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Getting There

Xiamen's Gaoqi International Airport (tel. 0592/602-8940) is on the north side of the island only 20 minutes from the downtown area. Airport taxis cost little more than ¥30 to downtown, and there's a shuttle to the railway station from the right of the terminal as you leave that charges ¥6. Marco Polo and the other big hotels have free shuttles for guests. There are international connections to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Osaka, Singapore, and Tokyo, with an assortment of domestic and foreign airlines including JAL, Philippine, ANA, and Dragonair; and regular flights to all major Chinese cities, including Beijing (five or six flights daily), Guangzhou (five or six daily), and Shanghai (nine flights daily). While most airlines maintain offices in the Crowne Plaza or Marco Polo hotels, or in the Yinhang Zhongxin at the corner of Hubin Xi Lu and Xiahe Lu, you are better off purchasing your tickets from independent agencies, preferably away from your hotel. Xiamen Airlines (tel. 0592/222-6666; www.xiamenair.com.cn) has a 24-hour ticketing and check-in desk for its own passengers and those of China Southern in the Jinyan Jiudian. It also sells tickets for other airlines with reasonable discounts. Its shuttle service is free for guests and for Xiamen/China Southern passengers; there are eight departures from 5:20am to 7:20pm. Reserve a seat on the shuttle in advance at tel. 0592/221-8888, ext. 34 or 6110.

At the airport, an ATM that accepts foreign cards is upstairs at international departures, as is a Bank of China forex counter open from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Just outside the airport is a bus station, and no. 27 goes all the way to Gulang Yu Ferry for ¥1, which is a good alternative to a ¥50 taxi.

On routes to neighboring coastal cities and to Hong Kong, luxury long-distance bus services are quickest, but there are useful train connections from Wuyi Shan, Shanghai (1,395km/872 miles), and Guangzhou (746km/389 miles). There is also a useful sleeper service to Wuyi Shan. The mostly single-track route through mountainous Fujian Province is pretty and winding, passing sugar-cane and banana plantations. There are also direct services from Beijing, Nanjing, and Xi'an. For train inquiries, call tel. 0592/581-4340; for bookings, tel. 0592/398-8662, up to 12 days in advance. The railway station is a 10-minute cab ride east of the ferry dock, which can also be reached on bus no. 1. Ticket windows are open from 8am to 8:30pm, with tickets available up to 5 days in advance including day of travel. As you face the railway station, booking and left luggage are to the right of the entrance (6am-10:20pm). The Nanfang Luxingshe inside the Heping Wharf has computer access to the railway system, and charges a ¥10 service fee per ticket. Bus no. 17 goes from the railway station to Pearl Harbor near Xiamen University for ¥2.

Southern China's new highway system is now cruised by air-conditioned buses with frequent services, many of them luxury foreign makes with attendants and lavatories. For all coastal destinations north in Fujian and into Zhejiang, as well as south into neighboring Guangdong Province, these buses are far quicker than trains.

You can board most bus lines at the Songbai Changtu Qichezhan, Lian Yue Lu (tel. 0592/508-9328). Services include Wenzhou, Wuyi Shan, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Quanzhou (more than 50 departures; ¥35) from 6:20am to 9:10pm.

From Songbai there is there is a free shuttle bus service (no. 816) to the other long-distance bus station (tel. 0592/221-5238), officially described as the Xiamen Travel Distribution Centre, is on Hubin Nan Lu 59, just north of downtown. It sells tickets from 5:30 to 10pm. Buses depart for Longyan every 30 minutes and cost ¥72. However, many of the best services also have agencies located conveniently opposite the main ferry terminal to Gulang Yu. Try Lundu Shoupiao Chu (tel. 0592/213-5051), next to the Spring Sunlight Hotel, where several services pick up passengers and which has a small waiting room. Sample bus routes: Guangzhou (770km/481 miles), Shenzhen (680km/425 miles). There's even a direct bus route to Hong Kong (830km/519 miles).

Although Xiamen has recently opened an enormous new passenger cruise terminal (Dong Du Gang Guo Jie Ma Tou; tel. 0592/202-2517) for international cruise ships, all the coastal ferry routes are now long gone. It is no longer possible to go to Hong Kong or Shanghai by overnight ship as it was just a few years ago. The real irony is despite the vast new terminal, no cruise ships are coming and the only ferry available is to Jinmen Island (¥180; 1 hr., 10 per day 8am-6pm) where you can jump on a plane to Taipei, Taizhong, or Tainan in Taiwan.

A Good Seat -- Although not double-deckers, many of the coaches in this part of the country are split-level with the driver sitting below and the passengers all in luxury seats on a slightly higher level. It pays to know that the three final seat nos. 36, 37, and 38 are actually at the front rather than the rear. This means that these front seats with great panoramic windows are the very last to fill up. If you don't luck out by getting those seats but the coach is not full, feel free to head up front and spread out.

Getting Around

Both the old town and Gulang Yu are easily explored on foot, and the other main sights are short taxi rides away although taxis in Xiamen are rather more old and battered than other cities. Flagfall for taxis is ¥8 including 3km (2 miles), then ¥2 per kilometer up to 8km (5 miles), then ¥3 per kilometer. Add 20% from 11pm to 5am. Buses are frequent and reliable, with fare boxes into which you deposit ¥2 for air-conditioned service, ¥1 without. A few non-air-conditioned buses have conductors. There are several ferry routes between the Ferry Dock (Lundu Matou) and Gulang Yu. The 5-minute main route is free outbound, but ¥8 to return. There's an optional ¥1 charge to sit on the top deck in either direction. Ferries run roughly every 10 to 15 minutes from 5:45am, every 20 to 30 minutes after 9pm; the last sailing is at 12:30am. To the right of the ferry boarding point are windows for a daytime cruise around Gulang Yu and to see Taiwanese Jinmen Dao. The 35-minute cruise departs roughly every 30 minutes from 7:40am to 5pm; call tel. 0592/202-3493. The next windows offer a night cruise (tel. 0592/210-4896; 1 hr., 50 min.; ¥138 including snacks). There are also night trips to see the Haicang Da Qiao, a large, illuminated suspension bridge just to the north; the 40-minute trip is offered May through October from 8 to 8:45pm for ¥10 to ¥20. At the end farthest to the right is a second ferry service to Gulang Yu, running to San Qiu Tian, a little east of Gulang Yu's main dock, beneath the former U.S. consulate. Ferries depart every 30 minutes from 7:15am to 9:40pm; throughout the night, they depart roughly every hour.

On any given summer weekend, Xiamen expats head to the ferry terminal, following a quick trip to the supermarket to buy supplies of wine, beer, meat, and salads. With overflowing shopping bags, they pile onto a small wooden boat, crank up the engine, and head deeper into the archipelago. These boats are usually owned by local fishing couples who make extra money on the weekends taking hedonistic sun-lovers out to sea. For ¥400, 15 to 20 people can spend the day sun baking on deck while exploring smaller islands near Xiamen. The driver knows the best places to throw in the anchor. Dive into the ocean, fill up your glass, and soak up the sun. Most boats have a small barbecue, but if it seems like too much trouble, let the driver know and he'll find a restaurant to moor at. Needless to say, Sunday evenings back in Xiamen are often lit by happy sunburned faces. Official tour boats also cruise the harbor, taking tourists close to the Taiwan island of Jinmen. These bigger, fancier boats cost around ¥100 per person for a 2- to 3-hour cruise.

A tourist bus now stops at the major tourist sites and charges ¥58 a day and includes lunch (tel. 0592/335-2833 or 0592/333-2702). The commentary is in Chinese, so take a good guidebook or carry an illustrated map with photos so you will know what you are seeing.

Lobbyists from King Long Bus and the Chinese auto industry scuttled plans for a metro in Xiamen, and the city has had to make do with a low budget, elevated Bus Rapid Transit instead. The system currently has 3 operational lines: BRT 1 is the most useful, departing from N0.1 Port to New Xiamen Railway Station, while BRT 2 takes passengers from Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport to Xike. The basic fare is ¥.3 per kilometer without air-conditioning and ¥.60 in air-conditioning.

Hog fans may notice a large numbers of Chinese 750 military-style motorcycles with sidecars, very similar to the prewar BMW R71. As yet, there is nowhere to rent one of these monsters, but background details can be seen at the manufacturer's website, www.chang-jiang.com/lsc.

Visitor Information

For travel complaints, call tel. 0592/505-6777. A local agent that seems to have good information on a variety of locations is Apple Travel, 18-20 Guanren Rd. (behind the Marco Polo Hotel; tel. 0592/505-3122; susan@appletravel.cn). For more details about new developments in the area, check the What's on Xiamen website at www.whatsonxiamen.com. There is also a book called Amoy Magic that cannot be recommended due to the inane humor, amateurish style, and constant party brown-nosing of the author. Even so, it covers a lot more locations than most Western guidebooks, but you may end up chucking it out of a train window in disgust after reading some of the writer's ridiculous comments. Xiamen Travel Service stated it had 10 English-speaking guides. It's at Lianhua Nan Lu 5 (tel. 0592/512-8855; xm_travel@xiamenair.com.cn); ask for Chen Yu Cheng, Vice G. Manager, Foreign Liaison Center.

Fast Facts

Banks, Foreign Exchange & ATMs -- All Bank of China ATMs take foreign cards, from the airport, via Gulang Yu (at Haitan Lu 2), to the convenient 10 Zhongshan Lu branch (8:30am-noon and 2:30-5:30pm) close to the Gulang Yu ferry dock in the center of town, which also has forex at counters 2 to 6. There's another Bank of China with forex and ATM in the Yinhang Zhongxin on the corner of Hubin Xi Lu and Xiahe Lu. Just next door is a branch of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC), whose ATMs take almost any card invented.

Internet Access -- Internet cafes are located all over the old town and around the university. Unfortunately, despite the city's vocal hype about the importance of education, the library facilities on Gong Yuan Nan Lu have been cut back extensively. Two floors have been closed completely and the Internet area has now been replaced with a souvenir shop.

Post Office -- The main post office (7:30am-7:30pm) is in Zhongshan Lu opposite the Bank of China. There's also a useful branch in Longtou Lu on Gulang Yu.

Visa Extensions -- The PSB (Gong'anju; Mon-Sat 8-11:45am and 2:30-5:45pm) now has a huge new building on 64 Zhenhai Lu (tel. 0592/226-2203). Despite the glitzy appearance the second floor counter is still overly bureaucratic, demanding proof of funds of US$100 per day for a 30 day extension. Fees are currently ¥160 for most nationalities but a whopping ¥940 for Americans. When asked why, the officer told us, "It's their own fault!"

Consulates -- Consulates for the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand are in Xiamen. The Thai consulate is on the third floor of the City Hotel (tel. 0592/202-7980) and is open Monday to Friday 9am to 11:30am (application), 3:30pm to 4:30pm (collection)

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.