I went to Xiamen, China last December using the 72-hour visa-free transit stay arrangement which is being offered to citizens from a list of qualified countries visiting some of the major cities in China. A few cities even have 144-hour visa-free stays such as Shanghai and Guangdong.
The reason why I chose Xiamen was because, in my earlier research, I found out that there was a direct flight to Cebu from Xiamen via Xiamen Air. My family lives in Cebu and I am visiting them in this trip. In the end, I have chosen to fly with PAL via Manila because the schedule allowed me a 3 full day stay in the city. I could have picked another Chinese city instead but I have already spent so much time on my Xiamen planning that changing it last minute will just cause havoc with my plans and my sanity.
At the Xiamen Airport, I was accompanied by an airport personnel to the special immigration counter for the 72-hour free-visa transit stay. Here I filled-in the form with my information and the hotel where I will be staying. So technically, immigration police know about my whereabouts in the city. You can read my earlier post about this here: Entering Xiamen, China with the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit
Now I am thrilled about the hotel I am staying at in Xiamen because it is not really a hotel, but a 100-year old traditional Chinese mansion. The whole house was a piece of long gone China. It was as if I tread back in time, in the setting of the Chinese Kung Fu master movies I often watched as a kid on Sundays on TV.
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XIAMEN LANQIN GUOCO MANSION
(No website, check them out at Booking dot com)
I cannot, however, verify if this traditional Chinese mansion is authentic, but the owners claim it is and you can as well see that it really is very old. The stain on the wood and the very unique Chinese ancient designs on the house that we only see in museums speaks for itself. The mansion has an old soul. Even the bronze lock of my room was very cryptic. Maybe Robert Langdon can decipher it, haha. They had to explain to me how the system worked.
Oh, I wish I knew about the history behind this place but everything here is in Mandarin Chinese and nobody speaks English.
This is the facade of the mansion. It is located in a very small discreet alley. Not many taxi drivers know this place. Mine was very courteous enough to call the mansion and the staff went out to meet us on the main street.
I saw 2 pre-wedding pictorials held at the mansion. Red is a very important colour in Chinese culture. More photos of the mansion in the Photo Gallery at the end of this post.
The mansion also seems like a local attraction because in my 1-night stay here (should have been 3 nights) I have seen 2 wedding pictorials, both on separate occasions. The lady bride on the second pictorial was very helpful in informing me about the bus situation in Xiamen. When I asked the woman from the reception on how to go to the Nanputuo Temple (where I had a tea session as well at the Tushita), everyone pointed me to her because she was the only person who can speak English. She insisted that I should go around Xiamen with the bus because it is easy, it goes everywhere and it's cheap, just 1 CNY anywhere in the city. That was a great tip from a local =)
My room at this mansion was a wing on its own that opens to an indoor courtyard, one of the 2 public courtyards in the house. The door is an old chiselled wooden Chinese folding door with ornate designs and which are somewhat sturdier versions of a wall screen. My bed is a wooden four-poster bed with silken drapery around it and a carved design on the bed ceiling. It was very comfortable. In my room, I have a table and 2 chairs, both also traditional Chinese furniture. My toilet and bathroom, though, was modern, the only thing that reminds me that I am in the 21st century.
Seriously, when you step inside this 100-year old mansion, you will really stop what you’re doing and stare around in awe. Now you understand the reason why I booked this place =).
You will find more pictures of the mansion at the end of this post.
CHINESE STATE POLICE INTERVENTION
The hiccup came on the second day, in the evening when I came back to the mansion. I was out the whole day in Gulangyu Island and was so tired from all the walking I did that I could not wait to throw myself into bed and doze off. However, when I arrived and stepped inside the mansion, I saw a number of people sitting in the café-breakfast area and the woman who manned the reception quickly jumped to her feet when she saw me. She came to me and asked me if I want to have tea and if I can take a seat. I told her I am tired and just wanted the key to my room. Because of the special ancient technology of the lock, guests do not have a key, the mansion keeps it and they open the room for you. She insisted that I get my tea and that I should sit down.
Right there and then, I knew something was wrong. Her face was a bit flushed, as she spoke to me in rapid-fire Chinese whilst fumbling awkwardly her telephone because the voice translation app was not working. Nobody speaks a word of English here at Xiamen Lanqin Guoco Mansion. Not a single staff. They communicated with me through a mobile app that translates Chinese to English and vice versa. Translations are both done in voice or text message.
I knew she was about to tell me some bad news, and the first thing that came to my mind was that my room was broken into and my luggage, stolen. Seriously, that was the worst case scenario I could think of. But then I heard her mentioned police.
HUH, POLICE? What do you mean police????
At this point, I have already so many wild scenarios dancing in my head that you do not want to even know about! LOL
One of the issues here is that the translation app did not really give a very accurate translation of what she wanted to say. In a serious case like this, it is imperative to correctly translate. But we all know how computer-generated translations are. They can be funny.
What I have however understood in the translation script was that State Police called and that I have to leave the mansion and look for another hotel.
The only picture I have of myself here at the mansion.
Oops, this is on the other side of the immigration card. Saw this only when I was about to go through immigration for my flight out of Xiamen, China.
Now I am a seasoned traveller but this is the first time for me to be kicked out of my room because police ordered so. Of course, I need some proper explanation. My survival skills automatically came into action. I am not the type who is easily intimidated in a situation like this, so I stood ground and said I need to know why I am being thrown out. More importantly, I told them, in a polite and professional manner, that they cannot just throw me out in the middle of the night. I am a woman and it’s past 22:00 and I have no idea where the nearest hotel is.
The woman from the reception could not stop nodding, she understood what I said but somehow she was at a loss. Then I heard the other people in the room whispering to each other. I believe they were the owners of the mansion. One of the guys motioned the woman from the reception to inform me that he will call the police so that they, the police, can explain everything to me directly, and in English. After a few minutes, he finally got someone on the line. They passed on the phone to me and on the line was indeed the State Police, a woman, who luckily speaks very good English.
The female police officer explained to me that that the mansion I am staying does not have the required papers to accept foreigners. Because of this rule, I have to leave the premises and stay in another hotel that is approved (well, has the permit) by the Chinese government. I told her that I did not know about this rule and that I expect some form of assistance, one way or another. Explaining further that I am a woman and it’s almost midnight. How can they expect me to find a hotel at this hour? Where? I am willing to evacuate this place but I need help!
I guess that resonated well with the female police officer. She was actually very polite and professional on the phone and informed me that the staff at Lanqin Guoco Mansion will help me find another hotel. In addition, they will give me a full refund.
After hanging up, as if someone somewhere in the background is orchestrating the chain of events, 2 local police officers arrived. They didn’t behave macho at all. I was told that they will help escort me to my new hotel. At the back of my mind, I was thinking – Am I that dangerous? Haha! Well, well, I can’t wait to tell everyone what happened here. What a drama! But yeah, I was cool all the time.
The police then took pictures of my passport and my onward travel ticket to the Philippines. The mansion refunded me back my money in full and they managed to find an approved hotel for me which is located just around the corner. Perfect! They did ask me about my budget but I told them I would prefer somewhere in the area nearby. Thus, 2 Lanqin Guoco Mansion staff and the 2 police officers then escorted me to my new hotel. I had an entourage with me and I didn’t even have to lift a finger to carry my suitcases. Quite a VIP, huh.
Oh, by the way, I behaved and did not take pictures of the state police =)
Xiamen Lanqin Guoco Mansion has also added a clause in their Booking profile now that they only accept mainland Chinese citizens. No foreigners! Booking dot com even contacted me about this thinking I was a no show so I explained the whole drama.
7 DAYS INN
At the new hotel called 7 Days Inn, the police officer did the checking-in for me. And because I came in mid-week, I was able to take advantage of their lower rate. After having successfully checked-in to my new hotel, the mansion staff and police officers said their goodbyes. The woman from the reception of the mansion kept apologising, though. She had teary puppy eyes; she was sincerely sorry for me.
My new room is not bad at all. Huge bed.
I know I have been inconvenienced but the way the Lanqin Guoco Mansion staff and the police behaved really made a world of difference. They treated me well. They tried to explain to me, well through the app translator that they were sorry and they didn’t mean this to happen. They were just following and executing the rules of the land. I have to commend them for handling such a sensitive matter graciously and generously. Although the hotel should have stopped accepting foreign guests but I guess they have been accepting and I was the first case?
Interestingly, at this new hotel, there is a police officer stationed at the lobby.
My new room at the 7 Days Inn is quite basic and modern. This is good enough to cover me for 2 more nights. I am not complaining. In fact, I ended up having more money because my first night’s stay at the Chinese mansion was reimbursed and my 2 night’s stay at this new hotel is cheaper. I told my family in Cebu that I may need to buy some more stuff (pasalubongs) here for them because now I have a lot of extra CNY! I guess that is one of the positive things that came out of this.
But still, I was glad and felt really privileged for having stayed, at least for 1 night, at the 100-year old traditional Chinese mansion.
The entrance to the hotel is quite entertaining. haha. The hotel shares the entrance together with I think a restaurant. It looked like an exclusive restaurant, though, what with subdued lighting.
At least at this new hotel they have a full-length mirror, haha.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHINA TRAVEL ACCOMMODATION
After this fiasco, I have learned a few things about travel to China.
- Make sure you stay at hotels that are approved by the government. They managed to find out where I stayed because I declared this in the form of my 72-hour visa-free stay. Mind you, they do check!
- Upon arrival in China, the hotel bears the responsibility of reporting your information to the State Police. This is a standard procedure they have in place, which is why they are only allowing approved hotels for foreigners. Approved hotels have access to the state police portal where they can upload information of alien/foreign guests.
- If staying with family and friends you have to report for alien registration to local police within 24 hours (72 hours in the rural areas).
- I have been doing a lot of reading post-event about accommodation in China and it looks like the accommodation infrastructure in many smaller cities, countryside towns and far-flung villages is not really advantageous for foreigners. This especially if you do not want to stay at flashy 5-star hotels. Many accommodations, in fact, will turn you down because they ‘do not accept foreigners’. Ergo, they do not have the permit.
- China is therefore not the best country for adventure travellers who prefer to hit the road and look for accommodations spontaneously along the way. It can be tricky and you might end up sleeping on the street. Many of the locals do not take chances of taking you in, afraid of being reprimanded by the authorities, although some probably would out of pity. Make sure you bring a tent with you just in case! Most visitors in China venturing outside the cities tend to have pre-arranged accommodations.
XIAMEN LANQIN GUOCU MANSION PICTURE GALLERY
Letting you peek into this 100-year old historical mansion...
The mansion is located on this hidden alley, Dazijiu Xiang which is not recorded on Google Maps. The main road from this alley is Ding'an Road parallel to the famous Zongshan Pedestrian Street.
Pagoda roof wing details of the mansion.
My room is a wing on the mansion itself and this is the detail on the ceiling of my four-poster bed covered in silken drapery. Really cool, huh.
Ancient lock technology? It is difficult to explain how to open and close this lock without showing how it is in real life. There seems to be a complex design of needles inside.
These are the carved details on each of the screen panel of my room's door. Quite impressive.
This is the view of my room from the outside which is a whole wing located on the second inner courtyard.
This is the second inner open-air courtyard at the mansion.
At the end of this third public central room are the stairs going up to the second floor (first floor for the Europeans).
This is the second central public room located back-to-back with the first central public room. It looks like a tea area. Loving the lounge sofa and that ancient hanging kettle.
The mansion was well cleaned and well maintained.
This is the first public room you will see when you step inside the (first) courtyard.
This is the first inner courtyard at the mansion. The reception is located here, on the left.
Old furnitures and a musical instrument. I think this is the Gujin, one of the very old instruments played in the ancient times.
This is the cafe and breakfast area of the mansion. This is also the first room you will see when you enter.
I am having a traditional Chinese breakfast of rice porridge with vegetables and salted egg and this airy chewy donut-churros like breadstick. Delicious!
Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Xiamen (Fujian), China
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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)
All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.