It’s no secret that Hangzhou’s summers are scorching hot. With continuous days of 36C+ temperatures (and 60C+ ground temperatures), it's only natural to look for a nice body of water to jump into. Fortunately, there is a great place to get your swimming fix only a few hours away from the city.
A three hour bus ride can get you to the lovely Zhoushan Archipelago, where you can take advantage of the vast beaches, abundant fresh seafood, and cool summer breeze. Zhoushan consists of hundreds of islands which feature numerous well-developed tourist attractions with convenient transportation and sound infrastructure, making it a great weekend getaway destination.
When most people go to Zhoushan, they think, “Putuoshan” because of its huge golden Buddha statue that is said to have magical powers which protect the islands from being hit by typhoons. We’re going to skip Putuoshan this time and introduce some of Zhoushan’s other enticing travel destinations, show you what to do, and guide you on how to get there, which will make your next trip to the islands a breeze.
1. Zhujiajian 朱家尖
The 72-square-kilometer Zhujiajian is located to the southeast of Zhoushan and has the largest group of natural sandy beaches in Eastern China. A bridge connects to the islands, eliminating the need to take a ferry.
Don’t expect white sand and blue sea, however: here the East China Sea appears more yellow than blue due to the tides stirring up silt and other sediment, which changes the water’s color. Fortunately, the water is quite clean and the sediment supports the marine ecosystem, providing food for fish and other organisms.
Zhujiajian’s most popular beach, Nansha (南沙) Beach (Entry: 75 RMB), welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer. Nansha is well-known for having the best quality sands in the region, making it the official venue for the annual Zhoushan International Sand Sculpture Festival. Every September, top sand sculptors from all over China and abroad participate in the festival, carving out works that would make the sand castle you made when you were 10 look silly. After the festival, some of the best sculptures are moved to a small sculpture exhibit at the beach. As is normal to Chinese beaches, taking a hot shower will cost you 20 RMB, and remember to bring along your swimming suit and other necessary accessories or you may have to shell out big to buy some at the beach.
Sometimes Nansha can get crowded, making Dongsha (东沙) Beach (Entry: 35 RMB), the longest beach in Zhoushan, the second best option. The best thing to do here is watch the sun rise over the waves in the morning, or point out stars in the clear night sky, which can become quite romantic.
Another place of interest in Zhujiajian is Black Stone Beach (乌石滩), which, as its name implies, is naturally comprised of black cobble stones the size of an egg. It is a good place to take photos of the rare scenery, but sitting or lying down on the “beach” is not a great idea. It costs 40 RMB to get in, which includes the price of a boat taking you back and forth across the sea.
The peak of Daqing Mountain (大青山) (Entry: 100 RMB) is the best place to catch a birds-eye view of the mountains, sea, and forest at the same time. Transportation is simple, as a shuttle bus climbs most of the distance, leaving travelers with only a brisk 2km hike to the tip. At 378 meters high, Daqing Mountain isn’t the highest of all peaks in Zhoushan, but the panoramic view of the five beaches to the north is breathtaking. For an added bonus, the peak is sometimes engulfed in fog and mist, making everything seem like a mysterious fairyland.
When getting around the island, taxis usually cost less than or around 30 RMB, and for those who read and speak Chinese, taking a bus is a good way to experience local life in the area.
2. Shenjiamen 沈家门 – Seafood Delight
In Zhoushan, you will be constantly surrounded by delicious seafood. Plump eels, juicy clams, and fresh fish are on display until someone buys them. Locals steam, boil, or sauté them lightly and do not add many seasonings in order to preserve natural flavor. Sit down in any of the many seafood restaurants here and you are guaranteed to have a great meal.
The waterfront of Shenjiamen is teeming with busy piers and wharfs, with fleets of rusty but rigid fishing boats awaiting repairs, some blown in or damaged by typhoons. The most prominent feature of the waterfront is undoubtedly a continuous string of almost a hundred outdoor or orange-tented night seafood stands. Fully licensed, these food vendors create home-made dishes using fish, crab, shrimp and shellfish - many of which were caught that same afternoon and displayed for you to pick and choose. The price is the same at every stall. If you look up, you’ll know why: Over each stall hangs a TV screen which continuously flashes the mandated daily price of each type of seafood – the government’s strategy to combat cheating.
Locals are fond of drinking local plum spirits, known as Yangmeishao (杨梅烧) in Chinese. It is bai jiu (rice wine) with waxberry inside, and it is said to be best paired with seafood, as it kills viruses. Stall owners always advise newbies to take small sips of the liquor, as non-locals’ stomachs may not be used to eating too much seafood at one time. Last on the must-ingest list is the local chao fen (炒粉) – which is fried sweet potato vermicelli. It is usually fried with clams, shrimp, and cabbage, and topped off with soy sauce to make a tasty meal.
Guitarists, other musicians, even a man with an antique saxophone -- all licensed -- gather to entertain the diners. In order to obtain their licenses, they had to perform in an annual music and singing competition.
Buses running between Zhujiajian and Shenjiamen can be found at local bus stations. Taking a taxi between each destination costs around 30 RMB.
When staying in Zhoushan, most people choose to either camp on a beach, squeeze into a hostel, or stay in a brand-name hotel, but there is another selection that offers a truly unique experience. Living in the house of a local fisherman’s family or staying in a locally owned boutique hotel is highly recommended, as it can give you a glimpse of day-to-day life on the sea.
Fisherman’s houses are affordable but only offer simple beds and showers. Boutique hotels focus more on appearance, but both of them provide sea shipping and fishing services.
At our hotel, we booked a speed boat that could hold 10 people and was driven by two local fishermen. After a 40-minute long bumpy and windy trip, we arrived at an area with crystal-blue waters, where the duo then rolled down two huge nets. Surrounded by blue water and lush islands dotting the sea, we waited for about 20 minutes. The fishermen then pulled up their nets to reveal kilos of fish, eel, clams, and jellyfish - most of which became that night’s dinner.
The next day we went to a museum on the island that exhibits and explains local customs such as having weddings on boats, and how fishing tools are made. What surprised us was that not far from the museum stood a free beach with no other tourists, yet great sand. Perfect for counting stars at night or daydreaming on.
The ferry from Black Stone Beach in Zhujiajian to Baisha Island departs at 6:50am, 9am, 12:30pm, and 3pm every day. It returns at 7:10am, 9:20am, 12:50am, and 3:20pm.
Getting to Zhoushan
Getting to Zhoushan from Hangzhou is relatively straightforward. You can choose from any one of these bus stations and times (all take ~3hr):
Hanzhou South Bus Station (汽车南站) - Putuo (普陀) - 95 RMB:
6:50 - 19:35
Hangzhou Passenger Transport Center (杭州客运中心) - Putuo (普陀) - 95 RMB:
7:00 - 18:45