IT’S springtime in Shanghai and with the changing seasons comes a severe case of the travel bug. If you’re looking for the perfect weekend destination this spring, we suggest that you look no further than the city of Haining. This river-side city is located in the Yangtze River Delta in Zhejiang Province. Only an hour away from Shanghai by bullet train, it promises plenty of entertainment for the perfect weekend getaway.
Haining’s biggest attraction are the magnificent tidal bores that roll up the Qiantang River. Unlike ordinary waves, tidal bores are robust ocean waves that enter a river and surge upward, against the flow. These waves get so strong that the city was named “Haining” (“hai” means “sea” and “ning” means “calming”) in the hopes of soothing this phenomenon, which causes frequent flooding. An entire park is dedicated to tide watching. It encompasses architecture dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), such as the Zhan’ao Pagoda, several tide-watching pavilions, and the Fish Scale Sea Dike, a protected cultural artifact. Although tidal bores can be viewed from the 1st to the 5th and the 15th to the 20th of any month in the lunar calendar, watching tidal bores on the 18th day of the eighth lunar month has been a Haining tradition since the Ming Dynasty. In recent years, the local government of Haining has organized a Tidal Bore Viewing Festival every lunar August, with thousands of tourists flocking to the city to participate in the revelries.
In addition to its tidal waves, Haining is full of ancient Chinese culture and history. The city’s history starts during the New Stone Age, about 6,000 years ago. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it was called Haining Prefecture, and in the modern era, it finally became Haining City in 1986. Parts of this history can still be enjoyed today, like in the little town of Yanguan, where one can walk through the home of former Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Prime Minister Chen Yuanlong, and view calligraphy works, as well as an ancient podocarpus tree.
Xiashi, another small town within Haining, is internationally renowned for its paper lanterns, a handicraft tradition that’s more than 1,000 years old. Haining colored lanterns are specially known for their elaborate pinprick craft, developed to honor a Song Dynasty emperor. Lanterns usually require more than 10,000 pinpricks to form a picture, with larger ones requiring as many as 300,000. When lit, the light streams out through the pinpricks, creating a resplendent masterpiece of light and color. Haining lanterns are recognized as an intangible cultural heritage in China, and are celebrated with a yearly parade.
Besides lanterns, Haining also has a long-standing tradition of leather fashion. Haining Leather Town is one of the most famous leather markets in China, and is a distributor for leather products throughout all of Asia. As such, Haining hosts an annual leather expo, where new fashions are premiered, and leather and fur fashion trends are established.
If history and handicrafts aren’t up your alley, Haining also offers a wide spectrum of relaxing vacation activities. If you enjoy the outdoors, there’s the Jianshan ecotourism site and the Hetianlong Grange, home to a heard of adorable little white-spotted deer. For foodies, Haining offers many delicacies with the southern sweetness found in Hangzhou and Shanghai dishes, such as steamed Chang’an pork meatballs, and “eye cakes” filled with savory pork or sweet red bean paste.
Where to stay:
A good balance of modern design and hospitality, Langham Place, Haining is close to historical sites and the city’s thriving retail scene. If you are a fan of Cantonese cuisine, the hotel’s Michelin-starred Ming Court is highly recommended.