China doesn’t really do beach culture, especially up north, but they’re learning fast in little BEIDAIHE. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that there were strict rules enforced here: West Beach was reserved for foreigners after they were granted access in 1979, with guards posted to chase off Chinese voyeurs interested in glimpsing their daringly bourgeois swimming costumes; for visiting Chinese, dark swimsuits were compulsory to avoid the illusion of nudity. These days things have changed and skimpy bikinis are now de rigueur on the town’s three main beaches (and local girls are slowly learning that high heels and sand do not mix), while the streets by the shore are as gaudy and kitschy as any busy seaside resort. Away from the sea, up the hill, the tree-lined streets are much quieter, and the majority of the town seems to consist of nondescript compounds hosting guesthouses, villas and sanatoriums, some open to paying guests and others set aside for the Party, PLA or state-run companies who reward favoured members with trips to the seaside.

Note that much of Beidaihe shuts down during colder months; the streets along the seafront are at their liveliest from May to August.

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