Gulang Yu (AHA!)

Whenever I say “Gulang Yu” that bloody ABBA song makes me go “Aha!” in my mind…

Yes, well… We arrived with directions from Shannon as to where we should stay. Though Xiamen is an island off the coast of China with a long history as ‘Amoy’, Gulang Yu was our target. Just a few hundred metres from the ferry terminal the island sat in the searing sun looking something like a cross between Portugal and Italy. The terracotta red roofs and pale walls shining across at us and green everywhere else apart from a few rock outcrops and the grey line of the promenade. A perfect remedy from those big city blues I’d been experiencing.

We hopped on the free ferry to Gulang Yu and didn’t leave for four days. Following Shannon’s advice we checked into the HI place on the island and settled in to a nice spot of midday sunbathing where I scorched my milky white back and topped up the deepening brown on my neck. We saw all manner of weird creatures here from a miniature praying mantis to giant hornet or bee things to an intact pig’s skin bobbing in the sea.

The hostel was a nice cozy place clearly not yet benefitting from a guide book listing as it was just about empty. Maybe the new editions list it which could be a blessing or a curse as it’s perfect for pure relaxation just as it is. The menu is overpriced and small, but tasty and it does supply cheap Tsingtao so that’s ok. But after all – who goes travelling just to eat in a hostel every night? The room we checked into was a large 10 bed with high ceilings and fan. No air-con but the lower bunks had mosquito nets to ward them and the flying ants off. Sleeping here was easy up until 8am each morning when the tour groups headed by loud-speaker weilding women would congregate outside and mill about noisily.

We found it pretty hard to find reliable looking places to eat on Gulang Yu. The problem was the gulf between expensive seafood restaurants and really small grotty places with no customers… However we did find places to eat and on the final day enjoyed an expensive place where we chose which fish/crab/snails they were to kill for us. That was a strange experience but I value the fact we ate everything and didn’t waste anything. How else can meat eaters really justify it? Apart from the expensive PYO place we ate very well in small local places really quite cheaply. One little buffet style room had food for 2Y a dish. We paid 8Y each for a filling meal. It wasn’t quite hot but it didn’t poison us so that’s the main thing!

Minus points of Gulang Yu:

– Inability to find reliable looking, non-toxic restaurants easily.
– Insects. We got eaten alive every night! Martyn especially. One day his back looked like he’d been a really unlucky and exposed target playing paintball.
– Other people to talk to. The hostel was pretty empty apart from a few less friendly than usual travellers so we had ourselves to keep us amused. There were hardly any foreigners on the island and most were much older. Our grasp of Mandarin still isn’t up to conversational level!
– The aviary on Sunshine Rock was full of amazing birds but they were a pitiful sight in tiny cages. For example, five emus in a 20-30ft enclosure just isn’t right.

Plus points of Gulang Yu:

+ We watched Mr. Bean’s Holiday in the hostel’s TV room which was actually really good until the end where it ended in a depthless cheese fondue…
+ The beaches. The majority of our time on Gulang Yu was spent lazing/reading on the beaches and rocks around the island. There are several places to go and it’s really very nice indeed. Martyn would jump from rock to rock like a man re-discovering his childhood, whilst I would read in the shade. I’m still too pale to survive noon sun here. Actually, so is Martyn and he got quite toasted.
+ Sunshine Rock provides the best views of the area. An easy climb to the summit let us take in the whole island before we walked around it.
+ Sitting on the wall at the ferry terminal watching the pink lightning streak across the sky from maybe twenty miles away. Where we were there wasn’t much rain but in the distance the sky was terrible and the thunder shook the ground.
+ The most friendly and helpful guy ever who we met on the train to Xiamen. He gave us detailed instructions on which train to catch from Xiamen to Zhaoqing and wrote them all down for us. If we’d gone our own way we’d have paid 50Y more and the journey would have been longer.

Gulang Yu was the first place we really felt like we were on holiday rather than travelling constantly from sight to sight. It’s nicely overlooked by major tourism so it’s great to get away from things here. When we left in one of the heaviest rain showers I’ve seen we felt refreshed and looked forward to exploring Zhaoqing – our next destination.

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