Shanhai Pass is a small, sleepy town with a bloody past. Situated between the Bohai Sea and the Yanshan Mountains, Shanhaiguan was a military stronghold during the Ming dynasty and served as a major pass in the eastern section of the Great Wall. It was considered a key location for the defence of the ancient capitals of Beijing and Xi'an from northern invaders. You can still get a sense of the town's history with its old city walls and views of the Great Wall winding its way up the Yanshan Mountains or in the opposite direction, plunging into the Bohai Sea.
The First Pass Under Heaven, also known as the Eastern Gate or Shanhai Pass, was once the final barrier preventing the northern tribes from encroaching into Beijing. An inscription over the arched gate reads "The First Pass under Heaven" in bold Chinese characters 1.6m high, left behind by Ming calligraphist Xiao Xian. The gate features a 12m high wall and a two-storey, double-roofed tower built in 1381. The tower features 68 archery slots facing north, east and south, giving archers a clear line of sight to shoot any invaders. The gate also features an exhibition of weaponry, military uniforms and traditional costumes.
Just outside of town is Old Dragon's Head, where the Great Wall meets the sea. This is the easternmost point of the Great Wall, where a stone-carved dragon head once faced the sea. The original wall was badly damaged by the Eight-Power Allied Forces in 1900, but the area was restored back to its former glory in 1987. Now, it's a major tourist site, complete with a restored city, pagodas, towers and small museum & even a maze. Old Dragon's Head, which stretches 23m into the sea, is surrounded by pretty beaches, which are only accessible if you pay the admission price. It's easily reached by bus or taxi, but it's more interesting to ride a bike or go for a bumpy jaunt in an auto-rickshaw.