Beihai (北海; Běihǎi) is a city with an urban population of 570,000 (2010) 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, and it is an expensive choice.
Binhei Road, running parallel the sea promenade is pedestriant only, has been made up to be of supposed tourist interest.
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. The Qiaogang area is home to numerous ethnic Chinese who fled Vietnam as refugees during the Sino-Vietnamese War.
There is a lively expat scene in the city, even though insiders guess there are only about 50-75 Westerners around. 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, where Westerners would talk English with Chinese visitors practicing their knowledge of the language.
There are multiple high-speed trains daily from Nanning (downtown) Station as well Nanning East Station that whisk you at 200 km/hr to Beihai in around 1½ hours. There is high speed train service connecting with another popular tourist destination - Guilin as well.
There is a ferry from Haikou to Beihai harbour (+86 779 3904011) which leaves daily. It takes about 11 hours and costs ¥67-400 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 both will be replaced by the huge new terminal about 5 km away on the present outskirts of the city.
- 1 Beihai Fucheng Airport (BHY IATA). A 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 direct flight to and from Shanghai, operated by China Eastern and Spring Airlines.
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.
Using Didi taxi is also common and easy.
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 and traffic planning has not kept 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.
Hellobike (哈啰单车) share bikes operate in the city. If you have an Alipay account, you can use Alipay to unlock them.
- 1 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. At daytime it is a relaxed pedestrian zone filled with souvenir stores and a few coffee shops.
- 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 which is well worth visiting. Do not expect clear blue water, as the quartz sand makes the water appear quite murky, even though it is considered to be safe 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. You should stay close to crowd in order to avoid mosquitoes. Tip: if you head through the abandoned parking lot ringed with neo-Roman columns, you can get to a stretch of the same beach which is free. ¥100/person (May 2018).
- 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. Best place for pearls, and also dry fish, is at the aquatic products market on Yunnan road. There are a few shopping malls, such as Walmart and Wanda, and another one near the train-station.
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 seafood 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.
As in all Chinese cities the easiest option is to check the prices of the local hotels through websites like ctrip to get an idea about the price range, then walk to the hotel and check and book the room at the reception.
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 50 m from beach.
- 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. Ferries leave from the International Passenger Terminal (北海国际客运港) three times a day for ¥150-180.
- There is ferry to the island of Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan. This ferry leaves also from the International Passenger Terminal. It leaves at 18:00 and arrives Haikou the next morning. Depending on the class of the cabin tickets are ¥100-400.
- Dongxing has a couple of water parks.