China Road Trip Take 2: Laolongtou and Beidaihe

Laolongtou

When spring finally hit Beijing, and every single resident emerged from hibernation to crowd the streets, sidewalks and restaurants, it came time for another road trip. Looking to satisfy one of the only needs Beijing cannot, we headed to the coast to see some waves at Laolongtou and Beidaihe.

About three hours northeast of Beijing, Laolongtou, or the Head of the Dragon, marks the end of the Great Wall. This part of the Wall was restored 80s, which unfortunately buried some of its natural charm; however, the scene itself – a towering fortress rising out of sand – is impressive.

Walking the plank

The whole area surrounding the Wall is made up of courtyards and temples, even a brick maze, but the best part aside from the Wall was a ride on a motorboat. Hailing from the East coast of the US, I’ve had my fair share of boat rides. Nevertheless, I was particularly excited to see a sea view of the Wall, so we balanced the rusty plank swaying in the ocean and scrambled into the boat with a few Chinese tourists. After launching, however, we headed in the opposite direction of Wall, and soon realized this trip was not a peaceful saunter to enjoy the vista, but rather a roller coaster ride powered with 300 CCs. And just like a roller coaster, it ended after a handful of engine revs and made me scream along with the other tourists.

Since there aren’t many hotels within walking distance of Laolongtou, we stayed the neighboring city of Shanhaiguan, which aside from its terrible fast food (don’t ask me why we thought a restaurant named Pop Land was a good idea) and the limited hotel options, was charming.

Romantic ride in a spaceship

When I say limited hotel options, I really mean hotel options for foreigners were limited. Before the trip, I had heard stories from friends of getting turned down from hotels for being a foreigner, but to my understanding this only happened in very remote towns. Apparently, the government needs to issue hotels a license before they are allowed to host foreigners. Some say this is to ensure the rooms/restaurant/amenities are up to foreign standards, while others claim it’s solely for security purposes. And there are still others who naively think it’s out of racism. It seems to be a combination of the first two, although I can’t confirm this. Although our Chinese friend had already bargained for a room at a cheap hotel, as soon as Greg and I walked in behind her, the clerk hardened, pointed us in the direction of the “foreigner hotel” and asked us to leave. The foreigner hotel was swanky and much more expensive, but the clerks were much friendlier: they awkwardly discussed – and tried to touch – my eyelashes (apparently they’re feichang chang).

Boat ride in Beidaihe

Beidaihe had been described to me as the Hamptons for wealthy Beijingers, but it’s really more of the Hamptons for Russians. Most of the architecture is tawdry, and everything is in Chinese, Russian and English. Our Chinese coworkers had warned us that it was too early in the season to check out the coast, but the idea of isolation was what intrigued us. At first sight, it was a ghost town. The majority of hotels and restaurants along the main strip were closed for construction. After exploring a bit deeper, however, we discovered where all of the construction workers were hanging out: a back alley of street vendors, local eats and pool halls. We spent the remaining two days either on this street or the beach. Seaside, on our final day, we were persuaded by local fisherman to hire his friend for a boat ride around the bay. Despite our previously unsuccessful tour by boat, we again walked the rusty plank, and instead of a roller coaster ride, received informed suggestions on which clubs we had to go to as foreigners from our charming, toothless skipper.

While we arrived at home rested and tanned from the ocean sun, I’m already looking forward to our return to Beidaihe.

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