Beihai, Guangxi 北海
Old buildings and seafood.
I was in Yunnan and my visa was going to expire soon. I still had about six days left, but there is many tempting destinations on the stretch of 400 kilometers between Yunnan and the border with Hong Kong – and my plan was to cross that border on time. I planned a series of short drop-bys to three places in Guangxi for sightseeing and two friends’ visits in Guangdong. Beihai was among my stops.
Beihai 北海 is a relatively small but well-known coastal city in Guangxi province. It’s pretty popular with Chinese tourists who come here for the famous Silver Beach. I don’t care much about beaches, so I dropped by mostly to eat some fresh seafood. It was worth it.
The town is rather relaxed, which was a positive surprise. If you are looking for a several day hideout in this part of China, consider stopping in Beihai. The crowded sandy beaches and resort area are located several kilometers from the town, so tourist hordes probably won’t bother your peace. I found a cheap hostel not far from the heart of city, in a wonderfully tranquil area and… with an ocean view. There were not many other travelers checked in at the time, and all were friendly and quiet. Some dogs lived with us. And chickens too.
For the most iconic chunk of Beihai, one needs to check out the Sheng Ping Street 升平街旧址. It thrived in the late 19th and the early 20th century. It’s lined with semi-colonial architecture that may remind you of Xiamen or Guangzhou. There is a special term for this style of tenement buildings with arcaded ground floors: qílóu 骑楼. The arcades are very practical as they provide shade for pedestrians during South China’s scorching summers. They’re quite photogenic too.
But hey, these old streets can be considered charming, but I’m here for the seafood. So let’s turn our heads away from architecture and eat something!
Waisha Seafood Island 外沙海鲜岛 is a man-made islet just slightly off the old town’s center. It looks unassuming but this area is actually quite a vital part of China’s seafood trade. For a foodie traveler that translates to plenty of fish and sellfish vendors and frutti di mare restaurants. All as fresh as you can dream of. My lens spotted several interesting marine creatures, including large geoducks, also known as elephant-trunk clams (象拔蚌, xiàngbábàng). I couldn’t fail to photograph sand worms as well, perhaps the most famous seafood item in Beihai (沙虫 or 沙肠虫, shāchángchóng).
I had some trouble choosing what to eat, finally settling on razor clams 蛏子.
Pineapple time! Let’s conclude the article with a dessert. A frequent sight in Southern China: the street fruit seller will peel your pineapple and remove its eyes with a special knife in a matter of seconds. Ready to eat. Cheap. Fresh. A moment of bliss on a sunny day.