I think the question I get asked most via my blog is if China is ‘back to normal’ yet? It is a question that is difficult to answer at times. On the whole I would say yes, but there are other times when the fact we are still living during a pandemic is very real. Traditionally CNY sees a huge migration of people traveling back to their hometown to visit family and friends. It is the biggest movement of people on the planet – about 3 billion trips made by hundreds of millions of people – and the longest public holiday in China. For many CNY 2021 was seen as a way to measure how effectively China had dealt with Covid 19 in the long term and there was some apprehension in case it led to another breakout. With this in mind there were some travel restrictions put in place. Companies staggered their holidays, others were paid a bonus not to travel and some, like us, were advised not to leave their city boundary. Luckily Shenzhen is huge with plenty to do and we spent most of our 3 week holiday volunteering at the local dog rescue, celebrating our wedding anniversary, visiting local attractions, settling into our new apartment and finally getting out to Dapeng for a few days, a place I have wanted to visit for a while.
Dapeng Peninsula is located about a 1hr drive east of Shenzhen and is recognised for its rugged coastline, small seaside villages, pretty beaches, watersports facilities and of course the historic Dapeng Fortress. We decided to stay close to the fortress in a town at the North of the peninsula for 3 nights. The journey to Dapeng was very pretty, the road hugs the coast and once you start to leave the city you can see Wutongshan and the islands and hills across to Hong Kong. It is important to note that the town we stayed in does not allow vehicles other than bikes and scooters. Yes, it would have been useful to have been told that by the B&B we stayed at so when the Didi dropped us off in the carpark it would have been a little less confusing, but after a 5-minute walk we were soon at our accommodation. Maan Coco is a small, locally run hotel just a minute walk from the beach and about a 15 minute walk from the fortress. It is very close to the bars, restaurants and convenience shops making it a perfect location for a short break.
As usual we had to provide our passports and show our green health code on check in. We also linked up with their WeChat account so we could let them know if we wanted breakfast, or the cleaners to come in and freshen up our room. The room we booked was ok, it was quite spacious with a nice modern bathroom and it was clean. My main disappointment was that there was a big patch of black mold on the ceiling and the paint was flaking due to damp. It was odd that the two rooms on our floor which remained unoccupied throughout our stay that didn’t have those issues but we were allocated the one that did! As we knew we would hardly be in the room we didn’t bother to ask to move but did report it on checkout. We paid about 350RMB a night which included breakfast in the courtyard (which we never actually went to).
The beach was just a 2 minute walk from our accommodation and it was a great place to people watch. From here you can also sail, take out a speedboat, paddleboard, go out on huge inflatables or watch people on giant pedalos go round in circles etc. However, it is not recommended to swim due to the dangerous currents (and sharks apparently). Aloha beach club is a great place to grab a drink and sit on their huge deck watching the waves and soaking up the sun.
There are so many places to eat here you will be spoilt for choice, from grabbing something on a stick to fishing for your own supper you can be as boring or adventurous as you like. We had heard good things about Johnson’s pizza so we headed there and it definitely deserves its reputation. The terrace is lovely with a relaxed atmosphere, a very cute dog and live music some nights. The pizzas were absolutely fantastic, we can wholeheartedly advise you to order the pepperoni and tuna/onion. It is great to sit here with a drink, listening to the waves and watch fresh pizzas being cooked in the wood fired oven.
After dinner we enjoyed walking along the seafront. Watching some of the evening entertainment was entertainment in itself; there is a love of karaoke here and the quality is ……..variable at best. For us this part of the town had a bit of a Blackpool feel at night, which could be good or bad depending on your opinion of Blackpool I guess!
One of the main draws of this part of the peninsula is Dapeng Fortress and I have to admit that I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. It is very accessible and there are lot of cafes, bars, shops and restaurants within the fortress. Built at the end of the 14th century to protect the area from pirates it soon developed into a town. It is historically important to the region due to its role in fighting off an invasion from the Japanese and also as a stronghold in the Opium Wars. There is a very small museum inside the fortress with some artefacts and information where you can learn more about its history. You enter the fortress from the main gate on the South wall and once inside you are transported back in time due to the buildings, architecture and cobbled streets. It is seriously cute.
There are signs in Chinese and English directing you to the main sights and some of the more important buildings have a plaque outside. However, the best thing to do here is simply wander. The main streets were busy but once we took a couple of turns off the main drag we didn’t see anyone at all and we could properly explore. There are lot of small shops selling craft items and nick- nacks, coffee shops, art galleries, craft beer and book shops. Some buildings are completely derelict, and others are being renovated. I think my favourite place was just off Phoenix Hall where there was a small house with a pedal bike outside and the noise of an elderly man snoring away. Towards the north gate we sat and had a coffee and juice under the shady trees.
For lunch we ate inside the fortress at Pengcheng restaurant by the east gate. Our expectations weren’t very high as we expected it to be a tourist trap but it was really good and we ended up eating here twice. I would suggest going at lunchtime though because the evening menu is more limited. The focus here is on seafood and we watched family groups tucking into huge bowls of fresh prawns and crab. We were a little more boring sticking to fried pork, rice, veggies and sweet and sour. Boring but delicious.
I loved the fortress during the daytime but at night it really came alive. Many of the bars have live music and there was a very chilled atmosphere, we ended up doing a mini bar crawl trying some specialty drinks. You could definitely have a very good night out here!
On our last day we planned to walk from the fortress to Dongshan Temple, which despite dating back to the 14th century, has actually been rebuilt several times. However, when we got there it was closed throughout CNY due to Covid restrictions. Shame they didn’t put the sign at the bottom of the hill we had just walked up! I was really disappointed as I had read it has beautiful architecture, gardens and views and is an authentic experience of a working temple. For me the temple being closed was a definite reason to head back to Dapeng.
I absolutely loved our short stay here, it was so much more than I expected it to be. It is fair to say the beach here is not as pretty as others in the area, I think the further you go down the peninsular the quieter and more picturesque they are, but for a first visit I could not have enjoyed it more. I absolutely recommend a visit here, a weekend would be the perfect amount of time to visit the beach, explore the fortress and temple and eat some fantastic food, washed down with several drinks. Go, you’ll love it!