Though thousands of miles from the familiar beaches in the United States, Beidaihe is very much like a beach town that I would see in America. The shops sold bathing suits and cheesy souvenirs, and most restaurants served seafood.
It was barely 7am when we arrived at the Beijing train station. We followed the signs as best we could to find where to buy tickets. I bought sleeper car tickets for 133 yuan (US$16) and enjoyed the two-hour train ride with a relaxing nap, but I could have bought soft seats for about 70 yuan (about US$8).
When we arrived, we still had to take a taxi to the beach. This was just a 15-minute drive, and because the roads weren't paved, we had to roll up the windows to avoid the dust.
We stayed in the Beidaihe Guesthouse for Diplomatic Missions and it was beautiful. The resort overlooked its own private beach. This Chinese-style Martha's Vineyard is where Communist officials used to stay and have big meetings. I was impressed to be where Chairman Mao used to swim.
The rooms were comfortable with two beds and private balconies. The cost was 250 yuan for two beds and air conditioning. It also had restaurants, tennis courts and meetings rooms.
One could also jog or take a stroll along many secluded paths in the area. For the more adventurous, you can rent speedboats and other sports equipment to play with in the ocean.
The seawater was too cold, for me at least, though some brave souls did take a dip. I enjoyed lying out under the umbrella, listening to the ocean waves and watching Chinese families and tourists pose for pictures by the ocean. The scenery was beautiful and the water crashing on the rocks is a good spot for photography.
But at the same time, I think they enjoyed watching us even more. We were all sitting and lying on towels right below a tourist boardwalk. It didn't take long for us to feel like animals on display in a zoo. People would stare, point and take pictures of us half naked.
When we ate at one of the many seafood restaurants, we picked out our dinner from the tanks, but were shocked to see the staff quickly stun the fish by quickly slamming them on the sidewalk in front of us.
The food was delicious - but we paid dearly for it. Our bill was 1,592 yuan.
We tried to bargain and communicate that the price was too high with our hands. But the staff insisted we pay. But we shook our heads furiously to show our displeasure.
We grew tired of arguing and finally agreed to pay 1,200 yuan, but it was an expensive learning experience. Now I will always ask how much things are before sitting down to eat.
Not being able to speak Chinese can be frustrating at times and makes simple tasks like buying train tickets, asking for directions and ordering food very difficult.
Not wanting our night to be ruined by this unfortunate incident, we bought snacks and ice cream and sat on some huge rocks by the ocean. It seemed to be a popular spot. Families and teenagers were also hanging out and playing games.
The peak tourist season starts in June so there were not as many people when I was there in May. But as the water warms up, the beaches fill with more tourists and swimming.
The next day we returned to Beijing on the train and I was convinced that Beidaihe was the ideal place for relaxation and fun for a weekend or longer. (China Daily by Tabitha Messick)
Travel tips :
D517 departs at 06:25 and arrives at 08:15, ticket price varies by different kinds of seat, 103 yuan or 86 yuan.
T571 departs at 07:52 and arrives at 10:21, 42 yuan for hard seat and 64 yuan for soft seat.
D518 departs at 08:35 and arrives at 10:25.
T572 departs at 14:57 and arrives at 17:57.
(China.org.cn May 30, 2007)