When thinking of visiting China, most folks back at home imagine its antiquities, or its famous mountains. They know the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors. They have an image in their mind of ancient calligraphy, or ceramics, or jade. They can at least picture some impossibly-angled fog-enshrouded mystical mountain. What’s less known is that China, gradually, is making more use than ever of its nearly 20,000 kilometers of coastline. Sanya, of course, has been a world-famous coastal paradise for years, but step by step, other beaches are gaining ground and still more remain nearly undiscovered. For the paradise hunter, there are tiny island dots on the map which now have a guest house or two. For all us laowai working in the third-largest nation in the world, there are beaches with full venues not far from major coastal cities, and no, not all of them are crowded. The beach hunter can find both developed and undeveloped beaches, from Liaoning Province in the northeast all the way down to Guangxi, which scuttles up to Vietnam, in the south. Here are a selection of nine Chinese beach areas, including several world-renowned coastal towns and a few spots in the boonies.
Photo: Ivan Walsh
1) Bo’ao City, Hainan Province
Bo’ao city, located in the middle of the east coast of Hainan, is itself regarded as a pleasant and historical small town to visit, surrounded by rice fields and notable for its restaurants and cultural sites. Bo’ao Beach is not far away, and its main peninsula forms a crescent shape, largely separating the two outgoing rivers from the sea. Though it’s a pay-to-enter beach, it is beautifully scenic and not known to draw the large crowds that the Sanya area does.
Beach Name: Bo’ao Yudai Beach (Jade Belt Beach)
Size: 2.5 km long, 10-300 m wide
Price: Adults – 60 RMB; children over 1 meter – 30 RMB; children under 1 meter – 20 RMB
Popular activities: Tour boats – 50 RMB, hot springs
Nearby venues: Several large restaurants, small food stands, noodle shops, local product vendors
Other spots nearby: Bo’ao Asian Forum Hall, Eastern Culture Garden, Ocean Museum, Wanquan River Drifting
Interesting details: According to the Shanghai Guinness World Record archives, Yudai Beach is the narrowest and longest stretch of beach in the world that separates the sea from fresh water
Distance from city or town: The beach is about 500 meters from the center of Bo’ao town, 16 kilometers from Qionghai City and 96 kilometers from Meilan Airport
2) Xuejia Island, Qingdao, Shandong Province
Qingdao and its surroundings have been attracting tourists for nearly one hundred years due to a fantastic coastline with large beaches, both within the city and without. Because of its German colonial heritage, it also blends its Chinese flair with numerous European style mansions, villas and churches. Since most city-goers prefer as quick a journey to the beach as possible, Xuejia Island is far less crowded than closer and more famous retreats. Not an actual island, but a long peninsula in Qingdao’s southeastern Huangdao District, it also remains little-developed, so people who expect the comforts of home will have to adapt to more modest venues. Golden Beach, which looks out directly on the ocean and several small islands, is flanked by two large sectors of farms and forest, and the equally-undeveloped Silver Beach.
Beach name: Golden Beach
Size: 3.5 km long, 300 m wide
Popular activities: Motorboats, beach volleyball and beach soccer; prices around 50-200 RMB
Nearby venues: Food street with countless small shops and restaurants, street stands selling shells and other local treasures
Other spots nearby: Silver Beach, Shique Beach, Chengu Temple, Ganshui Bay, Yangwuhou Tomb
Popular foods: The most famous dishes at Golden Beach are crab, abalone and sea cucumber.
Interesting details: During ebb tide, locals say you can see a large frog-shaped stone, its head facing east and its back facing west
Distance from city or town: The Island is twenty minutes by fast boat from Qingdao and forty minutes by ferry. From the dock, you can get to Golden Beach in around 15 minutes by bus
3) First Bathing Beach, Qingdao, Shandong Province
Probably the most popular beach in Qingdao, and just a few minutes from downtown, First Bathing Beach sits within a broad inlet, with two peninsular arms stretching out on either side, one of them lined with weathered, rugged rocks and both of them peaked with European villas. If you feel like a walk in the grass after swimming, Huiquan Square and spacious Zhongshan Park are immediately behind the beach. If you feel more like a stroll through one of the city’s old quarters, Xiaoyu Hill is directly to the right. Sand, water, and city treasures are neatly interwoven here.
Beach name: First Bathing Beach (Haishui Yuchang)
Size: 580 m long, 40+ meters wide
Popular activities: Waterbiking, motorboat, paragliding; prices range between 150-300 RMB
Nearby venues: Leisure center, food stands, beach venues, hotels, international restaurants
Other spots nearby: Qingdao Ocean World, Xiaoyu Hill, Zhongshan Park, Qingdao Museum of Marine Products
Interesting details: The beach is open for swimming only from July to September. It’s known to have clean water and mild waves. Though it draws large crowds for much of the summer, the Qingdao area has five other beaches to choose from
Distance from city or town: It takes about 25 minutes by bus from downtown. You can take Bus No. 6, 15, 26, 31, 214, 304, 311, 312, 316, 604 or 605 buses to the Haishui Yuchang stop
4) Golden Pebble Beach, Dalian, Liaoning Province
The Dalian area is surrounded by thousands of kilometers of coastline and numerous beaches, but Golden Pebble Beach has quickly become the most highly-regarded in the region. Its clean water, fine sand and many reefs make it attractive, as do the fantastic shapes and colors of its limestone rocks. Though the beach is free, the area has been a resort since 1992, and some of the nearby attractions and hotels are quite expensive.
Beach name: Golden Pebble Beach (Jinshitan Scenic Area)
Size: 4.5 km long, 100-200 m wide
Popular activities: Diving, fishing, windsurfing, water-biking, beach volleyball and soccer (most of them located on beach’s eastern portion); prices between 50 and 300 RMB
Nearby venues: Many shops and restaurants are along the eastern portion of the beach.
Popular foods: International food, seafood, barbecue
Other spots nearby: Golf courses, yacht club, house of wax, Golden Stone Park
Interesting details: This beach is said to be the longest and most beautiful in northeastern China. Many sports matches are held here every year, including the Women’s Beach Volleyball World Cup, the Dalian International Winter Swimming Festival and the Dalian Triathlon
Distance from city or town: 8 km from Dalian
5) Meizhou Island, Fujian Province
Meizhou Island, just off the coast from Putian in China’s southeastern Fujian Province, is a composite of many rapidly-developing neighborhoods and long swathes of beach. Once most famous as a pilgrimage site because of its Mazu Temple, and still drawing thousands of pilgrims every year, the island is also quickly becoming known for its natural attractions. Though only six square miles, its odd shape cut out from inlets and peninsulas allows for even more miles of mostly-broad beaches. Large portions of the island’s southern half and northern tip are heavily tree-covered, and several large stone shorelines interrupt its curvaceous stretches of sand.
Beach name: Jiubaolan Golden Beach
Size: 3 km long, 500 m wide during ebb tide
Price: Free for the beach, but island entrance is 50 RMB
Popular activities: Yacht, motorboat, hovercraft, surfing
Nearby venues: Restaurants, shops selling handicrafts and accessories
Popular food: Mazu noodles and dried scallops are local specialties
Other spots nearby: Mazu Temple, Lianchi Beach, E’wei Beach, E’wei Stone Garden
Interesting details: You can rent a tent and camp on the beach for 50 RMB
Distance from city or town: About 50 minutes from central Putian to the dock, and 15 minutes by boat to the island. Taxis are available from the island dock to the beach
6) Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian Province
Just a few minutes from Xiamen, Gulangyu Island is a world apart, not just for its smaller buildings and heavy tree-cover, but also for its motor vehicle ban, which maintains the island’s quiet, neighborhood atmosphere. Much of what makes the island unique comes from its history as a western settlement, one which has left the island with many churches, an array of international architecture and an immense number of pianos. Exploring the narrow streets, shops and local wares is also an obvious part of the island’s charm. Gangzaihou Beach is on a southwestern stretch of the island, and is one of the island’s most popular.
Beach name: Gangzaihou Bathing Beach
Size: Over 300 meters long, 20-70 meters wide
Popular activities: Motorboat, yacht, swimmer’s service center; prices between 100 and 250 RMB
Nearby venues: Shops selling specialties such as handicrafts and fishballs, restaurants
Other spots nearby: Riguangyan (Sunshine Rock), Shuzhuang Garden, Haoyue Garden (Moon Garden), Piano Museum, Ocean World, Gulang Stone (an island landmark)
Interesting details: The island has many hostels and cafes. There are no motor vehicles
Distance from city or town: The ferry reaches the island in 5 minutes from Xiamen.
7) Hailing Island, Yangjiang, Guangdong Province
Hailing Island is ridiculously beautiful. Just off the coast of Yangjiang city in southern China’s Guangdong province, the southern half of this large island looks out on the South China Sea, with beaches surrounded by tropical forest and hills. While its traditional fishing culture still survives among the locals, the island entertains visitors with its abundance of water sports and beach activities along with its stunning ocean views. Despite the island’s development in some areas, most of the island is not heavily built up, and several isolated beaches, on its eastern and western tips, await the adventurous. Shili Silver Beach, on the southern coast, is the island’s longest.
Beach name: Shili Silver Beach
Size: 8 km long, 150 m wide
Popular activities: Surfing, boating, horse riding
Nearby shops: Many stalls selling handicrafts and local food
Popular food: Cantonese
Other spots nearby: Two mountains are to the left and right of the beach area – Dajiao Mountain (Horn Mountain) and Caowong Mountain. Dajiao Bay and Mawei Island (Horsetail Island) are also nearby.
Interesting details: Much of the Shili Silver Beach area has very little development
Distance from city or town: Shili Silver Beach is 15 minutes from Zhabo Town, 1.5 hours from Zhuhai and Hong Kong by bus, and 3 hours from Guangzhou by bus
8 & 9) Also worth regarding is Beihai Silver Beach nearby Beihai city in Guangxi. Not only is it one of China’s longest, but also exceeds 300 meters wide for long stretches. It’s a veritable dune. Beihai Silver Beach is known for its clear, clean water and countless beach activities and despite its recent popularity, it is more than spacious enough for its visitors. South China’s Dong’ao Island, less than an hour from Zhuhai by boat, is a good bit more removed from the city, and is one of Guangdong’s island paradises, with emerald greenery, three large beaches and a proximity to many other island retreats.
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