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China, a Country of Unknown Beaches

[ 11 ] January 14, 2011 |

When most people think of amazing beach destinations the places that most often come to mind are Thailand, the Pacific, Australia and the Caribbean, these place are synonymous with beach paradise.  One place that is most certainly not synonymous with beach paradise is China.  Incredibly, despite China’s large expanse of coastline it has never even made a blip on the beach destination radar.

Everything I had heard about Chinese beaches certainly consistently claimed that the beaches were covered in rubbish, the water polluted and unswimmable and possibly filled with lead, poisoning you if you unluckily swallowed a mouthful.  Being an Aussie who loves the sun and attempting to catch a wave or two, the whole idea of living in a country with so much coastline but never going to the beach wasn’t even logical despite being told it was a waste of my time and possibly a health risk. Sure there was no way China would have anything on the beaches of Mykonos in Greece or Krabi in Thailand, but c’mon, seriously, surely the entire countries beaches couldn’t be that bad!

No littering China

Oh the irony!!!

I was determined to prove everyone wrong and the only way I could possibly do that was to visit the beach destinations the Chinese visited, the beaches that were famous Chinese domestic tourist destinations.  Armed with my swimmers and 30+ sunscreen I set off from north to south to some of China’s most renowned beach destinations for some sun baking, swimming and waves.


View China’s Beaches in a larger map

#1 Qingdao, Shandong Province

Qingdao, a former German concession located in Shandong province north China was my first experience of China’s beaches and it really set the bar high for the rest of the beaches I planned to visit.  My first impressions of Qingdao was “This isn’t China! this is the French Riviera” that was until I went to the first beach and was met with the disgusting sight of radioactive looking blue green algae strewn across the beach, lying in rock pools and gliding through the waves not to mention all the rubbish that had been thrown on the beach.  I was even more disappointed when I took the almost hour long bus journey to apparently one of the best beaches only to get of at the stop I was told to discover a tiny little rubbish covered beach.  Luckily it wasn’t exactly the right stop and Qingdao would quickly redeem itself just 3km down the road.

After spending more than a few days on one of Qingdao’s best beaches, Shilaoren, I can say for sure that China is full of surprises.  If you ignore the pounding poppy techno music that blasts through the speakers up and down the beach, if you ignore all the horrific speedo’s and if you forgive the beach for it’s lack of waves then you certainly can appreciate this long, wide expanse of golden sand that is surprisingly soft between your toes and rubbish free.  But winning out over Shilaoren if you can be bothered to make the journey which can take up to 2 hours between public buses and ferries, Golden Beach on the Huang Dao peninsula takes the cake.  This beach had everything that Shilaoren had but with the added extras of beach side bars and restaurants possibly the perfect beach combination, BBQ squid, ice cream, swimming and sun baking, now that’s the life!

Shilaoren Beach Qingdao

Shilaoren Beach, Qingdao

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#2 Putuoshan Island, Zhejiang Province

Putuoshan Island located off the coast of Zhejiang province in China’s east is most famously known as a Buddhist island home to one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains, Mt Putuo. The island is dotted with Buddhist monasteries, temples and pagodas in refreshing lush green surrounds.  In my mind there was no way Putuoshan could fail the beautiful beaches category.

My first impressions of the island were “WOW, stunning but why so loud!?”  Unfortunately if you’re looking for a quiet beach destination Putuoshan isn’t it with the annoying background noise of repetitive Buddhist music that is played from small rock speakers all around the island to the barking shouts of hundreds of tour leaders and their muttering tour groups.  But it wasn’t this that turned me off the beaches, oh no not all the noise in the world could drown out the islands beauty!

In fact Putuoshan’s beaches are quite stunning, soft beige sands, clean and rubbish free.  The only problem, the muddy brown tint of the sea.  As far as my eyes could see was a muddy expanse of sea.  Now Putuoshan I thought was surely far enough away from the mainland to have such polluted water, sadly I was wrong.  As it turns out, at that time of year (Summer) due to all the flooding upstream on the Yangzte river, copious amounts of silt and industrial pollution had been uplifted and carried downstream and kilometers out to sea giving the island the appearance that it was bathing in a pool of mud.  That combined with the amount of tourists on Putuoshan in the summer ruled this island out as a Chinese beach paradise, at least during the summer months.

Putuoshan Island Beach

Putuoshan Island

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#3 Xiamen, Fujian Province

Xiamen, the Miami of China, colorful high rises plague the palm lined streets as retirees spend all day in the park exercising.  I had high expectations for the beaches of Xiamen, it was down south, it had a tropical climate, it had palm trees and it had a Gulangyu Island.  Unfortunately I was sadly disappointed.  Navigating the beaches was like tip toeing through a mind field of rubbish. Even on the stunning Gulangyu island all the beaches were covered in waste, rubbish bins were few and far between and the Ayi’s that you see cleaning rubbish off the side of the road were no where to be seen.  Off the sand and into the water there wasn’t a lot of improvement as there seemed to be just as much rubbish surfing the waves as their was on the sand, you don’t even want to know the things that tried to entangle themselves in my hair!

But don’t be put off like I initially was, it turns out the beaches aren’t dirty all the time just most of the day.  Late in the afternoon, finally someone came to rake up the sands and seemingly out nowhere the crowds appeared to take advantage of the fairly rubbish free beach at least for a few hours.  Despite the less than perfect beaches Xiamen is still a great city to visit if not just for the stunning and historical Gulangyu Island, and after all, the rubbish doesn’t effect the delicious taste of the sea food!

Gulangyu Island Beach Xiamen

Gulangyu Island's beaches at least try...

The Verdict

I had high expectations for China’s beaches despite its bad reputation and although the destinations I visited weren’t a complete fail, I had fun, they certainly won’t be the next beach trend anytime soon.  After spending a fair amount of time frolicking in China’s waters and strolling along the sands there was one thing that had me really puzzled, with all these ideal beach locations in China why on earth were they so bad compared to other beaches around the world, it wasn’t as if they lacked scenery, they certainly had sand and water, why was there such a problem? Then it hit me, in China there just ain’t NO beach pride.  People don’t really care about the beach, their lives aren’t centred around the beach, there isn’t a culture around the beach, people simply just don’t care enough about it to keep it clean and to be worried if the sand is covered in rubbish and the water unswimmable.

Being an Aussie with a lot of beach pride I’m completely baffled as to why they wouldn’t care about their beaches, the crowds most certainly indicated that the Chinese enjoy a day at the beach but there just didn’t seem to be any respect for the great natural resource the beach is.  But it’s hardly surprising, considering China’s general lack of respect for its natural beauty, for the natural environment why would they care about their beaches! But it wasn’t all bad, I had fun at all three beach locations, I’d go back to all three and I’d recommend all three to anyone visiting China, just don’t go only for the beaches!

After my Chinese beach experiences, so far it’s looking pretty bad for China compared to all the other amazing beach destinations around the world.  In China, a country that lacks beach pride and with a river that spills toxic waste kilometers out to sea turning the attractive blue into muddy brown people certainly won’t be canceling their trip to Thailand to come to China any time soon. But I still have faith in China, Qingdao proved that China can have great beach locations and the proofs in the two times I’ve been there and loved it!  Will Qingdao always be the clear winner for me? Well I’m not done sampling China’s beaches just yet and I’ve not given up on topping Qingdao with more destinations still to sample including Dalian, Hainan and Shenzhen. Lets see how they hold up, maybe they can redeem China’s reputation, maybe they can produce a wave taller than 30cm and even better maybe they will have HOT lifeguards!!!

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include http://ourtravellifestyle.com, http://vagabondfamily.org, http://nunomad.com and now http://on-our-way-travel.com. View author profile.

Comments (11)

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  1. Andi
    Twitter:
    says:

    I would love to visit a beach in China one day!!! Been all over the country, but never to a beach.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Happy New Year!!! =-.

  2. Sasha says:

    You should definitely check out some Chinese beaches I think the beaches on Putuoshan would be really nice in September and Qingdao is great from Spring until mid Oct ! :)

  3. lynB says:

    What an adventure to find a beach, you must really be missing oz. Thanks for the information on beaches, I can do it the easy way now you have sussed out the best beaches in China. Good luck.

  4. Sasha says:

    Thanks for the comment Lyn. Yeah I do find myself missing Australia’s beaches but mostly just when I visit a bad one somewhere, luckily for me I lived inland and only got to the beach maybe once a year so YAY no beach withdrawals, I certainly don’t know any Aussie beach ppl, surfers or the like that have lasted in China!

  5. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

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  6. Ryan
    Twitter:
    says:

    Good read Sasha. It was long my quest to find a decent beach in China and save myself the expense of travelling internationally to get some sun and surf. Now I live a 2RMB bus-ride away from one.

    You definitely need to head down here to Hainan. I live in Haikou, and we’ve got some mediocre beaches (by global standards, but they’re decent enough when compared to China’s other offerings). Here are some pics of Haikou’s Holiday Beach.

    I think the closest you’ll get to a Thai or Filipino beach in China would be down towards the southern end of Hainan, outside of Sanya. Also, it’s worth checking out Wuzhizhou Island (near Sanya).

    Unless you want a repeat of Shandong, I’d skip Dalian’s beaches. I lived in Dalian for several years and never found a beach worth visiting twice. They’re alright when it’s mid-August and you’re stuck in the city, but on a relative scale, meh.

  7. Sasha says:

    Thanks for the comment Ryan, I’m definitely looking forward to getting to Hainan, I’ve heard pretty good things about it!!! It must be nice living there, clean air, beaches! When’s the best time to go there in terms of weather but not too much of a crowd?
    Thanks for the heads up on Dalian, if the beaches can’t outdo Qingdao it’s really not worth me flying there from Shanghai!

  8. Ryan
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’ve only been on Hainan for a little more than a month now, so am by no means an expert on the best time to visit, other than to say I would definitely avoid the Chinese holidays.

    My best guess would be during spring or fall. I’ve been to Sanya twice (prior to moving here) in February, and it was also great. Apparently this year suffered an abnormally cold winter though. We arrived at the end of March and needed jeans and a hoodie, but by the end of April we were sweating through our shorts and sandals. Funny place.

  9. sascha says:

    thanks for all the hard work ;) too bad you didn’t find THE BEACH out there …

  10. Aimee
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Sasha, nice post and you are right, the problem with the lack of great beach destinations in China is very much a cultural one as there is no lack of potential. There’s just no developed sense of beach culture here—the majority of Chinese do not even swim and tanning in the sun is a no-no and don’t even get me started on the littering. I have to say though, I’ve always found Xiamen to be one of the nicer examples of a Chinese beachfront with a well-managed promenade, palm trees etc, but the city center beaches definitely suffer from overcrowding and rubbish. Next time, try heading up the coast to Haiyuntai Beach (opposite the university) where you’ll find a cleaner, more chilled out spot popular with kitesurfers and windsurfers–it’s actually one of the best spots for kitesurfing in China, which is still a pretty new sport here.

    My friends and I have done a bit of exploring along the Fujian coast when looking for kitesurf spots and there are some beaches with great potential (and those big waves you were looking for—check out the pics here). I’ve also just got back from a weekend on Pingtan Island near Fuzhou which is undergoing tourist development on a massive scale, with the town in the center of the island under construction and huge highways being built direct to the water’s edge. It is already a big beach destination for local tourists and it’s a very strange phenomenon to see them bussed in to a muddy car park to pick their way through a rubbish-strewn construction site to the beach. That’s the “downtown beach” though and there are lots of other little bays along the coastline that were in much better shape (for now anyway… almost litter free and virtually empty)—I’ll be posting more about this with photos soon on the China Travel Blog soon!

  11. Aimee
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hey Sasha, my Pingtan post is up – you can check it our here: Pingtan: An island paradise in the making?

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