estled humbly in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning is the breathtaking landscape of Panjin Red Beach. A crimson carpet stretches over roughly 50 square miles of flat land, offering visitors one of the most extraordinary views. What gives the landscape its remarkable red hue is the plant Suaeda salsa, or jianpengcao. This species of seepweed thrives in reeds and wetlands, beginning its bloom in April and changing color over the spring, summer and autumn seasons. The soil around the city of Panjin is highly alkaline, which makes it impossible for many types of vegetation to grow. However, Suaeda salsa thrives in alkaline and salt-rich earth, making it abundant at Panjin Red Beach.
Not only is the Red Beach famous for its magnificent red flora, it is home to hundreds of types of wildlife and plants. Its unique nature secures its status as one of the world’s most advanced ecosystems. For keen bird watchers and enthusiasts, the 260 different kinds of birds that live in this region provide the opportunity for catching a glimpse of some rare specimens.
The wetland is the largest in the world, yet despite its impressive size, the area which is open to the public is relatively small. During tourist season, the crowds can become unbelievably dense. A few friends of mine visited the beach during the weeklong Chinese National Day holiday at the beginning of October and regretted choosing such a popular time to visit the spot. If your schedule allows it, a weekday trip to the beach would be ideal so as to minimize the amount of bulky cameras and selfie sticks you have to fight your way through. Furthermore, be prepared for whatever weather you may encounter during your visit. When I went, there was a noticeable chill in the air. In China’s notoriously cold northeast, autumn can bring with it a confusing mixture of temperatures and weather conditions.
Upon arrival at the beach, you will soon spot the main wooden boardwalk, which is raised on stilts above the red plants. This construction allows tourists to marvel at the radiance of the reeds whilst strolling along the path. As you progress along the rustic wooden beams, heart-shaped archways encase you in a romantic tunnel. A soft purr resonates as the wind caresses the red fabric that hugs close to the structure. Complementing this sound is a gentle tinkle of wind chimes which are hanging down from the archway. The wind rustles through the reeds, teasing the brilliant scarlet buds that stretch into the distance. This radiant red covers the earth as far as the eye can see. The contrast between the color of the sky and the sea slices through the horizon.
I visited the Red Beach relatively late in its high season (around the third week in October) and the red seepweed was more of a maroon color in places, yet the beach’s beauty was not compromised. Although careful scrutiny of the plants up close is impressive, the beach’s most memorable image is the vista created by the vast amount of Suaeda salsa plants all amassed together. I could not miss such a fantastic opportunity for that all-important Instagram post.
During the best season to visit the beach last year, which is said to be mid-September through mid-October, I was just getting settled into my new life as a student at Dalian University of Technology. I initially believed that I would not have the opportunity to experience the scarlet scene myself. However, one late October weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a last-minute school trip to Panjin. I was thrilled to catch the Red Beach in bloom just before the time of year when the plants begin to die. Going with the university meant that I was accompanied by Chinese students and staff who were able to act as unofficial tour guides that day and give me insight into the brilliance that is the Red Beach.
A trip to a tourist destination in China would not be complete without being featured in a few pictures. My dyed blue hair paired with my Western features guaranteed that I would be asked to join Chinese tourists in group photographs and selfies. Many of my foreign peers objected, and I know this is a part of being a foreigner in China that many people do not enjoy, but I find the whole business very entertaining! When some of us were finally finished playing “celebrity” for the day, we bid the beach goodbye; our tight agenda did not allow room for birdwatching.
Panjin as a city is not a particularly exciting place. As with many other up-and-coming urban centers in China, local officials hope the city will be more thriving in the future. Dalian University of Technology recently built a beautiful campus in Panjin that anticipates an influx of more students in the coming years. However, when I visited the school, it almost felt like a ghost campus, an echo of China’s many ghost towns. Shiny, unused buildings loomed over empty paths. Preened lawns and shrubbery swayed in a melancholy manner. The few Chinese students stared with intrigue at our gaggle of foreigners who were visiting their modest campus.
To sum up, Panjin Red Beach really is a site worth visiting and will surely leave you awestruck, but it’s important to plan carefully to avoid the disappointment of missing the plants in bloom. Tack it on to a travel itinerary that winds through China’s northeast, as the city of Panjin lacks other tourist attractions.
WHEN TO VISIT
If you are planning on visiting the radiant Red Beach, be sure to time your trip well since the wetland is only red from mid-September to mid-October. The Suaeda seepweed begins to grow around April and May. Once autumn arrives, the plant’s shade of green changes into a modest orange, then drifts into a shy pink before reaching its famous red hue. In late October the blossoms begin to fade into a darker maroon, finally turning brown before dying and preparing to start the cycle again the following spring.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are a few methods to get to the Red Beach, depending on your budget and how much time you have. If you have any interest in visiting other cities in Liaoning Province, from Beijing you can fly to the seaside Dalian and then take the train to Panjin from one of Dalian’s two train stations. The quickest trains available take around an hour and a half one-way. Alternatively you can take a train from Beijing directly to Panjin. The night train from the capital takes around seven hours, while the pricier day trains have a travel time of about four hours. Once in Panjin, you can buy a tour bus ticket, which includes the price of park entry and the return journey. The other option is to take the bus from the train station to the Red Sea Beach Tourist Reception Center. From there, tuk-tuks are available to ride to the beach.