I’ve decided to split this post in 3, as it’s kinda long to read all in one go. “Why?” I hear you ask. “We love your long-winded stories with just the right balance of anecdotal humour, witty sarcasm and interesting factual content to keep us hooked for the entire sitting!” No…? That’s what I thought:
Part I – from creepy “love” hotels to sweeping, lovely beaches
So for Qing Ming Jie, or Tomb Sweeping Festival, Buck and I thought we’d go do a week-long motorcycle trip. As Tomb Sweeping fell on a Wednesday this year, the government generously gave us Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off, in exchange only for working a 7 day week the week before! So in order to make the most of our 3 “free” days, we both took off two more to make it a week long holiday.
Our plan: to ride east from Beijing to the coast and one of the popular summer beach destinations known as Beidaihe, and then make our way to Lao Long Tou the ‘Head of the Dragon’ where the Great Wall meets the sea. The round trip came to about 750km, plenty of time to take it easy, unlike with our previous trip to Qingdao, which you can see here.
After 170km on the first day (we got off to a later start, ok?) we stopped for the evening at the bizarre city of Tangshan. This place can best be described as one of those new satellite cities that have been popping up all over China over the last decade, but with an eery twist. All the buildings looked new and as if constructed at the same time, there were no messy, confusing hutongs or other forms of traditional local architecture. A large percentage of the buildings, whether they be banks, offices or restaurants, had these multi-coloured tubular lights framing the building edges, adding to this feeling of the entire city being constructed in one go. Despite the glass block architecture, the lights and the wide streets, Tangshan didn’t really have that bustling, vibrant feel you might expect from a new, modern city. Of course, first impressions were not probably aided when we started to notice an unusually high amount of “spa” hotels and “simple love fashion guest-houses” – yes, a category of hotel we had no idea existed either – dotted around town. Imagine our excitement as we discovered somewhere to stay that was even cheaper than a hostel! “Look darling, you can even pay by the hour!”
Despite the awesome bargains to be had, we wanted to enjoy our holiday without the added stress of possible quarantine, so we settled for the other end of the spectrum, a pricey but (fairly) clean 2 star. (“Ooooo” I hear you gasp. I know, that’s how we roll, don’t make a fuss.)
The next day we managed to get on the road a little earlier and headed for the much livelier, messier and generally more genuine town of Changli, where we met up with one of Buck’s colleagues, Cindy, her husband and her uncle. Incidentally, Cindy’s uncle was a lovely guy, taking us to a great dumpling place that had apparently been around for over 100 years.
Having filled our bellies with some of the yummiest dumplings I’ve had in China so far, we hoped back on the bike to do the last stretch of the day to Beidaihe, where we met up with a car-load of friends who had driven there from Beijing. The coastal roads leading up to the seaside town were amazing. The roads were empty and the views were beautiful. Beidaihe is a sweet town, although pretty dead as it was out of tourist season – during the summer months it’s a hotspot for Russians, apparently, and we did get asked several times if we were Russian ourselves (we were Westerners in Beidaihe, what else could we be??)
Although almost everything was closed and there was construction and renovation work going on virtually everywhere, the empty beach was a great spot to relax and get away from the crowds we have all become so used to in the ‘jungle ‘Jing’. We were the only people on the beach that evening, it was great…
The following day we spent exploring the beach and even taking a local fisherman up on his offer to take us out to sea and show us some sights in his fishing boat – you have to love Chinese ingenuity when it comes to seizing an opportunity to make money.
We also saw a lot of couples taking wedding pictures on the beach, often in small groups gathered around waiting for their turn with the photographer. This phenomenon is the done thing now in China for newly weds. You can spot them at many of the tourist attractions or anywhere really with a pretty view. Because having a Western wedding is expensive and doesn’t always go down well with the more traditional side of the family, young couples will often have a civil ceremony and traditional Chinese-style party for their wedding, but then hire a photography service who provide Western wedding dresses and matching tails to takes pictures of the bride and groom in various locations. This is a huge undertaking, as not only do they have the traditional white wedding photo shoot, they also usually have a bunch of other ‘costumes’ that they also either shoot outdoors or in the studio. The idea is to have a whole album full of different types of wedding themes and there are a large amounts of studios dedicated just to this service. The content of the album will range from traditional Chinese dresses through to military attire, each one with different make-up and hair.
Keep an eye out for Part II of our epic adventure!