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Celebrating China’s Marine Tourism Year: Part Two

Published in the Summer 2013 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
By Michael Morcos

The numerous provinces along the eastern coast of China each have their own distinct spirits. I spent a few days in the north, enjoying port towns throughout Liaoning and Shandong. On the next leg of the journey, it was time to head south for a new experience in Chinese coastal culture and tradition. To learn about the complex Hakka culture, sample their cuisine and trek though the beautiful landscapes were all memorable aspects of the adventure.

A quick flight to the Fujian Province

Fujian is full to the brim with vibrant cultural wonders. Here is where travellers will see swaying parade dragons, massive coastal volcanoes and smiling, costumed women showing off their knowledge of ancient dance and presentation. All of this can be enjoyed in a mild, warm and sunny environment appreciated year-round by locals and guests alike.

The rich Hakka culture

Conservation of what was is the stronghold of the Hakka people. They migrated to southern provinces of China throughout the centuries to settle along the coast and thrive. Hakka people have their own distinct language, songs and cuisine, all of which is said to descend from royalty more than 2,000 years ago. Hakka are hard-working and dedicated, as shown in their diligence to live in extreme climates worldwide. These characteristics of the culture was seen throughout my trip in the southeast.

A memorable stay at the Marco Polo Xianmen hotel

With modern amenities and plenty of space to stretch out in, the Marco Polo Xianmen is the perfect spot for relaxation near the border of Yundangnei Lake. Guests have access to free wireless internet, a deluxe fitness center and even complimentary transport service to and from the airport. Dining was another indulgence, as there is a plush bar for sipping libation as well as a few restaurants with exotic menus. Try some Kobe beef at Shogun, or Cantonese dim sum at the Lotus Court.

Ferrying to Gulangyu Island 

Not only are the coasts along the mainland of Fujian beautiful, but they also act as a shipping off point to visit the neighboring islands. Gulangyu is a gem and very popular with residents, especially for its rolling sandy hills and ancient relics. It is a fairly large island, with more than 20,000 permanent residents, many of which run great attractions for guests such as cafes, shops and snack vendors selling fresh fruit and seafood. 

Experiencing a traditional performance 

This little known show packs a big punch and left a lasting impression on me as a guests in Fujian, Known as “Hai Tian Tang Gou”, or “The Sea, The Sky and The Mansion”. Along the similar tune of other regional shows, this also presented Hakka in a fascinating light, giving me a deeper appreciation for the people and their lifestyle.

Natural wonders at the Shuzhuang Garden

China in general is well known for its tranquil and inviting gardens, often perfectly manicured and welcoming guests with open arms. The Shuzhuang Garden is no exception and may be one of the most stunning in the region to visit. Walking by the blue and green pools of water, surrounded by majestic mountainous peaks, gave me a sense of calm well-received when on the road traveling. It was officially opened to the public in the 1950s and includes five themed areas reflecting various aspects of nature, like the ocean, seasons, and flowers.

Musical delights at the Piano Museum

Mesmerizing music drifts through the air at Xianmen’s Piano Museum, which is a great example of some of the region’s rich and melodious history. But it is not just Chinese piano exhibit- this is the largest museum of its kind on the world, offering examples from place such as France, Germany and the U.S. It is located inside the Shuzhuang Garden and can be a thought-provoking break from strolling the grounds.

Quick break at the Naya Café

My pick for a good meal on Gulangyu Island was the Naya Café. Doubling as a pleasant place to stay near the ferry, this establishment also has a garden where anyone can sip a cappuccino and enjoy the views. Many of the clientele are Japanese, so travellers will see things like Japanese curry and rice on the menu as well alongside Western comforts like egg and tomato breakfast sandwiches.

Fun times with the Wuyuanwan Wetland Park

If traveling with little ones, this amusement area can offer a great alternative to historical sightseeing for an afternoon. There are no waterslides here, but rather the opportunity to have an up close and personal look at the grassy eco-system full of interesting animals, such as the black swan. Some guests go fishing here for recreation. I walked on the wooden bridges over the marshland to see swaying grass and birds peeking through the vegetation.

Tradition through the Xianmen Museum

Many museums in Xianmen have collected artifacts form around the world, but this is the place to go for hyper-local history. Inside there are carefully selected exhibits to help present the nature of past behaviors and habits of the local people. Intricate craft items and mysterious relics tell a wordless story about how these individuals made their livelihoods and thrived.

Luxury at the Riyuegu Hot Spring Resort

Although I loved seeing all the gardens, wildlife and museums of Xianmen, I could not wait to check into the Riyuegu Hot Spring Resort and see personally why it was such a popular destination. What more could a travellers want besides their own private hot spring bath in ever guest room? There are also larger communal pools throughout the property and plenty of places to be pampered. Spa treatments are top quality and incorporate the natural hot spring resource. Dining is an elegant affair at all of the cafes, bars and restaurant at the resort. Their signature dish is a hearty soup made with both fish and lamb.

Seeing a Hakka dwelling

The Fujian province has a spectacular honor of protecting a UNESCO World Heritage Site, called the Tulou property. Comprised of more than 45 separate buildings, this is a well-preserved traditional Hakka dwelling, dating back to the 15th century. Over the years the homes and structures were enhanced and expanded. Each dwelling hold several compartments, many in a round circular pattern, which housed many families at once under wooden slats for roofs and distinctive designs. It is awe-inspiring to see in person for its sheer size and complexity.

Journeying to the Hainan Province

Last stop on this Chinese excursion was a trip to the Hainan province, home of beautiful scenery and plenty of luxury accommodations for travelers and guests. Scuba divers and ocean enthusiasts flock to this island region year-round just to check out the marine life and underwater delights. It’s almost always tropical and among one of the favorite locations for a getaway from the cities.

A relaxing time at the Tianyou Grand Hotel

Fun and leisure are the two main draws to this fine establishment located 30 minutes form the city center. Complete with hot spring pools and even a bowling alley, guests find ways to entertain themselves around every corner. Two world-class golf course are only step away, as well as a sandy beach ideal for sunning and swimming. Many Chinese business professionals choose this hotel during their stay, so it is well-equipped with amenities such as internet, on-site dining, a sauna and spacious guest rooms.

Departing for Xinbu Island

It is simple to spend the whole time in Hainan on the main island, but venturing to some of the smaller enclaves can be a thrill. Xinbu Island is on the border of the Nadu River and is a large fishing port. Though the coast is sometimes used commercially, there is also a yachting area that is preferred among guests to dock and head onto the island. If not into sailing, visitors can drive to Xinbu on a main road that connects it easily. A fairly new Howard Johnson Hotel has opened on the island too, with tasty dining options and a location close to the water.

Awed by the Huoshankou (Volcano) National Geopark

This may be the greatest spot where the real tropical China can be explored. Cascading falls splash over rocky walls into awaiting pools that waders love to cool off in. This volcano is far from being active and now is only a giant crater covered in ferns and jackfruit plants. But this only enhances the ambiance that encompasses the idea of a rainforest and humid atmosphere. Most of the Hainan area is very sunny, so a trip to the geopark can be a nice change, as the mountains often create a cool shade. It does costs a small fee to enter for the day and can be reached by short taxi ride from town.

Experiencing the differences of north and south China was a journey in itself, one I was honored to take. China’s diversity and welcoming, fun chaos always surprises me, and I hope to return in the near future to delight in its culture again.