Dennis Wright's Blog

Gulag Island

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 1, 2007

Our first port of call in the PRC proper was Xiamen, within shouting distance of Taiwan. Xiamen is very different from HK. Some impressive new buildings but most are older and the overall look is far shabbier.

As at most ports, we hadn’t booked ourselves on an organised shore excursion, preferring to explore for ourselves, armed with some ideas from the port lecture. The options seemed to be to go xiaoping in the main xiaoping street near where the shuttle bus dropped us off, or to take the ferry over to Gulangyu Island (or Gulag Island, or Goolagong Island or whatever we felt like calling it). We had already done a lot of xiaoping in Hong Kong and Gulag Island seemed the better bet as there seemed a fair bit to do and see there.

We wondered almost at once whether the DIY approach had been such a good idea after all. Port lecturer Abilio had told us there was a free ferry and a tourist ferry. We wanted to avoid anything too touristy so hoped to get on the free one, but instantly hit the language barrier. We’ve never been anywhere where we had not even the basics of a language in common with the locals. We went into a large building near the drop-off point which looked like the ferry terminal but wasn’t. The right place was 200 yards along the quayside. We eventually got onto a ferry but had to pay – we could not find where to get the free one. Not only that but we weren’t even sure if we were headed to the right destination as the boat went off right around the island, not directly across to the island ferry port. Just to add to the confusion, nearly everyone else on the boat was a very excited Chinese person, armed with a camera, rushing from one side of the boat to the other and gabbling with glee, like an army of schoolkids. The ferry supervisor kept shouting at them – heaven knows what he was saying.

We later found out most Chinese are restricted as to when they can take holidays, in particular to national holiday periods and there was one coming up. This particular island is their “pleasure island”, a holiday resort with a sightseeing golf buggy service, marine world, beaches, cable car and theme park honouring the local Chinese hero Koxinga (Zheng Chengdong or something like that) who retook Taiwan from the evil colonial Dutch and fought off the Manchurian invaders in the 1600s.

Our ferry went all the way around the island before coming into port, for the benefit of the happy, snappy sightseers. It was indeed the tourist ferry, the tourists being for the most part the Chinese themselves.

There are some surviving colonial buildings.

Backstreet near the ferry port.

Buggy rides go all around the island.

Once in the theme park you can ascend to Sunlight Rock, the highest point of the island. The 360 degree panoramic view is excellent, but the vantage platform is small and crowded with overexcited jabbering Chinese holidaymakers, as evidenced by the video below which also includes footage of the cable car ride between the two main areas of the park.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

At the other end of the cable car ride is an extensive aviary.

 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

View of Xiamen from Gulangyu Island.

 

 

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