Now you would wonder who these people are and where they all come from? Well, firstly, they aren’t foreigners. They are local Chinese tourists from other regions in China. Secondly, in this trip to Xiamen, I realised that China is seriously an economic power to reckon with. They do not need foreigners to augment their tourism sector. They are self-sufficient because millions of Chinese are out there travelling locally.
Zhongshan Lu is the oldest commercial street in Xiamen dating back to 1925. It is a kilometre long walking street filled with pretty retail shops, big department stores, lots of cute cafes and contemporary and traditional cuisine restaurants, food courts and more retail shops. It is closed to any vehicular traffic and smoking is not allowed on the streets.
Trivia: Did you know that Xiamen was awarded in the past as the most livable city in China?
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TOURISTY & COMMERCIALISED BUT A MUST VISIT
Visiting this street is a must for Xiamen first time visitors. Some may find this street too touristy, highly commercialised, loud and nothing special at all, whilst another will probably think it is great and lively, and a good representation where the now capitalist China is heading for.
Western and traditional shops collide here at Zhongshan; yes, there is a KFC and McDonalds and the interior design of many tea shops, such as the elegant Miss Zhao will make you think you are in one of the exclusive stores in Europe. There are tea stores here selling the traditional loose leaf tea and others that are trendy, a combination of a tea shop and a cafe promoting milk tea and pearl milk tea. Zhang Sanfeng Milk Tea Shop is one of the popular ones.
There is a wide array of local food delights as well which are perfect to bring home as souvenirs and gifts, such as dried food products (crab, squid, fish, pork floss), nuts, durian, pineapple and mango candies, mooncakes of different flavours, roast duck and more. Many promotional ladies stand outside the shops as well and beg passersby to taste a sample of their product. I managed to taste some of the dried seafood and mooncakes and ended up buying a few packs as homecoming gifts for my family.
There is also a very interesting street food scene here. The Fujian-style snacks which has a focus on seafood and right up my alley as I love anything coming from the sea. I will be writing a separate post about this very soon.
Except for food, I am not a big retail shopper but there is plenty of department stores here for people looking for clothes, shoes and other dry personal and home goods. And oh, for the ladies, many jewellery shops here would chain you a necklace made of pearls harvested from a live oyster right before your eyes. While you wait.
An interesting ad about serving your elders.
This is the Zhongshan Lu stretch according to Google Maps. It is very near to the harbour. Zoom out to see where the pedestrian street is on the bigger map of Xiamen.
This is the whole stretch, from end to end. Siming Road slices through the pedestrian street. My hotel is just a stone's throw away at Ding'an Road, parallel to Zhongshan.
COLONIAL BUILDINGS OF THE PAST
But what makes Zhongshan Lu stand out for me are the beautiful row of buildings in the architectural fusion of European style (a mix of Victorian and Venetian styles) and traditional Chinese. These are colonial buildings built by merchants engaged in trading with Europe in the past. They were well travelled and when they came back, enriched with a lot of artistic inspiration, they built these buildings in Zhongshan.
Back in those days, the merchants conduct their business on the ground floor of the building while they live on the upper floor. This is very normal and is still, in fact, happening today in many places in China and around the world, however, not in larger cities, though, but in towns and villages. Xiamen, however, is now a very highly developed city, thus the era of doing business downstairs and living upstairs, in particular here at Zhongshan Lu, is all but a past now.
Most of the colonial buildings on Zhongshan Street are restored to their former glory and they look stunning, especially with the LED lights in the evening.
These buildings look Venetian inspired to me.
BEST TIME OF THE DAY TO VISIT
It is busy all day here but the peak hours are when the sun sets down. When this happens, the street turns into a buzzing mecca of energy. The buildings come alive with their loud neon LED lights and the place is just thriving with so many people from all walks of life. It is, therefore, best to come in the evening to experience Zhongshan at its finest.
Zhongshan somewhat reminds me of Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, although more packed than Zhongshan, it does give you an idea that it is the melting pot street of the tourism industry in the city. Everyone comes here, and so did I! Well, my hotel is located parallel to Zhongshan so I pass by here every day during my entire stay in Xiamen.
The street is open until midnight, although some shops close at around 22:00 hours.
If I have to summarise Zhongshan Lu, I would say it is a place to shop for souvenirs, eat local Fujian snacks, drink (pearl/milk) tea, enjoy the busy vibe of the street and appreciate the beautiful colonial architecture. Definitely not for everyday consumption but it’s an experience to visit this place.
My hotel is very near to this gate on Ding'an Road.
HOW TO GET HERE
- There are many hotels here so it could be that your hotel is nearby and Zhongshan is just walking distance.
- Zhongshan Lu is very near the harbour, just across the ferry terminal to Gulangyu Island.
- Xiamen has no MRT, so taking a taxi is the most comfortable option. They are cheap, they start at ¥10 (€1,36) for the first 3 kilometres. You’d probably pay between ¥13-18 (€1,77-2,45) for a ride within the city centre area. I have been taking taxis on my first day until a local advised me to take the bus.
- The buses are very economical and the best way to blend with the crowd and experience Xiamen daily life. They are going at a ¥1 flat rate (€0,13 !!!) to anywhere in Siming district. They are new, clean, reliable and they go regularly. Many buses pass by here at Zhongshan Lu. There is a BRT (Bus Rail Transit) as well but I did not use this.
- TIP: It is very rare to meet a local who can speak English here in Xiamen. So I carried a map with me that I got from the hotel. Every time I want to go somewhere, I just ask people randomly which bus to take whilst pointing to the specific location on the map. All locals I have encountered were very helpful even if they do not speak a word of English. And all buses are numbered so it is very easy to follow.
ZHONGSHAN LU PEDESTRIAN STREET PICTURE GALLERY
Zhongshan is strictly pedestrian zone. Smoking is also not allowed here.
Fujian cuisine at a food court in Zhongshan Pedestrian Street. The food here has its own distinct flavour.
A traditional tea shop selling loose leaf tea and promotional ladies offering sample tea drinks.
Many pearl jewellery stores here are selling fresh oysters for pearl stranding. You can have your pearl necklace while you wait.
This is the elegant Miss Zhao tea and delicacy shop.
You can find many dainty looking stores selling pineapple, durian and mango candies.
The traditional looking red pagoda building is a restaurant. I ate here on my last evening and it was my best meal. Will blog about it separately.
Locals tend to just randomly sit outside for a cup of tea. Yup, the Chinese really drink tea in super tiny cups!
Food souvenir shops selling local Fujian delicacies such as dried squid and fish, in many flavours imaginable. I bought the sweet and spicy flavour.
Lots of street food action here on Zhongshan Pedestrian Street. I will be writing a post soon about all the street food I have encountered in Xiamen.
Zhang Sanfeng Milk Tea Shop is one of the popular modern tea shops here.
A young child was very much entertained by this dancing and talking mini robot at one of the department stores in Zhongshan.
Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Siming District, 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.