Booze and beaches make Qingdao the perfect paradise

Booze and beaches make Qingdao the perfect paradise
PHOTO: Pixabay

Qingdao on China's East Coast is best known for its German architecture and its brews. Traders, of course, know Qingdao for its seaport and naval base.

Located on the south coast of Shandong Peninsula on China's East Coast, Qingdao shares the same latitude as South Korea and Japan.

If you set sail from the tip of the peninsula and crossed the Yellow Sea, you would eventually reach Incheon or Jeju Island in South Korea and perhaps Nagasaki in Southern Japan. Traders, of course, know Qingdao for its seaport and naval base. To me, Qingdao is synonymous with Tsingtao.


Chinese tourists pose along the promenade in Qingdao. The seaside city is a popular destination for local tourists, and is becoming known to Koreans and Japanese. 
Photo: The Nation

Indeed everything I know about this seaside city comes from my acquaintance with Tsingtao, a lager that's a favourite tipple all over China. So it's not surprising that I regard my trip to Qingdao as the perfect opportunity to unearth the origins of the famed Tsingtao brewery.

The search though is held at bay by the weather. It's dark, cold and very foggy when we arrive in Qingdao and it's impossible to see where the sky ends and the Yellow Sea begins. The sun breaks through on the second day and quickly the strong German influence on the city becomes clear.

The old town, for example, is an interesting blend of Baroque, Art Nouveau and the kind of architecture Thais associate with European cities. And Tsingtao Beer - one of China's largest breweries - was founded by the German settlers in 1903, thus explaining the taste of this well-hopped pilsner.


N.2 Bathing Beach, Qingdao, is empty during winter. The long beach, with its small promenade, is great for a stroll when the sun is shining. 
Photo: The Nation

The Germans were latecomers to the "colony hunting" game, arriving on China's east coast in the late 19th century just as the Qing Dynasty was about to collapse. The Germans won a 99-year Kiautschou Bay concession by gunpoint following the brutal murder of two German Roman Catholic priests in Shandong Province in 1897.

Whatever Kaiser Wilhelm II visualised while listening to a report from his men about Germany's concession in the Far East had little to do with land ideal for growing hops. His interest lay both in Qingdao's strategic location and in the rich coal fields surrounding what, at that time, was little more than a coastal village.


St Michael's Cathedral stands in the old square of Qingdao's Old Town.
Photo: The Nation

With their usual efficiency, the Germans set about urbanising the village, constructing roads, housing areas, government buildings, a sewer system and a safe drinking water supply, a rarity in those days.

We visit the former German Governor's Residence on the east of Signal Hill Park. The mansion was constructed in the style of a German Palace and cost a small fortune to build. Kaiser Wilhelm II apparently sacked the governor the moment he saw the bill.

"Can you see the dragon on the roof?" asks Bui, my guide "The dragon was originally in chains. The German wanted to leave a message for the Chinese."

For architecture and history buffs, a stroll through Qingdao's Old Town is a must.


A German historic building with copper roof capping in Qingdao's Old Town.
Photo: The Nation

Perched on a hill overlooking the newer part of the city, Old Qingdao is where the German settlers first set foot. Boasting small and winding roads flanked by maple trees, the Old Town is a great place to admire some of the oldest buildings in Qingdao including St Michael's Cathedral off Zhongshan Road. The crosses capping its twin spires were torn off during the Cultural Revolution but buried by locals for safekeeping. They were found in 2005 and restored to their rightful place.


A friendly feline invites passers-by to drop in for a cup of coffee at the local cat cafe.
Photo: The Nation

Other than the old square and the historic buildings, there are many back roads to explore. One morning, after climbing the hill to admire the Bavarian architecture, I decide to follow a series of paintings of cats. After climbing flights of stairs and taking several turns, I finally discover a lovely coffee shop run by three young Chinese and a whole lot of well-fed moggies.

"Qingdao is a summer destination for the Chinese," says Bui, as our bus runs parallel with the deserted beach. "In April, when Bangkok and many parts of Thailand are breaking records for heat, Qingdao is blessed with a cold sea breeze."


A Taoist shrine in Mouth Lao, Qingdao, offers a glimpse of the Chinese religious spirit.
Photo: The Nation

Other than the German legacy and historic buildings, Qingdao also has some Buddhist temples and shrines to share. We visit Zhanshan temple, an active Buddhist sanctuary, and a Taoist shrine in Mount Lao, a shady haven of peace surrounded by big trees and a lovely Chinese garden.

I finally get the chance to explore the origins of my favourite Chinese beer on the last day when we visit Tsingtao Beer Museum. We admire the original and still functional machinery before ending our visit with a pint of draft pilsner. For a small surcharge, visitors can pose for a photo that's then scanned on their bottle.


Tourists explore the marina in Qingdao.
Photo: The Nation

Four days in Qingdao are enough to convince me that this is one of the best cities in Asia to live or travel. It's a great place for walking and on a sunny day, the locals stroll along the promenade to get some fresh air. Buskers provide the entertainment while street hawkers demonstrate their kites.

But perhaps the biggest draw is the potential explore the Germany legacy, chill in the hills at the Taoist shrine and Buddhist monasteries and still have time to hit the beach.

IF YOU GO

NokScoot, a Thailand-based low-cost medium to long-haul airline, operates direct flights between Don Mueang International Airport and Qingdao Liuting International Airport.

Visit www.NokScoot.com.

(The writer travelled in Qingdao as a guest of NokScoot.)

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