A fisherman fishes at sunset in the waters of Rizhao, Shandong Province.Want to relax and catch the last bit of summer sunshine before winter? Rizhao, in East China's Shandong Province, is the destination for you.
Located in the southeastern part of Shandong, Rizhao is a coastal city that is famous for its blue sea, azure sky and golden beaches.
It is a convenient escape that's just a four-hour bullet train ride from either Beijing or Shanghai.
According to the city's tourism bureau, each year Rizhao attracts over 7 million tourists domestically and abroad who are looking to enjoy the views and relax on the beaches.
It's not as famous as Qingdao, another coastal city that is well-known for its old villas, streets, beaches and of course, Tsingtao beer.
So, what makes Rizhao so special? It makes you want to settle down there. With a population of about 2.8 million - roughly 10 times less than Beijing's population, Rizhao was crowned by the United Nations as one of the most habitable cities in the world in 2009.
A view of Wanpingkou Beach Photos: CFP
Rizhao, the "sunshine city" in Chinese, is blessed with a temperate climate all year round.
In the 1980s, Rizhao was still a fishing village from which the local fishermen shipped their fish across the Yellow Sea to South Korea and Japan.
Since the 1990s, the local authorities have been working on environmental projects and investing in renewable energy such as solar and wind.
If you wander around the city's urban areas, you will notice the gray concrete roofs of the apartment buildings are equipped with solar panels.
Spearheaded by the slogan "Planning an Ecological City and Building a Livable Home," local authorities now require that all new buildings have these installed. Currently, nearly all households in central Rizhao use solar water heaters and almost all the city's lighting is powered by solar energy.
If you are wondering how much the locals save by using solar energy, OnEarth Magazine did the math in one story about Rizhao: By using a solar heater for 15 years, a family can save over $2,000 on electricity bills.
Due to its environmental policies, the city has been listed as one of the best cities in China for air quality and received China's Environmental Model City award in 2005, the World Clean Energy Award in 2007 and the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour Award in 2009. As a result, the city's economy has grown, as has foreign investment.
A man wears facekini on the beach. Photo: IC
Meet the facekini
To make the most of our trip, we immediately hit the beach after we arrived to enjoy a day of warm sunshine.
Rizhao has an more than 100 kilometers of golden beaches. The Wanpingkou Beach area is one of the best in the city. During the summer, it is often packed with tons of sun- and beach-lovers.
Honestly speaking, the beaches in Rizhao are not as good as the ones in Thailand - the sand is not that fine, the water doesn't seem that clean and it's overcrowded.
Hmm … welcome to China.
If you don't mind paying a 60-70 yuan (about $10) entry ticket, there is a nice beach located inside the National Forest Park where there are fewer people but finer and softer sand.
So, what can you see at the beaches here that you cannot see in Thailand? Probably the famous made-in-China facekini! What is a facekini? The name says it all. It's a cloth that covers your face and only reveals your eyes, nose and mouth. It has different colors and patterns for you to choose from.
The facekini was first spotted on a beach in Qingdao in 2015 and soon made international headlines. Not long after, it became a weird fashion trend on many beaches throughout China.
Do you think wearing a facekini is enough to protect your skin from the blazing sun? The answer is no. Looking at the women around me, I could see those who were wearing a facekini were also wearing sunglasses or holding an umbrella.
Fun at the beach
Just soaking in seawater has become a very popular activity nowadays. Some say it has medicinal benefits as ocean water is abundant in vitamins, mineral salts and other elements. Soaking in sea water is also supposed to calm the nerves, ease chronic health problems and relax your muscles.
When the tide is low, families take their kids to go catch the little sand crabs that can be found in the shallows. To catch a crab, you have to be like a crab. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to walk like one, you just have to understand their habits.
Find a place where the waves can reach and look for a crab hole. When the water comes in, start digging. You might find a sand crab swimming around in the puddle. Move quick to catch it, otherwise it will bury itself back in the sand.
If you are not interested in bathing in the ocean or catching crabs, you can go sailing or engage in other water sports activities.
Another option is go visit Liujia Bay where you can jump on a boat with local fishermen to experience what their lives are like. They teach you how to fish instead of giving you fish. Afterwards, you can go have a meal with the fisherman's family and enjoy the fresh seafood you caught.
Dream of your own island
If you ever dreamed of having your own island and money to burn, the provincial government will make your dream come true. There are about 589 islands off the coast of Shandong Province, 557 of them are unpopulated islands. And you know what? They are now for sale.
The province is leasing over 500 of these uninhabited islands for development. Buyers will have ownership for 50 years. Well, you might ask, "how much is it?" For reference, it cost the government about 8 million yuan ($1.2 million) to develop Taohua Island, or Peace Blossom Island.
Many Chinese know Taohua Island from the famous martial arts novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes written by Jin Yong. However, the one in the book is located in the Zhoushan Archipelago in East China's Zhejiang Province. Many confuse that one with the one in Rizhao as they have the same name.
But Rizhao's Taohua Island is very disappointing.
First of all, there are no peach trees at all. Not a single one. Instead it is packed with dealers who try to sell you souvenirs.
Second, the only thing of note is a big stone which says "Taohua Island," but they charge you to take a photo in front of it.
Third, the island is so small that it took us only 20 minutes to walk around the entire thing.
According to other tourists we met, Taigong Island is a better option.
Relaxing in the evening
After we came back from Taohua Island, we sat down on the beach to watch a beautiful orange sunset as the sun sank into the water. It was one of my favorite things to do on the beach.
Then we went to the lighthouse scenic resort for a walk, just a 10-minute drive away from Wanpingkou Beach. Many young couples come here to take wedding photos.
There is nothing much to see at the lighthouse. But from there, you can see the Rizhao port. Rizhao has China's 9th largest port. It connects Rizhao with the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the port of Antwerp in Belgium and other European ports.
After a day of fun, it's time to enjoy some yummy seafood! There are two ways to do that. You can order it directly at a local restaurant, or you go to a fish market called the Shijiu Market to buy fresh seafood and then bring you purchases to a restaurant nearby. Of course, the latter is much cheaper.
You really have to know how to choose the freshest seafood at a market.
For fish, look for the bright ones with clearer eyes. Then smell it. The locals said even though it smells bad, it will not necessary be bad for you, it just won't taste that good. For shellfish, try to put them on the counter top to see if they are still alive. Tap them on the shell. Clams and mussels will definitely react to you.
Watching a sunrise is one of the must-do things when you visit Rizhao. Even though I am not a morning person, it is worth getting up at 5 in the morning to see the beautiful sunrise in Rizhao. The sun is one of the main reasons for the city's name after all.
After watching a beautiful sunrise slowly light up the sky, we waved to say goodbye to the city.
Rules of Thumb:
When to go:
As a coastal city, Rizhao has a humid, warm climate. The annual average temperature is about 12.5 C. You can travel to Rizhao any time of a year.
From Beijing/Shanghai to Rizhao, you can take the bullet train, which takes about four hours, or take a plane that takes about 1.5 hours.
Rizhao is just a 2-hour drive away from Qingdao. If you land in Qingdao, there is a direct airport bus route between the two cities.
There are long-distance bus stations that connect Rizhao and other cities in Shandong.
What to buy:
Surprise! Rizhao is known as one of the three tea capitals of China. You can visit Yuhai Bay to buy tea.
Dried seafood is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. The best place to buy dried seafood is the Andongwei seafood market.