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The summer heat can be intense in the concrete jungle of Beijing, but thankfully there’s a beach escape not too far away. A few hours on a train or bus can bring you to the popular beach towns of Beidaihe (北戴河 – běi dài hé) and Nandaihe (南戴河 – nán dài hé). While Beidaihe was once famous as a summer retreat for Communist Party officials, these lavish gatherings have been cut back on to project a more frugal image of the party and its leaders. A few days at either of these towns is a great way to get out of the city to enjoy some time on the beach, a bit of sightseeing, and of course lots of eating and drinking. Here’s a quick guide to these towns so you can plan your trip and enjoy a Chinese summer vacation.
Beidaihe and Nandaihe are a part of the city of Qinhuangdao (秦皇岛 – qín huáng dǎo) in Hebei province. They’re located on the Bohai Sea (渤海 – bó hǎi) in the southwest part of the city. There’s an actual railway station located in Beidaihe, so there’s no need to go to the city center if you just want to get to the beach. Alternatively, there are plenty of buses traveling to both towns from Beijing, Tianjin, and other major cities. If you’ve got a big group traveling there, it’s also possible to rent your own mini-bus for the weekend. This gives you flexibility and also takes care of your transportation around town if you’d like to do more than sit on the beach.
Although it’s a bit of a drive from either of the beach towns, it’s worth it to get to Shanhaiguan (山海关 – shān hǎi guān) – the point where the Great Wall reaches the sea. This is often referred to as the “First Pass Under Heaven” (天下第一关 – tiān xià dì yī guān), as these words are engraved above one of the gates. For some reason, it’s also called the “Old Dragon’s Head” (老龙头 – lǎo lóng tóu). It’s not like other sections of the wall closer to Beijing where it takes you a while to hike up. Rather, a visit to the Shanhaiguan section is quite easy. The only problem is battling the crowds that you’re sure to be sharing it with on your visit.
Another popular spot to visit is the Safari Park (野生动物园 – yě shēng dòng wù yuán), home to over 5,000 animals.
You can interact with the tame animals – taking photos, feeding them, etc. – and watch the wild ones from the comfort and safety of a mini-bus. Just be sure you don’t get out of the bus, as a recent accident in a similar park proves how dangerous that can be.
Also, don’t throw food or drinks at the animals. While it may be cute that the bears stand up and beg as the bus drives by, it’s probably not good for them to drink Coke or eat potato chips (other tourists were seen throwing both out of the window on our visit).
When we visited, a man draped a huge snake over my head without even asking. I’m not too spooked by snakes, so I didn’t really mind. What did bother me, however, was the fact that after my friend snapped a photo, the guy proceeded to tell me I owed him 20 RMB. Oh well – I guess it was worth it for the cool shot.
While they definitely aren’t the nicest beaches in the world, both Beidaihe and Nandaihe are good enough for a quick getaway out of the city. You can just lay in the sand, go for a swim, or take part in a variety of water sports. The most popular spot for fun in the sand and water is the Tiger Stone Sea Park (老虎石海上公园 – lǎo hǔ shí hǎi shàng gōng yuán) – named because the rock formations here apparently resemble tigers. Keep in mind this also means it’s the most crowded and expensive. Consider visiting during the week if possible, or checking out one of the other beaches in town.
Thanks to its location, it should come as no surprise that this area is full of fresh seafood (海鲜 – hǎi xiān). Restaurants all over both towns have huge tanks on display out front, where you can pick and choose from a wide variety of seafood. Just tell them how much you want and how you’d like it cooked, then sit back and wait for your feast.
Eating is a very social experience in China, with group meals tending to be huge and time consuming. These beachside towns are the perfect place for such a meal. Order up a ton of food, crack some beers, and chat with friends while you breathe in the salty air and listen to the waves crash.
Just like anywhere in China, there are plenty of KTV joints and bars for you to hang out in at night. You didn’t come to the beach to do the same thing you do in the city! Nights here are best spent enjoying a beachside BBQ, drinks, and games. There are plenty of people hanging out in the summer months, so it’s easy to make some new friends and practice your Chinese. Stumble back to your hotel and get ready for another day of exploring the area, or catch your train/bus back to the city. Even a short trip here is a good way to break up the grind of life in a Chinese mega-city.