Only a two-hour train ride away, Beidaihe is a favorite Chinese summer resort located in Hebei Province. Bordering the Bohai Sea, it is clean, well manicured with plenty of flowers, and has a sprawling beach with cool calm waters. A popular destination in the 1890s after English railways engineers discovered this fishing village, Beidaihe became a popular spot for wealthy Chinese and foreign diplomats. After 1949, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China made it their summer retreat. While there are no sparkling white sands here, it’s a peaceful spot for escaping the crowds, noise and traffic of the capital.
Typically a summer retreat, it still remains a popular respite in the cooler months of September and October. The beach’s flat tide and shallow water makes it is an ideal place for children to play. The sand is firm and just right for making sand castles or sculpting animals. There are plenty of places to buy beach equipment like inner tubes, beach toys, towels and bathing suits. They also have lines of shops along the main beach area to buy touristy knickknacks. If you want to get a little exercise, rent a tandem bicycle, made for two, or three. However, be careful navigating through the busy streets by the water; some of these streets are narrow and drivers are just as haphazard here as they are in Beijing.
Seafood lovers have come to the right place. Find endless lines of seafood restaurants with aquariums full of fresh fish and shellfish. Even though it’s pricey (these places are out to get tourists), you can pick exactly what you want, fresh out of the tank. Take heed if you’re a bit squeamish, as they are likely to unabashedly kill the fish in front of you by stomping on its head or slamming it against the floor. If you want a less expensive meal (and a less violent one), it’s better to order off the menu. Since seafood is the most prevalent thing to eat in Beidaihe, it’s best to indulge. If you are lucky, you will find some fresh, and relatively inexpensive, seafood. Look for the men selling live crabs from their buckets, who will then boil it for you, ready for you to eat on the beach.
If you are looking for more to your Beidaihe excursion, hop on a bus or hire a car to bring you to Shanhaiguan and Laolongtou. An hour away, this is the famous locale where the Great Wall meets the sea. The wall here has been restored, too well perhaps, as it has some of the usual cheesiness of other Chinese tourist sites. What remains, however, is its amazing proximity to the water and its importance in military history. The most impressive section of the Great Wall is Laolongtou, which translates to the Old Dragon’s Head. It’s awe-inspiring to see the peak of this section, where it does in fact look like a dragon’s head. From the top, you can gaze out at the sea and feel the cool breeze off the ocean spray.
If you’re planning on staying the weekend, contact a hotel in advance. Some hotels, such as Yanshan Dasha, will only accept guests that are Chinese or Russian, which is off-putting and jarring if you are neither. A popular destination for Russian tourists, there are many shops and restaurants with only Russian signs.
In the autumn months, it may be too cool for beach fun, but Beidaihe still has plenty to offer in the way of fresh seafood, group biking and Chinese history. But if you are looking for laid-back, small-town friendliness, look elsewhere.
Beidaihe Guesthouse for Diplomatic Missions
Inquire about a room with an ocean view. RMB 480- RMB 2,680.
1 Baosan Lu, Beidaihe District, Qinhuangdao (0335 404 1287)
Rents out quickly. RMB 50 per bed, RMB 60 per bed (includes breakfast).
4 Dongsan Lu, Beidaihe District, Qinhuangdao (0335 404 1338)
The Beiaihe Friendship Hotel
RMB 570 for a standard room with breakfast.
1 Yingjiao Lu, Beidaihe District, Qinhuangdao (335 404 8558)
Car: Take the Jingshen Expressway to the Beidaihe exit.
Bus: Take a long distance bus directly to Beidaihe from Lizeqiao and Bawangfen bus stations. During high season, there are direct buses from Beijing Railway Station every hour.
Approx distance: 252km
Train: Nine trains depart from Beijing Railway Station to Beidaihe on a daily basis. One-way, it takes two hours.