Beside the Seaside
Ride the rails from Beijing to uncover the historic charms of Qinhuangdao.
If you just want to get away from it all, simply laze on your own luxurious Shangri-La guestroom balcony overlooking the sea and enjoy the benefits of full room service.
Partway along the old Peking to Mukden railway, sandwiched between the Bohai Sea in the east and the Yan Mountains flowing west, sits the sleepy port city of Qinhuangdao. Just two and a half hours from the capital by fast train, Qinhuangdao and its surrounding districts make for a perfect weekend escape, hence its nickname “Beijing’s back garden”.
Far and away, the most famous draw at Qinhuangdao is the southern district of Beidaihe, a seaside resort boasting fine yellow sand, rocky coves, leafy parks, kitsch hotels and bucketfuls of fresh seafood. The best beaches within range of Beijing, the sand and shallow water at Beidaihe packs out in the summer months with city folks fleeing the heat of the capital. It’s a fun spot for all the family, whether building sandcastles on the beach (with full shower and changing facilities), hunting for crabs among the rocks, a tranquil tandem bike ride across the headland or a high-octane speedboat experience through the surf.
Half a century ago, Mao Zedong and his cadres developed a taste for the sea air, and Beidaihe became the Communist Party of China’s summer retreat. The tree-shaded villas of the “Friendship Guesthouse”, built in 1954 to receive visiting Russian officials, are still open for business and many signs, menus and names throughout the resort are written in Russian as well as Chinese. Walking to and fro along sloping lanes affords glimpses of grand government villas hidden behind fences and hedgerows. You might stumble upon Kiesslings, a German café bakery first established in Tianjin during the concession era. Its delicious, freshly baked walnut cakes are still selling like, well, hot cakes, after six decades, and are just about the last thing you might expect to find to eat in a Chinese seaside town.
When you’ve had your fill of beach living, the district of Shanhaiguan in the north of Qinhuangdao is a singular treat for hikers and history buffs. It’s where the Great Wall of China ends its epic journey in the east, coming to a stunning halt actually on the beach itself at a scenic spot popular with visitors called Old Dragon’s Head. Shanhaiguan literally means ‘mountain-sea pass’, and the area was one of the most important fortified passes along the Great Wall, protecting the few kilometres of flat land between the start of the Yan Mountains and the sea.
A military garrison was built around the pass in the centre of the district, and the remains of these mighty quadrangle fortifications can be climbed upon today for photo opportunities on the battlements, beside batteries of old iron cannons. A fascinating Great Wall museum is included in the entrance price, which is a must for those seeking to deepen their understanding of China’s “stone dragon”.
The more adventurous can take a taxi from the fortress, also known as the “First Pass Under Heaven”, to Jiao Shan (Horn Mountain), the very first mountain in the east that the Great Wall climbs. Slog up the steep steps to the top and you’ll be rewarded with glittering views across Shanhaiguan to the sea, or northwards to witness the Great Wall writhing over mountain tops in the far distance towards Beijing where, 300 kilometres to the west, it joins the famous battlements at Badaling.
Until recently, the major drawback of a vacation or weekend break to Qinhuangdao was the lack of top quality accommodation, but all that has changed with the opening of Shangri-La Hotel, Qinhuangdao. Commanding a sun-drenched position on its own sandy beach halfway between Beidaihe and Shanhaiguan, it is the perfect base from which to explore the area. But with so much to do in and around the hotel, there’s no pressure to go too far. The fully equipped fitness studio boasts a sunlit indoor pool with outdoor sun lounger seating at ground level, so you can move between beach and pool with ease. Guests can hire bicycles and tandems to ride along the newly built scenic boardwalk that wraps around the bay. Kids will love the huge, tropical fish-filled aquarium next door, and be sure to keep an eye out for Qin Qin, the hotel’s friendly dolphin mascot.
The unique wedge-shaped architecture of Shangri-La Hotel, Qinhuangdao means that over two-thirds of the guestrooms boast balconies and expansive sea views, inviting you to wake up to a refreshing ocean breeze in the morning as you step outside to gaze at the golden beach. Club level guests can go one better by having breakfast at the Horizon Cub, sampling the chef’s signature Bacon and Octopus Omelette beside floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the sea, sand and the boats sailing in and out of Qinhuangdao’s harbour. They can also step out onto the breezy sun terrace and relax with a coffee or juice in intimate canopied lounging pods that seat two or more people.
However you choose to spend your stay in Qinhuangdao, you can count on hot summer sun, a slow pace of life and fascinating history for those willing to roll up their sleeves and go exploring. Alternatively, if you just want to get away from it all, simply laze on your own luxurious Shangri-La guestroom balcony overlooking the sea and enjoy the benefits of full room service. Life’s troubles suddenly seem very far away.
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Oh, what a nice get away! I have so many Shangri-La destinations I wanna go!