The first thing that struck me about Qingdao as I flew into Liuting International Airport was how much its condominium developments resembled an endless stretch of domino tiles.
It reminded me that this was a city of nine million — the sheer mass of humanity was striking.
The sun had set by the time we arrived in the downtown area, which was 45 minutes away from the airport. It turned out we were right on time to watch the light show.
The orchestrated downtown light-up is now one of the biggest attractions in this port city in China’s eastern Shandong province. From November to April, these light shows start at 7pm or 8pm and last for about 30 minutes.
Some 50 skyscrapers form a 5km-long backdrop for the dramatic display that is best witnessed from the beaches along Fushan Bay.
Our guide insisted we see them before checking into the hotel — and it was worth it.
The dazzling display truly made us forget our travel weariness.
Qingdao has an intriguing history, having been occupied by both the Germans and Japanese. While modern Qingdao continues to progress, many of its most charming parts hark back to the past, notably the areas around downtown Signal Mountain Park, where buildings such as churches and the former Governor’s Residence retain a distinctly historical European flavour.
When the Germans occupied Qingdao in 1891, they erected grand buildings and fine stone houses. The beachside villa precinct of Badaguan is now a popular spot for visitors to wander along its boulevards and admire the storied heritage and beautiful architecture of grand residences in the neighbourhood.
Another legacy of the German period is the Germania Brewery, which opened in 1903 and was the forerunner to the famous Tsingtao Brewery. Today, Tsingtao has a beer museum, as well as a pub and restaurant for relaxing over some food and a pint — or two.
The German era ended when Qingdao was occupied by Japanese forces in 1914. Qingdao returned to Chinese control in 1922 before World War II started the second period of the Japanese occupation from 1938 to 1945.
Another attraction is the Qingdao International Horticultural Expo, which showcases elements of the natural world. A highlight is the Botanical Pavilion, where many tropical and temperate plants, including cacti, are grown.
Beneath the pavilion is a walk-through underwater world exhibition of marine life, in particular jellyfish from around the world.
Breath of fresh air
I also explored Laoshan National Forest Park along the coast, just to the east of the city. The park has many pink granite rock outcrops and its highest peak, the 1,133m-high Mount Jufeng, shimmers in the early morning sun.
After a 15-minute leisurely walk up the mountain, I got to admire a view of emerald-green dam waters reflecting images of massive stone outcrops. Behind me were the glittering waters of the Yellow Sea, and only a few other hikers.
Considering the population size and density of Qingdao, it was the perfect escape from the city’s urban hustle.
What to see and do
• Badaguan beachfront and historic precinct: The leafy neighbourhood has grand homes such as the Granite Mansion built by the Germans, and a Russian villa known as Huashi Lou — distinctive for its Gothic influences, large turret and multi-coloured façade wrought out of marble and stone. Beaches for swimming, with colourful changing sheds, are close by.
• Qingdao International Horticultural Expo: Located 40km to the north-east of Qingdao, the park is an excellent venue to admire plants from around the globe. Visit wetlands covered with colourful lily flowers and a windmill surrounded by tulips. Entry charges are from 60 to 120 yuan ($12 to $24). Visit www.qdshiboyuan.com for details.
• Laoshan National Forest Park: The park, 25km by car from the centre of Qingdao, is a treat for nature-lovers with streams, lakes, granite outcrops and trails. Bus 104 travels from Qingdao to the park entrance. It takes 45 minutes and costs three yuan (60 cents) to travel one way.
Visit www.qdlaoshan.cn for details.
• Tsingtao Brewery: Tours of the beer museum, in Shubei District are mostly conducted in Mandarin. But English guides are available at 30 yuan ($6), inclusive of one complimentary beer sample. Visit www.chinatravel.com for details.
Where to eat
• Taidong (or Taitung) Night Market: Open daily from 5.30pm to 10pm, the streetside markets that branch off from Taidong Pedestrian Street offer a range of hawker food, from sea urchin and fried softshell crabs to dumplings.
• Beer Bar at Tsingtao Brewery: Pork knuckle and other German favourites feature on the menu here, along with Chinese dishes. Enjoy the beer-hall ambience as you loudly proclaim “gan bei” while clinking mugs of chilled, frothy Tsingtao with your friends.
• Chuange Yu Shui Jiao: Dine on delicious dumplings at this eatery (Min Jiang 2nd Road 57). Fish dumplings are the speciality here but a wide range of other seafood dishes are also served.
• I flew from Singapore to Qingdao on Xiamen Air (www.xiamenair. com) via Xiamen, with a layover of a few hours on both legs of the journey.
• Singaporeans can visit Qingdao for tourism or business visa-free for up to 15 days. However, it is always best to confirm this with the Chinese Embassy prior to departure.
• Swimming is possible in summer, with temperatures reaching 33 deg C in August. They can drop to 0 deg C in December and January.
• Visit www.tourismshandong.com for more details.
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