Last weekend, our friend Geoff pitched an idea: a daytrip to an island just offshore of Zhuhai. There are actually hundreds of islands dotting the coastline here–we can easily see a dozen from our apartment balcony. Most are small and uninhabited. A few large ones, like Qiao, are connected by bridges and roads. Others are slowly (by Chinese standards) being developed into tourist destinations.
One such island is Dong’ao. It has a few hotels catering to Chinese tourists and a handful of small restaurants and shops. But a Club Med will be opening later this year and everything is about to change. Such is life in hyper-developing China. We met two expats who are working at the soon-to-open Club Med. Right now, the hotel is running a special wherein a couple can book a stay in the most basic room for “only” US$400 per night. This ain’t the 7 Days Inn, folks.
From Zhuhai, there are two daily ferries to Dong’ao. We caught the earlier one. The ferry ride is about one hour and makes a quick stop at another island before reaching Dong’ao. Once you disembark, you come upon small strip of convenience shops and a couple restaurants. Here you can pick up a snack and a beverage, along with any beachy essentials you forgot: hats, swimsuits, inflatable duckies.
There were four of us–Geoff, Grace, Joel, and me. (Simon stayed home with Ayi Tan for the day.) We set off on one of the paved pedestrian trails around the island.
What a beautiful view! The water was much cleaner here than in Zhuhai. And although we still saw occasional bits of floating debris, you could see clear to the bottom in many places. Back in Zhuhai, I’ve noticed advertisements for snorkeling and diving around Dong’ao and I bet it would be quite nice if you could just get a little ways offshore.
Man, was it hot, though. After a few hours, Joel took the early ferry back to Zhuhai so that he could pick up Simon at the end of Ayi Tan’s shift.
The remaining three of us set off in search of lunch, which we found in a hilltop seafood restaurant. This was a “choose-your-own” style place. Quite common in southeastern China, these restaurants feature big display aquariums with live fish. You point to what you want, and they cook it up for you, as fresh as if you caught it yourself.
Joel and I have walked through such restaurants many times, forlorn at what we see: lots of threatened and/or endangered species. Big groupers, the subject of Joel’s dissertation research, are a very popular choice. They are tasty fish, after all, but their life history can’t keep up with the growing appetites of China’s 1.3 billion seafood lovers.
Geoff and I selected two fish and some mussels. They soon arrived at our table, steamed and prepared with minimal spices. The mussels had some garlic, hot peppers, and ginger. The fish were in a light soy-blended sauce. Both were quite tasty, but we really ordered too much food and had to stuff ourselves to eat it all.
After lunch, we took a shuttle (10 yuan per person) to the far side of the island and went for a quick swim. This side of the island faced towards the ocean and had bigger waves. Thus the water was a bit murkier with more floating seaweed, but there was an official swimming area. After 20 minutes in the water, we dried off and returned to the ferry port to catch our ride home. The heat and the water had sapped our energy but I was happy to have finally had a swim in the South China Sea.