Ninghai, a county under the administration of Ningbo, is not a traditional tourism resort. The economy of the county relies mainly on manufacturing and people there usually drive to Shanghai to spend holidays when they are in the mood. That does not mean, however, that the county doesn’t have one or two attractions.
Not-too-famous usually means quiet. Ninghai is seldom packed with tourists like Hangzhou and Suzhou, and that allows visitors to slow down and take their time. Around the city there are natural canyon resorts, hot springs and ancient towns that are full of stories from the past millennium. And the seafood is almost always delicious.
For foreign travelers, however, the city could be a bit challenging to explore as not many English services or signs are available. Many newly developed tourism resorts are still under construction, thus the supporting facilities and infrastructure is still in the process of development. But a coin always has two sides. For those who want to get a full view of authentic, original Chinese town life, Ninghai is quite a suitable place.
Qiantong Ancient Town
Qiantong Town, with a history of more than 1,000 years, is not as commercial as other ancient water towns in east China. A small, zigzag stream only about a meter wide flows through the town. Even now, residents, most of whom have lived there for generations, are used to doing the laundry and washing vegetables and fruit in the stream. Still, the water remains clean generally, with small fish living in the water.
There are not many stores or snack bars in the town. Small grocery stores are mainly for residents’ needs. The quiet, however, is the key to the essence of the town.
The town was first constructed in 1233 during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). More than 90 percent of the population is surnamed Tong, which came from the very first generation of residents.
Most of the buildings and the cobblestone roads are from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, and are well preserved. An ancestral hall and a former mansion are the town’s traditional key attractions. The hall houses all the memorial tablets of the Tongs’ ancestors. During festivals, residents in the village customarily gather in the garden of the hall to watch traditional Chinese operas. Carved beams and painted rafters at the mansion are still well preserved. A sedan chair especially for brides is a masterpiece of wood-carving.
A folklore museum has a collection of wedding implements, such as urns for different uses like dowries. The museum also explains area wedding and family life traditions, which are eye-openers for outsiders.
The best time to go may be around the Lantern Festival. The celebration takes place on January 16 rather than 15th of the lunar calendar like elsewhere. It is said in ancient times, the birthday of an administrator’s mother fell on January 16, so he ordered the celebration postponed. A parade is held in the town with fully decorated sedan chairs.
Some town residents keep small inns at home, but they usually speak Chinese only. Visitors can stay in Ninghai, about an hour’s drive. Near town, Qiantong Restaurant has local delicacies.
Admission: 70 yuan (US$11.4)
Public transport: Buses to the town are available at West Ninghai Railway Station.
Nanxi Hot Spring
If there is one resort that you should never miss in Ninghai, it is Nanxi Hot Spring. Located in a forest park, the water quality there is regarded as among the top three best hot springs in China, along with the Huitang Hot Spring in Hunan Province and Yu Hot Spring in Guangdong Province. The area produces huge amount of geothermal water, which contains rich microelements and mineral substances that are healthy for the human body.
Unlike many other hot spring resorts in the country, where the spring water is artificially heated, the water of Nanxi Hot Spring, collected from 158 meters under the ground, remains around 50 degrees Celsius. Enjoying 20 minutes of the hot spring is good for treating insomnia and fatigue and helps improve the function of the circulatory system. It also kills pain and enhances immunity. But one should note that staying in the hot spring for too long may cause dizziness. And people with skin diseases should not go into a hot spring as it may worsen their condition.
There are two major hot spring operators in Ninghai: the Ninghai Forest Hot Spring and Ninghai Nanyuan Hot Spring and Mountain Villas. The operators add some traditional Chinese medicine to the hot spring pools, giving them extra health benefits.
“Many people believe winter is the best season to enjoy the hot spring, but actually the hot spring is for the whole year,” said Chen Lijun, marketing manager of Ninghai Forest Hot Spring. “Traditional Chinese Medicine says it’s essential for people to take measures in summer to prevent diseases that are easily caught in winter. Taking a bath in the hot spring is a very effective way to strengthen one’s constitution.”
Apart from the hot spring bath, taking a walk in the forest park is also pleasant. In ancient times, the area was a key transportation line, so several historical relics have been left in the forest. An ancient bridge, ponds, pavilions, rockeries and caves are all waiting to be explored. Besides, the whole forest park is a natural oxygen bar, where about 6,600 square kilometers of plants are so lush that they almost completely cover the sky. Ninghai’s local government at one time sealed the mountain for 50 years to cultivate a natural forest park, making the place a tourism resort that focuses on health care and a green lifestyle.
Since the hot spring area is well-developed with accommodations and dining facilities, it allows visitors to comfortably spend short-term holidays in the area. Both Ninghai Forest Hot Spring and Ninghai Nanyuan Hot Spring and Mountain Villas provide comfortable, well-equipped apartments or villas for guests. Both resorts have quality dining, and almost all authentic Ninghai cuisines are included on the menu.
Visitors should note that the resorts are very busy in winter so it’s advisable to make an appointment ahead of time. No public transportation reaches the area. Although there are shuttle buses going between the forest park and Shenzhen Town, driving is more convenient.
Ninghai Forest Hot Spring
Address: Ninghai Forest Park, Shenzhen Town
Ninghai Nanyuan Hot Spring and Mountain Villas
Address: Ninghai Forest Park, Shenzhen Town
Eastern Zhejiang Grand Canyon
About an hour’s ride from the urban area of Ninghai, Eastern Zhejiang Grand Canyon is a cool spot in the summer. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), geologist and explorer Xu Xiake started his 30-year exploration from the canyon. The canyon is known for its clear, drinkable water, grand mountains, waterfalls, valleys and rocks, and fanciful tree roots.
You have to go through Feilong Lake to get there. The name of the lake means “flying dragon” because of its shape. The lake water is pure and is the main source of drinking water for Ningbo. Ferries are available at a dock. You can hike into the canyon in about an hour and a half.
Three ponds, Huangban Pond (the Pond of Yellow Board), Feicui Pond (the Pond of Jade) and Qise Pond (the Pond of Seven Colors) are among the main attractions in the canyon.
Kayaking on the Baixi Creek is a great way to spend time. The whole course takes around an hour. The stream is not as risky as it is tranquil, and the scenery on both sides is worth the journey. The best time for drifting is before the twilight to enjoy the sunset on the clear water and amidst the green mountains.
Tourists have to go back to downtown Ninghai for a decent dinner. A seafood stall area at the crossroads of Taoyuan Road S. and Xuxiake Avenue is recommended and frequently visited by local people.
Admission: 100 yuan (another 100 yuan for drifting on Baixi Creek)
Public transport: Buses to the canyon scenic area are available at West Ninghai Railway Station.
Wushan Grotto is the ruins of an ancient mine pit. Next to the sea, there are five hills standing in the middle of the plain. Mining at the first one started in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), and a thousand years of mining created more than 800 caves and pits in the hills.
Later on, birds and beasts introduced plant seeds. With plants softening the view of the old mine, gorgeous scenery started to develop with time.
In the mountains, caves of different shapes connect with each other to form a huge labyrinth. Inside the caves, plants intertwine with each other across rocks of unusual and interesting shapes.
In the grotto area recently, ancient writing was found to have been carved on the rocks. The writing was in mysterious characters that have yet to be deciphered.
Address: Changjie Town, Ninghai County
Admission: 80 yuan
Public transport: Ninghai-Changjie buses are available at the East Ninghai Bus Station.
Wujia Manor is a comprehensive resort for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, or MICE, built by a family surnamed Wu. The family, in business for generations, once was praised by the royal court during Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) for donating grain during a famine. At the resort, conference halls, restaurants, a spa house, a fishing club and bars are all available. A farm at the resort provides all the vegetables and fruit. If in the mood, visitors can try their hand at the farm life, too. A water park in the area is a summer must-go.
Address: Xidian Town, Ninghai County
Admission: 60 yuan (80 yuan for weekends and holidays) for the water park
Public transport: Ninghai-Xidian buses are available at the Ninghai Bus Station.
‘Diyijian’ in East Zhejiang
“Diyijian” means “No. 1 peak.” The resort actually is a ski slope on the top of a mountain in Shenzhen Town. With an altitude of 954 meters, snowfall is quite heavy in winter. But if the snow is inadequate, artificial snow makes up for it.
Other outdoor sports, such as grass skiing and a zip-line, are also available at the resort.
The only drawback is that the resort is still not fully developed. A theme park at the foot of the mountain is only partly open, and the rest is under construction, while accommodations and dining facilities are also yet to be open. Bars, cabins, huts and villas will be available in the future. No public transportation currently reaches the place.
Address: Yezhukeng Village, Shenzhen Town, Ninghai County
Admission: 120 yuan for the theme park; at least 160 yuan for skiing, and the prices vary depending on the service and equipment.