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Xiamen, the City by the Sea

Not all of China’s cities are crowded, dirty, and polluted concreted jungles. Like Kunming in Yunnan and Xining in Qinghai, Xiamen in Fujian Province is a smaller (on China’s scale), quieter, chiller, cleaner, and generally more relaxed city than the more well known mega-cities.

Xiamen is home to 2 million coast-loving people. Today, the city is a mix of Hokkien, Taiwanese, Han, and western culture. To non-locals, Xiamen is as a getaway destination featuring Gulangyu Island.

For anyone trapped in one of China’s smoggy cities, Xiamen is indeed a perfect weekend escape. For any China travelers, Xiamen is a great launching point for heading out into the Fujian countryside.

Fast Facts:

Name: 厦门  |  Xiàmén

Where: 福建  |  Fujian Province

What to Do: Ride a bike through Xiamen University and then along the coast; tour a tea field; eat some really fresh seafood; visit the famous circular tulou (土楼,tǔlóu) houses.

Featuring beaches along the highway, bikes paths hugging the coast, and winding boardwalks – Xiamen doesn’t feel like your average Chinese city. While Xiamen is a tourist destination, it doesn’t feel chaotic like the big spots in Beijing and Xi’an. Side streets are relatively quiet and you could drive through downtown without even really realizing it. While the city itself isn’t particularly beautiful, the ocean and coastline more than make up for the blasé architecture.

Perhaps one of our fondest memories of Xiamen is sitting on the wood planked boardwalk drinking a deliciously sweet and fresh coconut.

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

If you ask a local cab driver what to do in Xiamen, you’ll probably get directed to Xiamen University. Oddly, the university is probably the biggest tourist attraction in the city. Just outside the university’s main gate you can rent bikes and start by exploring the campus. Now if you went to Stanford or one of the many gorgeous UC schools, you won’t be impressed by Xiamen University. But, if you’re coming from any big city school, Xiamen University really is beautiful. There’s nothing to see in particular on campus, but on a nice day riding through the grounds is a fun way to begin a one-day ride through Xiamen.

Xiamen 厦门

From the university you can head east along the coast (as pictured in the first set of pics above). Just go as long as you can before heading back to beat the sunset. Along the coast you’ll find seafood restaurants, coconuts, beaches, relaxing sea breezes, and lots of happy people struggling up hills on tandem bikes.

At sunset, Xiamen’s cloud glittered blue skies provide many Instagram moments.

Xiamen 厦门

To checkout the tea fields and the tulou houses, try and join a tour through your hotel. Or, if you have enough people in your group, hire a car for the day. Most of the tu lou houses are a couple hours away from the city, so plan on taking a full day to do the visit (you can also stay overnight in some of the houses, so we’ve heard).

The tu lou houses are the round iconic dwellings that are abundant in Fujian province. The houses are formed by circular rings, once inhabited by the local clans. The structure was a way for communal protection of livestock and interior living spaces. Today, the houses are totally tricked out tourist destinations – the interiors filled with shops selling all manner of junky stuff. However, some of the less visited tu lou can give one a more relaxed visiting experience. At the end of the day, these are just round houses, so your mind won’t be blown by any means. But, if you’re in the area, the tu lou houses really are the thing to see if you have some time.

Immediately below are memorials to locals in once village who have lived over 100 years.

Xiamen 厦门

Nestled in between many of the tu lou houses are tea fields. Since you’re in Fujian, Oolong is going to be the main attraction. At basically any tea farm you can go in and look at the processing techniques, try some tea, and buy some reasonably priced bags.

Chilling with some Oolong tea as you gaze at a tu lou in the distance is perhaps the quintessential Xiamen / Fujian experience. Since there’s not really much to do in the tu lou homes when you’re up close, they are perhaps enjoyed best from afar anyway. Though do be sure to go inside at least one tu lou. It’s really cool seeing the way all the rooms circle around the structure. In some of the tu lou, there are buildings within buildings inside the outer circular structure.

Xiamen 厦门 Xiamen 厦门 Xiamen 厦门 Xiamen 厦门Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen 厦门

This is the money shot that most everyone is looking for.

Xiamen 厦门

Xiamen is by the sea. And therefore seafood is synonymous with the city. There is a snack street with a particularly colorful display of seafood (as shown below). Bear in mind that these things all look more interesting than they taste. For the best seafood, go to a local restaurant. The snack street is just for tourists and the seafood all tends to be over-cooked and over-seasoned. But, the street is worth a visit just for all the colorful dishes.

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Finding Xiamen on a Map