I remember once seeing pictures of this abandoned village somewhere on an island in China and, just like so many other nice places you see online, I thought “Oh I really want to go there someday”. But then I forgot about it.
With the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival, we wanted to go somewhere outside of Shanghai. However, one (big!) downside of working in China: you get to share the public holidays with the billions of other people living here, so an easy breezy and relaxing city trip is most likely off the table.
I asked my Chinese colleague if she could recommend me a place close to Shanghai that would not be too crowded during the holidays. After having laughed at my request – the words travel, China, and not crowded normally don’t make a logical sentence –, she suggested me to look up Shengsi Islands, Shengsi Dao or 嵊泗列岛 (I totally did not just copy this from Wikipedia). I was so happy that I had found a way to beat the Chinese crowds during a national holiday. It was a small victory!
I won’t go into too many geographical details – that’s what Wikipedia is for – but to summarize in one sentence what Shengsi is: a bunch of islands (394 so they say) including 3 major islands that are reachable by ferry from Shanghai: Shengsi Island (the biggest one), Gouqi Island (the one that looks like a uterus) and Shengshan (the one attached to Gouqi by a bright blue bridge). Houtouwan village is located on the latter.
Anyway, this intro is getting too long already, so here goes: how to get to the abandoned village of Houtouwan from Shanghai!
How to Get to The Shengsi Islands from Shanghai
This for me was the most annoying part, simply because information on how to get there is so scarce. And when I thought I had found a good article, it still brought me to the wrong island. Even some Chinese people get confused and are unsure about how to make it to the islands.
First things first: go to the Shanghai Nanpu Bridge Long-Distance Travel Building (orange building) next to the Nanpu Bridge metro station early in the morning, get out of the metro station, and look for long lines. Yep, you’ll have to do some queuing in order to get your ticket. And going early is important, especially if you want to leave on the same day. We arrived at Nanpu Bridge at 7am, and the lines were looong (3 o’s!), but that could also be due to the fact that we went during the holidays.
At Nanpu Bridge, you can buy three different combo tickets (bus + ferry): from Shanghai to Shengsi, Gouqi or Shengshan. This is also the place where the shuttle buses depart.
You cannot book your ticket days upfront. Instead you need to pay a visit to the ticket office a day in advance and buy a ticket for the next day or get them on the day of departure (that’s what we did). However, if you want to play it safe, get them earlier, because tickets to Gouqi and Shengshan are limited (ferries leave only once or twice a day) and chances are you already booked your hotel.
Since we had booked a hotel on Gouqi, we were hoping to hop on a ferry straight to this island, but everything was sold out already. Luckily, we were still able to get tickets to the main island of Shengsi. Ferries to Shengsi are more frequent, and same day tickets will most likely be available.
Our combo ticket from Shanghai to Shengsi Island was 94 RMB a person.
A shuttle bus will then take you to the Shenjiawan Xiaoyangshan Passenger Terminal. From this point, a ferry will depart to Shengsi Island. Once arrived on Shengsi Island, you will have to take a taxi to the Xiaocaiyuan Pier, where ferries depart to Gouqi Island. The cost for this ferry was 46 RMB. I think the cost for a taxi from one pier to the other is about 50 – 70 RMB.
Don’t ask me about timetables, it’s difficult to find and apparently, it changes all the time. I can only share our experience:
- 09:30 shuttle bus Shanghai – Shengjiawan Pier
- 11:30 ferry Shengjiawan – Shengsi Island
- 13:30 ferry Shengsi Island (Xiaocaiyuan Pier) – Gouqi Island
Where to Sleep
We had booked a room in Boke Yujia Minsu on Gouqi Island, a nice and modern looking hotel that overlooked the sea and Dawang Beach. While no one really speaks English, the hotel manager is super friendly and helps you with everything you need! Highly recommended.
Some people don’t book a room in advance but instead roam the streets and look for a hotel once they arrive. We just wanted to make sure we had a nice room we could go to upon arrival.
How to Get to Houtouwan
Houtouwan village is located on Shengshan Island. To get there, you can take a ferry either to Gouqi or Shengshan. We paid 100 RMB (round trip) to get from our hotel on Gouqi to Shengshan by taxi. Taxis don’t use meters on the islands, so you will need to negotiate a price beforehand. You can always ask the hotel to arrange transport for you. Good to know: when a ferry arrives on the island, all taxis will go to the pier to pick up new tourists, so during that time you’ll just have to wait until a cab is available again.
The taxi will drop you off on the road. When you see a big temple, you’re close. From there, there’s a 10-minute walk down to get to the actual village. When you see colorful graves on your way, you’re almost there.
The most expensive part was probably our phone bill. Since the islands are part of China’s Zhejiang Province, we had to pay a roaming fee we were unaware of (I don’t understand how come we didn’t know, we’ve traveled to different areas before), so our phone bills were pretty high. I know these roaming fees will be something of the past in the future, but I don’t know yet when this will change. So, in the meantime, just let your provider know you’re going on a trip to a different province, and they’ll fix you an interesting mobile plan.
Anyway, this is what we paid during the 4 days we were there. Prices are for 1 person:
- Metro to Nanpu Bridge: anywhere between 3 – 7 RMB
- Combo ticket bus + ferry Shanghai – Shengsi: 94 RMB
- Taxi on Shengsi to the Xiaocaiyuan Pier: around 50 – 70 RMB
- Ferry to Gouqi: 46 RMB
- Taxi on Gouqi to our hotel: 50 RMB
- Hotel (Boke Yujia Minsu): 984 RMB for 3 nights
- Food (rough estimate for 3 nights/4 days) for 2 people: 500 – 600 RMB
- Ferry Gouqi – Shanghai: 143 RMB
- No one really speaks English, so it’s better to know some basic Chinese or ask a Chinese friend to help you out.
- Ask your hotel in advance if they can help you with booking your ticket back to Shanghai. Our hotel manager went to buy our ticket from Gouqi to Shanghai, and this helped a lot, since no one speaks English and information is not clear.
- If you don’t use WeChat or Alipay on your phone to pay for everything, bring enough cash. We didn’t really see a bank.
- Taxis on the island don’t use a meter, so better negotiate the price before leaving.
- I’m not sure what the options are on the other islands, but Gouqi didn’t have a lot of breakfast options (or food in general). We brought bread and enough snacks with us. We had seafood BBQ every night, just because it was so good and cozy to sit outside next to the beach.
- No one speaks English on the islands. If, like us, you use your phone to communicate with the locals, Gouqi Island translates as Wolfberry Island. So, if you use a translation app, use that.
- We spent 4 days on Gouqi Island, including 2 days of travel. Spending 2 full days on Gouqi is definitely enough, since there was not much to do besides visiting Houtouwan.
- Make friends. We started talking to a Chinese couple that loved to help us with any questions we had. While they didn’t speak any English, and our Chinese is still basic, we still had a great time with them.