Beihai (北海; Běihǎi) is a city of 600,000 to 1 million inhabitants in Guangxi on the southwest coast of China. It is said to be the fastest growing city in the world. Its centre is Beibuwan Square (北部湾广场; Beibuwan Guangchang) with a huge monument in the middle representing the Pearl of the South.
There is an excellent beach, Silver Beach (quite different from the polluted North Beach), and lots of cheap food, including Vietnamese food since many refugees came here. The weather is warm for most of the year, however during winter months it is not warm enough to work on your tan on the seafront.
Beihai is not much frequented by foreigners, and English is not widespread. The dialect spoken in Beihai is a form of Cantonese, but quite a few people also understand or even speak Mandarin.
There is a lively expat scene in the city, even though insiders guess there are only about 50-75 Westerners around. Most of them are seniors (65+ years old) with Chinese wives or girl friends. Meet some of the expats at breakfast around 09:30 at McDonald's (there is only one right at Beibuwan Guangchang) or in one of the bars run by foreigners, for example Tommy's Bar-Restaurant on Waisha Seafood Island, The Way Inn - Holland Bar-Restaurant in Old Street, The Rusty Nail in Haijiao Rd and William Shakespeares bar-restaurant on Jinhaian St.
There used to be an English Corner upstairs at McDonald's every Friday from around 20:00, started by the now infamous Gary from Texas (lip salve, face lift(s) Gary), who started this to meet girls (what else) and where a few Westerners would talk English with Chinese visitors practicing their knowledge of the language.
There is a ferry from Haikou to Beihai harbour (+86 779 3904011) which leaves alternate days. It takes about 11 hours and costs ¥67-200 depending on accommodation chosen.
There are overnight buses from Guilin and from Liuzhou going via Nanning. Shenzhen is also connected to Beihai by coach services, get to the metro station Zhuzilin in Shenzhen, right at Futian Bus Station, and take a bus, there is one in the morning and five in the evening running through the night for about ¥200.
There are three bus terminals in Beihai, two of them in the city centre on Beihai Guangdong Rd (one of them quite near to Beibuwan Square; buses to Nanning start from there), but in the near future both will be replaced by the huge new terminal about 5 km away on the present outskirts of the city. It has only recently been opened.
Beihai Fucheng Airport is rather small with only five gates and a few connections to major cities in China. There are scheduled flights from Shanghai Pudong, Guilin, Guiyang, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing and Kunming.
There is also a scheduled direct flight from Shanghai every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. It is operated by Juneyao Airlines which is based in Shanghai. The flight takes off at 17:30 from Shanghai Pudong airport, and arrives at 20:50.
There are many taxis, motorbike taxis and tricycles. However, they will often try to overcharge you if they know you are not a native of China, or Beihai. Minimum rate for everything moving around apart from taxis stands at ¥4, even though the formal rate is ¥3. Haggling is customary, so do not be afraid to ask for a lower rate. Getting a motorbike ride from the bus station to the port is about ¥10.
Taxis should use a meter; there is a surcharge of ¥1 to be paid in addition to the fare shown on the meter.
There are many buses going everywhere in the city, but bus lines partly seem to follow rather irrational routes, apparently because the city has been growing rapidly over the last years, with traffic planning not keeping abreast. Tickets usually cost ¥1-2, to be dropped into a box at the driver's seat, have exact money ready. Buses frequently leave from Beibuwan Square in the centre of the city, but mostly do not run at night.
- Old Street (take bus 3 for ¥2 from Beibuwan Square, they usually do not run after 21:30). The street is famous for its old colonial buildings, which are rotting away. This is the original site of the first Western trade centres in Beihai. Now there are quite a few bars there and a busy nightlife.
- Underwater World (halfway between the long distance train station and the Silver Beach along the route of bus 3). Oceanorama and exhibition center of shellfish and coral. A must-see for aquarium enthusiasts. Featuring over a thousand kinds of coral and shellfish, the combined complex also features a large collection of fish, sharks, and turtles, as well as a ten meter tall column-style aquarium. In addition to the sea life, there is also a large section on China's naval history, with some nods to foreign expeditions as well. Of particular interest is the exhibit on the Ming Dynasty Muslim-eunuch Admiral Zheng He, including a detailed comparison between his massive treasure ships and the comparatively tiny vessels of Christopher Columbus. While the ¥100 entrance fee seems a bit steep it is not difficult to spend 2-3 hours wandering through the complex, especially if one of the center's English speaking Chinese tour guides is available. Besides this the Oceanorama also has an extensive commercial wing for those interested in buying genuine pearls. The adjacent 4D Cinema is a bit of a tourist trap at ¥25 for a 15 minute film, but for those with a bit of extra cash to spend it is an enjoyable experience. Viewers may choose between several different movies to watch, including the supernatural Escape from Bane Manor. Sadly, there are no English subtitles.
- Silver Beach (a few km outside town). Beach with grey-white quartz sand and well worth visiting, but do not expect clear blue water as the quartz sand makes the water appear quite murky, even though it is considered to be save for swimming. If you have the chance to stick around the beach after dark, you will be in for a wonderful sight. If the sky is clear and the light from the moon is shining on the water, you will be treated to the fluorescence of the seaweed that grows fairly close to the shore line. But the main effect is the reflection of the moonlight by the quartz sand of the beach. Free.
- Night Markets. Locals enjoy staying up late and one of the best things to do in Beihai is just to wander around streets with food and market stalls. There are a couple of public parks that are open late and many locals head there at weekend nights to have a drink, do some dancing and just to meet their friends.
- Cinema. Around the Beibuwan Square there are at least three locations for the cinema. At the top of two shopping malls. 1st one: Crossing of Changqing Road & Hai'an Road (3rd floor), 2nd one: Beibuwan Middle Road & Hai'an road (5th floor) and the third one is at the Beibuwan Middle Rd (4th floor). The first two are very new, where as the last one is slightly older.
The area produces pearls. They are sold in certain central high rises, for instance near RT Mart.
There is seafood everywhere and it is very cheap, about half the price of Shanghai or Hangzhou. When ordering anything with meat in a restaurant there is a chance of getting rat meat although you ordered beef.
There are two big sea food markets in Beihai, Donghai Market and Nanzhu Market. The price in Donghai Market is much more reasonable, but the quality is a little bit lower than Nanzhu Market. At Beiyun Market（北云市场) and Guizhong Market you can buy raw seafood. Salted and dried aquatic products can be bought in Shuichanpin Market (水产市场). A delicacy in Beihai (as in other coastal/sub tropical Chinese cities) is half a pineapple on a stick. Yours for less than ¥2.
On Seafood Island (Waisha), on the northern shore there are many places (restaurants as well as tents etc.), which offer various cooked sea foods. But going to the island restaurants may be difficult for those unable to speak Chinese as the price of seafood is quoted per wubaike (500 grams, also known as jin). In the fishing village Dijiao, there are some small eating places which offer cooked sea food much cheaper.
By far, some of the best eating in Beihai takes place at any of the various night markets. Most night markets tend to start around dusk, and food can be purchased from a wide variety of vendors who, in addition to cooking local seafood, vegetables and serving drinks, also provide plastic seats and chairs.
Pizzas are not so special in Bei Hai any more, but do not expect the Italian variety. Among other places, you will find a pizzeria in Changqing Rd, which also offers food specialities of Western countries.
There are a couple of music bars (discos) in the city centre, for example The Nest not far from the main office of China Mobile near Beibuwan Square, and at Old Street and No ONE bar in the Triumph building opposite McDonalds and N0. 88 bar in Guizhou Rd, not far from The Nest. In some of these places you have to order a sixpack at a price range above ¥100 if you want a beer, in others you accordingly get charged more for a single drink. Music is usually trendy, noisy and very little room for dancing.
As mentioned above there are 4 western owned bars:
- The Rusty Nail in Haijiao Rd. Sports bar, pooltable, soccertable and darts boards. Noisy heavy music, but still on a level to make conversation. Canadian owner named Cy.
- The Way Inn - Holland bar in Old Street. European pub style. pooltable, dartboards, soccertable. background music, golden oldies. great pizzas and burritos. Dutch owner named Tony.
- William Shakespeare close to Silver Beach. Big restaurant (core biz) and small bar with draught beer. background music. English owner named Mark.
- Lai Lai Tommy's at Waisha seafood area. restaurant in stand-alone mansion. Western food and bbq. background music. Chairs outside. Swedish-Australian owner named Tommy.
Hotel prices are usually lower than in other tourist cities. The Shangri-La, a five-star hotel, charges about US$60-70 for a single room.
There are quite a few low cost hotels, for instance near the bus stations: There are a bunch of hotels from ¥35 and up, but do not expect air-conditioning at that rate. Rooms provided with that will cost at least ¥100. Look at the room, then ask for a discount. Depending on the room, the hotel may or may not be willing to turn on the heat during winter months.
A bit more expensive, but still very reasonable, are the hotels around Beibuwan Square, for example Guang'an Hotel on Sichuan Rd.
There is a clean and well done hostel at Qiaogang Town called Seahouse. It has dorm and other style rooms. Dorm is around ¥35-45. The hostel is 50m from beach.
- Backpacker Inn Hostel, 珠海西路165号 (Zhuhaixilu 165) (At one end of Old Street, opposite a backpacking equipment store.), ☎ 0779-2030605, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cozy place on Old Street, nice restaurant next door, Chinese owner speaks English and German, good dorm beds (Nov.2011) dorm ¥48.
- Take a bus to Hepu and have a look at the newly excavated graves of the Han dynasty there, including a beautifully restored temple.
- Take a ferry to the scenic Weizhou Island, China's biggest and youngest volcanic island with some of the most beautiful beaches of China's south coast.