Gulang Yu Hotels

Trip Start Mar 24, 2005
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Trip End Apr 02, 2005


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Saturday, March 26, 2005

We made it at last to Gulang Yu. The ferry ride across is delightful. There is a very sensible system where the ride to the island is free, but you pay three yuan to get back. Obviously anyone who goes to the island is going to have to come back sometime, unless they plan to live out the rest of their days there, not an unpleasant prospect. If you go upstairs to the top deck, however, someone comes around and collects an extra yuan from each passenger, whichever way you are going.

We found the "Beautiful Island Hotel of Gulangyu", which, according to the Lonely Planet is "bright and clean and has cosy rooms from Y120 (without window) to Y168 (with window)." We could not consider any room without a window to be "bright and clean", but we found the people very welcoming and the prices unchanged in the years since our Lonely Planet came out. Best of all, one of the rooms on the Y120 floor did actually have a window, and would be available the next day. We had a look at it, and decided to move there tomorrow, cutting short our stay at the Hong Ya. The main reason for this, apart from the fantastic location, was that they were able to book a room for us for our return next Friday. There would not even be a price increase. Presumably, once you get below the three-star level, hotels are not affected by big conference groups coming to town. 

We decided to take advantage of the good weather and go for a walk around the perimeter of the island, but first we walked up to have a look at a nice new hotel called the Marine Garden Hotel. We were just in time to check out their buffet lunch, a tempting array including steamed fish, prawns, bamboo clams, oysters and other seafood dishes. We couldn't resist. We appeared to be the only customers, so we had no hesitation in sitting at a table set for four. Ten minutes later, people starting streaming in and there were queues for the rapidly diminishing food. It wasn't long before the place filled up, and two ladies asked if they could join us at our table. It was, of course, a big tour group, and they eventually all left at the same time, leaving us as the only customers again. We walked around admiring the view from the hotel garden, then started our stroll around the island. At one point we came upon the Xiamen University of Fine Arts and Design, so we checked with the guard whether we could enter, then wandered around admiring the many copies of famous sculptures that dotted the gardens.

Gulang Yu must be one of the most pleasant pieces of real estate anywhere in China. Everywhere you look there are colonial buildings, in varying stages of disrepair, but many taken over by private buyers who renovate and maintain them. There are several parks and gardens, beaches and other scenic spots. Best of all there are no cars, or even bicycles, only silent electric cars which take tourists around the perimeter of the island. It is a great place just to wander aimlessly, but we wanted to start by walking around the coast. We almost made it right around, but were distracted by a tout before we completed the circuit. He was very insistent that we go with him along an inland street where we gathered he would show us several historic buildings. The fact that we couldn't understand him didn't seem to bother him. We eventually managed to lose him, but then followed some distance behind another guide, who was showing around a couple of local tourists. This led us to some of the grand buildings in the area. At most of them, we could only stand at the gate and look in, because they were occupied. By the time we finished exploring this area it was getting late so we postponed the final leg of our walk around the island and went directly to the ferry.

On the way back to our hotel, we explored the side streets off Zhongshan Lu, full of little local restaurants and small shops, quite a contrast to the upmarket boutiques and tourist-oriented shops of Zhongshan Lu itself. One phenomenon which struck us was the number of sex shops around the area. These tend to be tiny places, stocking a limited range of exotic condoms and sex aids, always staffed by a lady. Some are so small they are little more than a passageway between two buildings, the width of a door. They are generally identified by a banner stating "For Adult Only". Presumably it is felt that there is only room for one customer at a time.

We didn't buy up any supplies from the sex shops, but we did end up with another handful of DVDs, from one of the more expensive but better organised shops. Their price was Y10, but we were prepared to pay this for some good music DVDs that we could not find in the cheaper places. In particular, I bought a recording of a Queen concert as I need to learn Bohemian Rhapsody for an upcoming performance of the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir.

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