Across China: Camping culture flourishes in China's northern meadows

Source:xinhua 2024-06-14

The vast marshes, lakes, and lush reedbeds that annually attract thousands of migratory birds to China's northern frontier are now beckoning enthusiastic campers to spend a night or two amidst nature's embrace.

The city of Qiqihar, aptly named "natural meadow" in the ethnic Daur language, is home to around 5 million people. Yet, with its scenic beauty and enhanced infrastructure, the city has emerged as a newfound haven for both locals and travelers alike.

During the five-day Labor Day holiday in May, around 3.2 million tourists visited the city, located in the fertile river plains of western Heilongjiang Province in northern China.

With the arrival of summer, the city's 22 campsites -- an addition inspired by the pandemic-era picnic frenzy -- are preparing to welcome campers, cyclists and travelers. Over half a million people, including both local holidaymakers and visitors from afar, flocked to these campgrounds last year, with their spending reaching 11 million yuan (about 1.55 million U.S. dollars).

With the surge in popularity, managing the influx of tourists has become a balancing act. Wang Dongsheng, a camping manager, handles arrangements for around 200 campers every day, with reservations consistently reaching capacity. "I have to turn down about two-thirds of the reservation calls. All weekends are fully booked until July. I only have a handful of tents available for weekdays," he said.

Wang's campground is nestled within the Lihui Amusement Park, an expansive recreational complex established last year in Hala village, an ethnic Daur settlement boasting a rich cultural heritage. Here, camping nights feature shared barbecues with locally sourced beef and performances of traditional dances by members of the Daur ethnic group like Duo Xueying, 61, who finds joy in entertaining guests.

"I've danced for over 40 years. At first, it was for myself, and now it's for more people to see the ethnic dance. It's great to see so many people come to my village," she said. The recreational complex has created jobs for over 30 fellow villagers like Duo.

Beyond traditional camping experiences, the surge in adventure tourism has spurred the growth of local businesses, from outdoor gear rental shops to quaint coffeehouses. At the Great Journey Camp Coffee in Hala village, baristas cater to both campers and cycling enthusiasts seeking respite from countryside rides with refreshing drinks.

"This was my third visit here this year," said Yu Yang, a cyclist who stopped by to relish a cup of iced Americano with his friends. "I come here to relax in the fresh air and pleasant environment after my workout. Plus, the coffee here costs less than in the city."

According to iiMedia Research, the number of campsites in China reached 6,527 as of August 30, 2023, underscoring the nation's burgeoning camping culture.

Even in remote areas like Qiqihar, competition breeds innovation in the camping sector. Approximately 40 km from Hala, adventurers can spend the night in space capsule accommodations at the Bukui Yunhe Camping Base, a unique guesthouse offering unparalleled proximity to the Zhalong National Nature Reserve, a 2,100-sq-km area home to endangered species such as red-crowned cranes.

"It's great to be able to live in the midst of nature and unwind from the stress of city life," said a visitor surnamed Li who had traveled by high-speed train from Daqing, a neighboring city.

To enrich tourists' experiences, the camping base hosted a barbecue event from June 8-10, during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, attracting over 2,000 visitors every day, according to camp manager Kong Huixin.

Across the city, efforts are underway to explore new tourism offerings by integrating camping with performances, sightseeing and culinary delights to invigorate the rural tourism market.

Kong's camping base plans to introduce hot spring baths into its options in the fall. "We are trying to transform the camping experience into a year-round attraction," she said.


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