WITH January upon us, people across China are now looking forward to the most important holiday of the year — Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival.
Yes, a weeklong holiday is coming. If you’re looking for a leisurely travel destination away from crowds — not to mention the smog — a beach or island vacation may be in order.
While most local travelers are probably familiar with big-name beach/island destinations like Sanya on Hainan Island, Qingdao in Shandong Province, Xiamen’s Gulang Island in Fujian Province and Beidaihe area in Hebei Province, their fame means they will surely be packed with tourists on every national holiday.
Fortunately, there are some little-known yet decent islands and beaches where you can still enjoy beautiful views, clean sands and fresh air, but without throngs of tourists.
Just in time for the travel season, Shanghai Daily points out several such virgin places that are sure to delight this winter.
Beihai Silver Beach
The Silver Beach at Beihai, about 10 kilometers away from the city center in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, stretches 24 kilometers from west to east. The water glistens like silver when the sunlight hits its surface, hence the beach’s name.
Considered an ideal place for beach bathing and water sports in southern China, Beihai is reputed for its fine white sands, clean warm waters and gentle waves.
Tourists can also appreciate the area’s migrating birds, local folk traditions, Russian customs; take part in activities like parachute jumping over the sea, or just lay on the beach and enjoy the clear sky and white clouds.
It’s also hard to miss the Beihai Underwater World, located in the Seashore Park.
Opened in 1978, it is one of the largest aquatic centers in China and mainly exhibits sea animals and plants from the South China Sea. These include both preserved specimens from the ancient past and live sea creatures.
The museum is divided into seven halls, one turtle pool and one seal pool. There are special exhibits on animals such as the dugong, a marine mammal similar to a manatee; the protected Chinese White Dolphin and the cowfish. Giant lobster displays and the skeleton of a huge whale are also eye-catching attractions.
What’s more, visitors can enjoy synchronized swimming shows, watch divers feed fish and dance with the sharks. Relics such as porcelain wares transported by sea in ancient times and a sunken ship from World War II are also exhibited.
Among the nearly 150 islands off Zhuhai in Guangdong Province, Dong’ao, 30 kilometers from the coast, is widely considered the most beautiful.
The island, which occupies 4.62 square kilometers and contains a permanent population of around 500, is located on the southern center of Wanshan Archipelago. The climate is warm, the rainfall is abundant and the vegetation is luxuriant. With forest coverage of 82 percent, the island is called “a kingdom of plants.”
Dong’ao Island is well known for its diving facilities and spectacular beach. The island retains several primitive natural ecological environments, such as the Nansha (South Sand) Bay, the Dazhu (Big Bamboo) Bay and the Xiaozhu (Small Bamboo) Bay. Among the three, Nansha is considered the best. There, visitors can enjoy surfing, scuba diving and sailing.
Chongcheng, on the east of the island, is equipped with a 1.7-meter-tall stone beacon tower in the shape of an awl. It rests against a mountain beside the South China Sea. For almost 200 years, it was an important coastal defense against external aggression.
Neolithic relics, remains of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, the lighthouse and rock carvings allow people to trace the progression of time on the island. With the second largest natural fishing farm in the country, the island abounds in high-quality seafood that can be tasted at five local restaurants.
Because of the high humidity, visitors are likely to encounter mosquitoes and other pests, so remember to bring insect repellent.
As peak tourist season is from May to October on Dong’ao, the hotel rates now are much cheaper. Some international luxury resorts, such as Club Med, also have branches on the Island.
The city of Dalian in northeastern China is famous for its beautiful beaches. Binhai Road, which leads from downtown toward the coast, is home to some of the city’s most famous and popular beaches, combining natural and man-made attractions.
Surrounded by hills covered with pine and cypress trees, Bangchui (Wooden Club) Islet is about 8 kilometers from the heart of the city and known for its pebbly beach. The name alludes to its shape, like a wooden club used as a washing tool. The islet’s beautiful natural scenery ranges from steep cliffs to wild flowers.
In the northern part of the scenic zone are green mountains, while in the south there is a vast expanse of sea and smooth sandy beaches.
There are also some large golf clubs around the island.
To get to the islet, travelers can board a sightseeing bus at Friendship Square; or you can take Bus No. 703 at the same square, then get off at Shanping Road Station and walk about 40 minutes to the island. The green lawns along the road are attractive as well, with many interesting statues.
Located at the easternmost point of the Shandong Peninsula, Chengshantou means “the end of Chengshan Range.”
It is separated by sea from South Korea by only 94 nautical miles. Since it is located at the eastern tip of the Chinese mainland, Chengshantou has been described as “the place where the sun rises” since ancient times.
Extending into the sea, the cliffs have been cut by mighty waves and storms over eons. Seething waves breaking upon the reefs can rise up to 7 meters high. In the reserve area are also sea caves, sea pillars and other landforms, as well as the red continental sedimentary bedrock at nearby Liukuang — all of which are highly valued by geologists.
Chengshantou’s zigzagging coastline, bays and headlands, and abundant plankton attract flocks of swans and other birds during winter. It is one of the world’s four major swan habitats.
Legend has it that Emperor Qin Shihuang paid two visits here in 219 BC and 210 BC to seek the elixir of life and ordered long bridges built. His visits have left the area with such attractions as the Qinling Ridge, Shejiao Platform and Shihuang Temple.
Based on these two imperial visits, the then premier described Chengshantou as “the end of the world and the eastern entrance of the Qin Empire.” Later in AD 94 when Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) made an inspection tour to the East Sea, he visited Rizhu Temple to make obeisance and to enjoy the splendid sunrise. Later, he ordered a Chengshan Taoist temple built and wrote a well-known poem there.
Other major scenic sites in Chengshantou include tablets erected in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the Bairitai (Sun Worshiping) Platform, relics of bridges built in the Qin Dynasty, the Wanghaiting (Sea Viewing) Pavilion, the Guantaoge (Wave Watching) Pavilion, the Zhenlong (Dragon Subduing) Stone and a safari park.