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Gulangyu (鼓浪屿) is an island in Xiamen, a few minutes by ferry from downtown. It has a population around 17,000 and an area of about 2 km² (500 acres). It was a foreign enclave from the 1840s until the 1930s, and is now both a residential suburb and a major tourist area. In 2017 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Cars, motorcycles and bicycles are banned, making the island both quieter and safer than almost anywhere else in China. The whole island is basically pedestrians-only, though golfcart-type electric vehicles serve as a sort of bus on a circular route around the island near the coast. The only vehicles powered by internal combustion are a few firetrucks. Everything from fruit to bricks to furniture gets moved about by handcart; you often see shirtless Chinese men hauling enormous loads of supplies up and down steep hills.
The island is extremely popular with Chinese tourists, who arrive in droves, often in large tour groups. You can spot the guides because they hold up brightly coloured flags for their flock to follow. Although the island is quite scenic, the noisy crowds can be quite annoying at times. Gulangyu is probably best avoided during major Chinese holidays and may be more pleasant during the week than on a weekend.
Some readers may know the place from Neal Stephenson's novel ReamDe ; much of the story takes place in Xiamen and one character, the female British spy, has an apartment on Gulangyu. Those who do not know the novel might consider picking up a copy for on-the-road reading when heading for Xiamen.


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