love to have when we’re travelling. We thanked him and carried on.

The road we followed took us over an area where water came into the island to form a large lake. The curving, white overpasses of roads were covered with vines that made us think of those post-apocalyptic movie scenes where nature starts to retake control of the land from a devastated population. We found it very attractive.

This then took us to a waterfront path that curved around the side of a large park that our jogger friend told us was one of his favourite places to run around. Looking across the water we could see the Dongyucun area of Xiamen and looking back the way we’d come brought our travelling home, Diamond Princess, back into view at the terminal.

This waterfront path was very popular with Xiamen locals and with families with young children in particular on account of its proximity to the water and a number of sandy play areas. Subsequently, in order not to create any unnecessary trouble I kept photography to a minimum around here. The Bay Park in Xiamen is a lovely spot with occasional interesting pieces of artwork and worth a wander around to get away from the city if you’re staying in the area. Be careful of kite-flyers as this was a popular spot for them too and we just ducked out of the way as one plummeted to the ground and the trailing rope went taut in front of our faces (the flyer waved a worried apology and we laughed it off).

Our gentle amble in the increasing heat along Xiamen’s pretty waterfront area just to the north of the tip of Gulangyu island continued and we passed areas where fishing vessels operated from as well as the island-based location of a pylon connected to one we’d passed beside on our cruise into the city earlier in the day. The clear blue skies and tall, new, gleaming architecture of Xiamen’s city skyline continued to draw the attention of my camera too as the straight lines, reflections, and repetitive patterns of these buildings are very appealing to me.

The area we were walking along now was the picturesque part of the Lujiang residential area. There was a ferry terminal here with a service to Gulangyu but from what we’d read online before this was only for local people and tourists needed a longer ferry from closer to the cruise terminal. Whether that’s accurate or not or whether that remains to be true at some point in the future I obviously can’t say for sure but it’s worth checking out if you’re considering looking at a map of Xiamen and aiming for this as your way to get across to the island. A set of odd sculptures attracted a lot of attention from many people with cameras – myself included – and we spotted what we guess was a school or university group filming and photographing for some reason too.

It was around this part of Xiamen that the free shuttle bus from Princess was dropping off and picking up people. We checked the time and our pace of walking and the fact we’d used up all the water we’d brought with us by this point; rather than carry on we decided we’d head inland a bit to check out the more commercial areas and to see if we could find a shop to get more liquid inside us. As luck would have it we spotted what looked like a much older section of the city with buildings only a couple of storeys high, lots of shops, lots of colour, lots of character. That was the direction we headed.

As we wandered the roads mostly devoid of traffic between bright signs, umbrellas, awnings, and lines stretched across with drying clothes we then spotted a narrower section, busier in terms of pedestrians, where market stalls lined the streets. Food stalls were common with lots of choice of shellfish and vegetables, and there were an abundance of smells as we strolled through. Probably the oddest sight was a bag of live starlings (or similar) by one woman sat in a chair next to a stall of household bits and pieces. Were they for food? Were they for pets? Who knows!? We ended up stopping at one place and buying some odd items that were intended to come back as souvenirs. Sadly, only a few survived the trip.

We emerged from the narrow streets, market, and older buildings back into a more modern area of the city and very soon had spent more money in a few convenience stores, stocking up with water, snacks, and lots of odd-looking sweets. We were on a casual look-out for some white jade, something similar to a piece my wife had liked the look of on our first visit to China in 2008 but which we’d not really had the money to afford at the time. Checking out a large department store we found a place specialising in jade inside and there were some very nice pieces there indeed but the only white jade we found had a yellow gold clasp and chain (my wife really wanted white) and was too big; large enough to trigger a gulp reaction in us once we did the conversion of the price tag in our heads. Maybe some other time.

We started tracking roughly northwards now knowing we could take our time and get back to the ship with an hour to spare before we were due aboard. This took us under some more of the foliage-covered overpasses and between the towering blocks of stone and glass that I always find so photogenic.

The walking and heat was tiring us out a bit so when we reached a place where we had to decide whether to carry on towards the ship or to take a bit of a detour and head in the opposite direction to see what Bailuzhou Park had to offer it took us a split second to choose the more direct route. Looking at the map it didn’t seem like it should take us too long to visit the park in the middle of the lake but we’d already been caught out by the deceptive distances in Xiamen so it was probably the right call. We kept the lake on our right-hand side but carried on in the approximate direction of the cruise terminal.

We’d already walked past Bay Park on the walk southwards earlier in the day so as we came alongside its opposite side on our return trip to the ship we crossed the road and walked through it this time around. It was a very attractive, tranquil park with a mix of wide, concrete areas and grassy, tree-lined sections with meandering paths through it.

Emerging from the park we found ourselves in familiar territory having walked the same roads several hours earlier.

We made our way back to the cruise terminal with only a small delay as what was described as the entrance was ringed off by security for some reason who ushered us away without any indication of where we should go instead. We eventually hunted down one of the exits instead and found a way back in through the snaking lines of people coming and going using the distant view of staff in Princess Cruises uniforms as our direction guide.

We missed out on our original plan of places to visit mainly because we skipped using the free shuttle bus, thinking we’d be able to walk at a faster pace than we managed. We regret that but cannot regret that we saw some things as a result that we possibly would have not seen otherwise and we wouldn’t have had that pleasant encounter with the helpful jogger. Every decision leads to positive and negative results. Xiamen is more spread out than perhaps a look at the map might lead you to think so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re visiting for a short period of time such as during a cruise ship stop but it’s certainly a place we wouldn’t mind visiting again and for longer and with a more definite plan of how to get around and check out its sights.

The next post will cover our departure from the city before Diamond Princess would head southwards towards Vietnam.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.