China, Hiking

The Unknown Fujian: a 4 day trip to Dayushan Island, Xiapu and Taimu Mountain

In 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t able to travel outside of China on official holidays, like I usually do. Instead, I decided to explore a region in China that I barely knew – Fujian province. As I’ve visited Xiamen a few times already, and because I wanted to avoid the crowds, this time I chose to visit some lesser-known places and to do Fujian off the beaten track.

In this article, I’m sharing my 4-day itinerary.

  • Destination: Fujiang Province in China
  • Trip Highlights: Taimu Mountain, Fuding City, Dayushan island, Xiapu village, Niulanggang Ocean Scenic Spot, tons of yummy seafood …
  • Time needed: 4 days/3 nights
  • Estimated budget: 3000 RMB

About Fujian province

Fujian province is a Chinese province, bordering the southeastern coast of China. It is best known for its mountains and coastal cities. Its capital and largest city is Fuzhou, a strategic city in Chinese history and maritime trade. But the most popular and best city to visit, in my opinion, is the coastal city of Xiamen. I’ve been to Xiamen a few times already, and I have to say that it’s one of my favorite cities in China. The city is nice, very clean, has beautiful weather, a relaxed vibe, and delicious seafood!

For this trip, however, I decided to visit other places that are more unpopular. I was not disappointed but, if you are a tourist in China and you have limited time to spend in the country, none of the spots I’m describing in this article is worth your time. These are all local tourist sites with little national fame. 

Still, this was a short and sweet summer trip to the seaside combining beautiful ocean views, sand beaches, first-class 5A mountains, off-the-beaten-path islands, and world-class natural photography paradise, chillingriver rafting and unique Fujian Minnan culture!

Day 1: Arrive at Fuding city and enjoy some yummy seafood

My trip started from Fuding city: one of the smaller and lesser-known (at least to foreigners) cities in Fujian province. I arrived there by bullet train from Shanghai. The trip by high-speed train takes 5 hours, so I had to leave Shanghai around noon. There are 5 high-speed trains per day that go from Shanghai to Fuding. The price of the ticket in 2nd class is 250 RMB, so 500 RMB for the round trip. As I’ve previously written, traveling by high-speed train is the fastest, most comfortable, and most convenient way of traveling between Chinese cities. If you have the possibility to choose between the train and the plane, my suggestion is to always take the train even if the trip may look longer at first. Domestic airlines are notoriously famous for their big delays and some Chinese airports are difficult to navigate.

The Fuding railway station is conveniently located close to the city center so getting to your hotel from there won’t be a problem.

If you arrive in the late afternoon or evening, the best thing to do is to go to the restaurant street and eat as much seafood as you can have! The seafood choice of this city is amazing! You can easily find almost anything that’s coming from the East China Sea.

Day 2: Visit Dayushan Island and Xiapu village

Dayushan island

The highlight of my trip was the exploration of the beautiful Dayushan Island. This is one of several islands you’ll find along the eastern Fujian coastline. Dayushan island was listed in the Top 10 of the most beautiful islands in China” by Chinese National Geography. It is an uninhabited island and a true hidden gem that has still preserved its tranquility and original beauty.

We headed there just after breakfast. To go to Dayushan you’ll need to first arrive at Sansha Town (三沙镇). That’s the closest city to the island. It is connected to Fuding via the Fuxia Highway and the Funing Highway. From the Funing Highway take the Sansha Exit and from there follow your GPS to the Guzhen Dock (古镇码头). From this dock you can get a ferry to the island. It takes around 1h drive from Fuding city to the ferry stop. The ferry ride is around 40 mins long, but you may need to wait another 30-45 mins until the ferry gets full and departs. The ferry will stop you directly on the island.

Dayushan Island is located in the southeastern seas of Fuding. It is famous for its untouched nature, lush green meadows, blue lakes and stunning eroded coastlines. The island is uninhabited, and the coast is eroded by seawater, revealing bedrock and reefs. It is also known for its wildlife and inhabiting tens of thousands of migratory birds.

Dayushan Island is the highest island in Fujian, and its upper hills reach 541.4 metres above sea level. The island has two natural lakes which are about 1,000 metres apart. The lakes are at around 200 meters altitude and are fed by spring water, which is why they are so blue and crystal clear.

I liked the lush green grassland and the crystal clear lakes that can be seen in the verdurous meadows. The island’s vegetation is very dense and green. It’s a great place to take photos and the weather was perfect. The best thing to do here is to hike up the hills and find a high spot that overlooks the sea, the medows and the lakes! The surrounding hill and hiking trails are very easy and you’ll enjoy the trail without putting in any effort. 

As far as I heard, there are very few accommodation options on the island (some in local temples). Most of the tourists you’ll see here come by ferry and spend their time trekking and taking photos. Apparently, there are some stables on the island where tourists can rent horses and let their legs do the hard work. But from my experience, horse and camel rides in China are never exciting, always too short and too “framed”, so I didn’t even think of it.


A few travel tips:

  • Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a place for swimming on the island. The sea-eroded beach line is not easily accessible and swimming is not allowed in most places. The waters are labeled as very “dangerous”.
  • Pack enough food and prepare a picnic when you’re on the island. There are very few options from where you can buy food and they’re mainly local snacks. I didn’t see any restaurants.
  • There is no barbecue area or picnic area.

Xiapu

After spending around 4 hours in Dayushan Island, our group went back to the ferry to continue our trip. At around 4:30pm, we left the island and headed to our next stop: Xiapu village. Our goal was to catch the sunset there!

Located in northeastern Fujiang, Xiapu is regarded as the “Most Beautiful Coastal Line in China”, as well as one of the “Top 10 Domestic Photography Bases” by photography enthusiasts. Indeed, Xiapu County is a very popular photography sport that attracts thousands of photography lovers from all around. The Xiapu ocean village is marketed as “a vivid magical wonderland listed on the dream trips of National Geographic“. Tourists are promised Instagram-perfect pictures, unreal colors, picturesque landscapes, mystical mist and photos of the authentic life of fishermen and farmers. 

In reality, Xiapu village was beautiful but overcrowded. The sunset was nice but nothing special. The colors were not unusual and definitely not unreal. Loudspeakers playing music non-stop were installed across the entire coastal line. The coastal line was far from untouched or rural and covered in stairs. The beach was a bit dirty. In a nutshell, Xiapu was disappointing. As I spent only around 3 hours in Xiapu village, I didn’t have any opportunity to see “the life of rural China”. I didn’t see or take photos of fishermen living on their boats or farmers plowing the land with their buffalos, but I was happy with that.

Are there really fake farmers and fishermen in Xiapu?

A year after my visit, I found this article in Insider that explains that Xiapu County is artificially developing its photo tourism by paying locals to stage photo shoots in traditional clothes and to “model” in front of tourists. When speaking with the locals, many tourists find out the farmers and the fisherman they see are fake and are just ‘modeling’. Many even charge tourists to throw their nets in the water :). So the whole county is pretty much like a staging area for a photoshoot! 

But still, somehow the promise of awesome pictures from staged photo shoots is what really draws crowds to Xiapu County. The scenery may not be real, but many local tourists are fine with that and are still willing to pay. According to The New York Times, it’s not uncommon to see hordes of photographers lined up in a neat row along a bridge to catch a staged snapshot of a model in a traditional hat rowing his boat toward the bridge or a farmer who is “farming” with his buffalo.

According to the Times, the whole “scheme” was put into motion because Xiapu, best known for its seafood, started to lose in popularity because of overfishing and bad harvests from the sea. To cash in on rural tourism, the local government aimed to turn Xiapu into the rural seaside village of one’s dreams, but because it wasn’t they had to get creative.

“This place cannot be more fake. Fake fishermen casting their nets, and fake farmers with sad buffalo posing for pictures,”

Day 3: Visit Jiuli Canyon Sports Park & Niulanggang beach

On day 3 of our trip, we went off exploring Jiuli Creek and Niulanggang beach area. These two places are probably the least impressive sites of the entire trip!  

Niulanggang beach

It was decided that we spend the first half of the day exploring Niulanggang Seashore Scenic Area Beach. Niulanggang beach is regarded as the Top 1 Beach in Fujian and it was rumored to offer a white sand beach, turquoise water, and tons of water activities. In my opinion, only the water activities were there 🙂 

The Niulanggang beach is located in Qingchuan bay, 60 kilometers south of Fuding city.  The whole area was not that bad, but the coastline was over-exploited, over-constructed, and over-priced. The coastline was entirely covered in stairs, small bridges, viewpoints, etc. Most of the tourists were coming to take photos but not really staying on the beach and sunbathing (in general tanning and sunbathing are not popular in China).

The actual beach was nice but too small. Swimming in the water was allowed only in a small area because two-thirds of the beach was reserved for jet skis and other water sports. Most tourists were coming in big groups to take pictures and leave in 15-20 mins. As a result, it was very busy and loud everywhere. The jet skis were also making a lot of noise that was sometimes interrupted by the very loud safety messages playing on the speakers of the lifeguard tower.   I spent around 2 hours there, but it was not a relaxing experience at all. 

Jiuli Creek Sports Park

This is the name of a popular scenic area located on the southwest side of Taiyue Mountains, around 1.5 hour drive from Fuding city. The Chinese name is 九鯉溪峽谷運動樂園, but it is also known as 九鯉溪瀑. The area of the park is about 25 square kilometers and it offers several outdoor attractions such as ziplines, rope bridges, Counter-Strike (similar to paintball but without the paint bullets), and others. The park’s two main attractions are bamboo rafting and the glass skywalk yu can find on one of the cliffs. In English, this place is also called Nine Koi Fish River.

Hiking and glass skywalk

The Jiuli Creek Sports Park scenic area is above all a big park with nice trails and paths around the mountain and alongside the river. I wouldn’t say it is a hiking area, because all the paths are well-paved and it’s almost flat. The park is made to be accessible to everyone, including small children. The idea of the park is to offer multiple outdoor attractions to its visitors. The disadvantage is that most of them don’t look “adventurous” at all and are not included in the entrance fee. Only a few if the rope bridges are accessible with the entrance ticket, but that’s simply because the main path is going through them. In any case, the park and the attractions are catered towards Chinese families and people of all ages, so don’t expect to get any adrenaline rush here.

One of the most “exciting” attractions is the glass “skywalk” that’s constructed on one of the cliffs. It is advertised as an exciting glass trail hanging on the cliffs. It’s more of a transparent glass path that can be found on one of the bridges and it’s rather short.

Chinese Bamboo Rafting

The only actual attraction that I tried was bamboo rafting. Of course, like in many other places in China, you are not allowed to navigate the raft by yourself. The rafts are pretty big and can fit up to 5 tourists. So it’s more like a short raft cruise on Juili Creek. The experience was nice and very relaxing. It was probably the best way to enjoy the scenery and the surroundings. It reminds me a little bit of rafting in Yangshou.

Day 4: Visit of Taimu Mountain

On the last day of our trip, we visited the Scenic Area of Taimu Mountain. The mountain is located about 45km from my Fuding City and it has a National AAAAA level (the highest grade that is given to scenic and cultural sites in China).

Taimu Mountain

Taimu Mountain (太姥山) is located 45 kilometers south of Fuding City. The other name of the mountain is Tailao Mountain or Tailaoshan (“shan” meaning mountain). 

Taimu is one of the three most famous mountains in Fujian and Zhejiang province alongside with Fujian’s Mount Wuyi and Zhejiang’s Mount Yandang. The mountain is located is on the shore of the East China Sea, facing the sea in three directions. Covering an area of 92 square kilometers, the whole scenic area consists of five scenic spots: Taimu Shanyue, Jiuli Stream and Waterfall, Qingchuan Seaside Area, Sangyuan Green Lake and the Fuyao Islands. Taimu Mountain is famous for its steep mountains, bizarre rock formations, secluded caves, foggy climate, and ancient temples. The mountain is not high. The highest peak in Taimu is only 917m but with views of the open ocean. For that reason, the locals call Taimu “Paradise at Sea”: because the mountains are surrounded by the ocean. 

The entire scenic area covers about 92 square kilometers.

Mountain legends and mythical rock formations

Similar to other Chinese mountains, in Taimu most rock formations have a story and a legend behind them. Many of these legends and stories are about “Taimu” (meaning great-grandmother). Taimu is the other name that was given to the Goddess of the Mountain Tailao. Actually, this is why the mountain has two popular names Taimushan (the mountain of the great-grandmother).and Tailaoshan (the mountain of Tailao). An ancient Chinese legend says that there was a young girl who spent her days growing tea trees here and teaching local people how to make “White Tea”. The young girl lived long time, becoming to be mother, grandmother, and grand-grandmother. The local people respected her very much and called her “Taimu”(grand-grandmother) and called the mountain she lived in “Taimushan Mountain”. Throughout the times, this legend was told and retold and the word “Mu”(meaning mother) was replaced with “Lao”(meaning grandmother).

Taimu Mountain’s caves

Taimu Mountain is also famous for its caves. It is said that more than 100 caves can be found through the mountain area. Some of these caves are just nattow passages between the steep cliffs and they are not really deep caves within the mountains. 

I spend around 4-5  hours visiting Taimu Mountain, and in the afternoon at around 4 pm, we had to leave for Fuding Railway station to catch a train and get back to Shanghai. 

Impressions from the trip and from Fujian province

For me, the best part of this trip was the seafood market in Fuding and the visit of Dayushan island. Taimu mountain was beautiful and also worth a visit if you are in the area. However, it can not be compared to HuangShan (The Yellow Mountains) or to Zhengjiajie (The Avatar mountains). I have to say that Xiapu was disappointing and Niulanggang Beach even more! 

Overall, this was a nice 4-day/3 nights trip away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai city, but you are just visiting China and you have limited time to spend in this amazing country, none of the sites mentioned in this article is worth your time. 

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