FOR parents struggling to plan their travel itinerary with children in tow, Xiamen just might provide the perfect answer. A major city on the Fujian Province coast of the East China Sea, Xiamen has plenty to offer adults and children. Imagine a scenic coastal destination, azure blue sky, beaches and white sand, mazelike alleys and tasty seafood — that’s exactly what Xiamen is. The pleasant climate, with an average year-round temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, makes it a favorite resort. Apart from local attractions, day trippers can also go to Taiwan’s Jinmen Island by boat and explore the amazing tulou (earth-packed dwellings) in neighboring Yongding City.
For this travel issue, we picked six highlights that parents can enjoy with their kids in Xiamen.
A fairy night in the Firefly Park
One of my most unforgettable memories about those old school days is a midsummer camping trip when my friends and I bumped into a bunch of fireflies. Just as evening fell, the cicadas and other unknown insects chirped among high grass as we were on our way back to the campsite, then suddenly those twinkling little fairies floated up as if dancing in the air. As more fireflies surrounded us, time seemed to freeze and I felt like I’d been transported to some magic forest in a fairy tale.
Unfortunately, with the current urban development that eats up land and damages the ecosystem, kids today - especially urban dwellers - have few chances to see the amazing scenery. Xiamen is one exception. In 2010, the city opened the first Firefly Park in the country. It occupies some 20 acres (13,333sqm) of grassland and woods. The park opens every summer from June to August free of charge, but only to children. Two adults at most are allowed in with each child under 16. To protect the species that is sensitive to noise and strangers, only 300 visitors are admitted every day so a reservation is required. Log onto www.huodongxing.com/event/1230035271500 (in Chinese) to book ahead. Fireflies are said to be most active between 7pm and 9pm, so shutterbugs better be well-prepared for the prime time to take impressive pictures.
Opening hours: 7:30pm-9pm, through August 31
Address: Yiqing Valley, Wenzeng Rd
Cycling along Island Ring Road
Encircling the island of Xiamen for about 30 kilometers, the Island Ring Road follows the island’s spectacular coastline, connecting some of its best white sand beaches. Cycling is a popular way to go along this road, a part of the race course for the annual international marathon. Rental stalls of tandem bikes for two or three people are conveniently scattered around the major attractions en route, such as the beaches of Cengcuo’an and Baicheng, and Huli Mountain Ancient Fortress. Parents can easily have their children in tow, and stop from time to time to check the destinations that interest them. The low-carbon way of touring is not only a great chance to raise children’s awareness to protect the environment, but also quite enjoyable with enough sunshine, fresh air and soothing summer breezes. Remember to apply enough sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses during the hottest season.
Check out the Guai Po, or Strange Slope, a part of Wenzeng Road en route Dongping Hill, if time permits. Thanks to a visual illusion, the 50m slope seems to be magical, as bikers must pedal hard when going downhill but glide effortlessly uphill. It is a great place to give your kids a vivid physics lesson about object of reference.
Tips: A bike normally rents for 15 yuan (US$2.4) per hour; tandems are 30 yuan per hour. The price varies in different rental stalls and you can bargain with the vendors.
A stroll along the railways
For nearly six decades, Yingxia Railway was the only train that ran through the north of Fujian Province to the south, connecting Yingtan in Jiangxi Province with Xiamen. It opened up the gate to inland China and boosted trade and military defense. Today, as the high-speed bullet trains come into service, the deserted final 5-kilometer stretch to the terminal station of Xiamen was renovated into a walking path that connects with nearby residential communities and parks. The renovated railway, or Railway Culture Park, starts from the old Xiamen Station behind Jinbang Park, and ends close to Peace Harbor. The whole railway is divided into four sections, each with its own personality. The section that starts at the old station still keeps the old trains, with their sleepers and green-painted compartments, intact. The history and old glory of this railway is recorded by relief sculptures and posters inside Hongshan Tunnel. Train lovers, especially little boys, will surely indulge in the ambience. Early summer is the best season to stroll along the path when the bright orchid Bougainvillea spectabilis Willd, the city’s official flower, blooms in the air. You can randomly pick a spot to start following the walk for a short distance or finish the whole path, which takes about two hours on foot. It is also an ideal jogging route where you can find many companions after dinner.
Frolic on the beach
Xiamen’s beaches may not be as crystalline and impressive as those of some renowned island getaways inside and outside the country. But given the cost and accessibility, they are quite economical, especially for families with children. After all, what matters most for children is sand and water to play in. Among all the beaches, Baicheng is the most frequently visited due to its prime location - right behind Xiamen University, and close to Huli Mountain Ancient Fortress. Heading east along the coastline brings you to the beach of Zengcuo’an, a booming fishing village where stylish guesthouses, inns and seafood restaurants cram together. Other beach destinations include Yefengzhai, famed for its beach barbecues, and Guanyinshan Sand Sculpture Park. Stop by on weekdays to avoid the crowds. Well-heeled travelers’ expectations of a secluded and quintessential island experience can be satisfied in Wuyuan Bay, where a cluster of yachts park alongside. Lessons of how to operate sailboats and yachts are available in the yacht club.
Tips: The beaches of Baicheng and Zengcuo’an are open 24 hours a day.
Guanyinshan Sand Sculpture Park
Opening hours: 9:30am-5:30pm
Admission: 40 yuan
Wuyuan Bay International Yacht Club
Explore Gulang Island
It may sound a bit clichŽ, but no trip to Xiamen is complete without visiting Gulang Island. A quick ferry boat ride from Xiamen, Gulang Island is where the traditional Amoy culture runs deep. Yet the stamp of history is slowly peeled back as hoteliers, restaurateurs and cafŽ owners continue to transform the scenic island into a chic destination appealing to all ages. A prevailing postcard trend among many young die-hard fans is to collect stamps from door to door, museum to museum, following the map like treasure hunters. Or you can let your instinct take the lead and wander around casually among the back alleys and byways. Take a bite of such local snacks as oyster omelet, fish ball soup, satay noodles and shaoxiancao (herbal jelly) along Longtou Road. Once a public concession, the island was inhabited by European diplomats, merchants and missionaries, who left behind a kaleidoscopic collection of architecture worth visiting. A number of museums and an underwater world offer items of interest to every child.
Xiamen University is arguably the most enchanting university in China, as the long queue of tourists lining up outside the gate every day during school vacations attests. Founded by Chinese Singaporean Tan Kah Kee, the campus boasts picturesque landscapes, elegantly designed teaching buildings and accommodations, and a majestically spacious athletic field. It offers a nice orientation for college freshmen or young children to experience a bit of the energetic campus life. Check out the renowned graffiti tunnel where the students’ imagination is unleashed and Valentine’s Valley, a romantic corner for young lovers on campus. Take BRT to the Jimei area, an academic region that is famous for its grand school architectures from elementary schools to universities. Collectively funded by Tan, the area explains how the wealthy from overseas focus on education.
Address: 422 Siming Rd S.
Opening hours: 12pm-2pm, after 5pm, Monday to Friday (ID required)
Jimei Education Village opens 24 hours, though the elementary and high schools do not open to outsiders.
Take BRT and get off at Jimei’s Jiageng Stadium Station, exchange to shuttle bus L22 to the terminal station.