Immerse Yourself In Chinese Culture At This Beautiful Island Destination

The Shengsi Islands, a hidden gem in the East China Sea, offer an off-the-beaten-path journey into a completely different side of Chinese culture. This archipelago, consisting of nearly 400 islands (only 18 are inhabited), is part of Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province in China. For those seeking an immersive experience amidst beautiful landscapes, relaxing beaches, and friendly locals, the Shengsi Islands are a perfect destination.

The Shengsi Islands comprise four main scenic areas, which can all be accessed by ferry — Sijiao, Huaniao, Shengshan-Gouqi, and Yangshan. Sijiao is the biggest island of the four and is all about pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and fun watersports. Nanchangtu and Jihu beaches are ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the laid-back island ambiance. The region's unique geographical nature also results in stunning rock formations and cliffs offering panoramic sea views — the archipelago has been nicknamed the "Little Greece of China." 

Seafood is an integral part of the culinary and cultural experience in the Shengsi Islands. The islands' fishermen bring fresh catches daily, which local restaurants prepare in traditional and innovative ways. Make sure to visit the Fishermen's Village on Sijiao Island and sign up for a one-day fishing excursion to reel in some catches on your own. Delicacies, such as octopus, crab, and the freshest fish imaginable, are must-tries. The annual Fishing Festival in August and the Shengsi Mussel Cultural Festival in July are seafood havens, offering the region's very best culinary delights.

Scenic areas, nature activities, and an abandoned village

Yangshan Island is the only one connected to mainland China by the impressive 20-mile-long Donghai Bridge, one of the longest cross-sea bridges in the world. It also holds the Yangshan Port, the largest cargo port in the world. There is an observation deck that overlooks this endless stream of industrial activity. Huaniao Island scenic area is illuminated by a historic lighthouse built in 1870. The island's name means "flower and bird," and there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife observation, hiking, and caving.

One of the most popular scenic areas is Shengshan-Gouqi, two islands connected by a bridge. Gouqi is named after Chinese wolfberries, which grow over most of the island and are used in traditional Chinese medicine. There are observation points near Ganxie Village, cycling roads like "Rainbow Highway," and little beaches interspersed throughout, with Dawang Beach reserved exclusively for swimming. To cross over to Shengshan, you can take a taxi from Gouqi. 

As China's easternmost island, Shengshan sees the sunrise first at the Dongya Cliff viewpoint, while Dayuwan Beach is splendid for enjoying the sunset. For a spiritual escape, visit the Fushan Buddhist Temple. However, Shengshan is most famous for the ghost town Houtouwan. Once a prosperous fishing village of over 2,000 residents, it fell to demise due to its remote location and lack of opportunities. Deserted for over 30 years, the cliffside-bound Houtouwan became overgrown by lush vegetation. An entrance fee of $8 allows visitors to hike around the eerie abandoned village.

Travel tips for the Shengsi Islands

Although the Shengsi Islands are suitable for sightseeing year-round, the best time to visit is in the late spring (mid-March to early June) or early autumn (end of September to early December). Summer generally brings typhoons, rainfall, lots of tourists, and relentless mosquitoes, while winter gets colder temperatures, around 46 degrees, and stormy winds. 

The Shengsi Islands are accessible by a scenic 4-5-hour ferry ride from Shanghai or Ningbo for around $15. Driving across the Donghai Bridge to Yangshan is also an option; but to reach any of the other islands, you will have to travel by boat. For the most part, the islands themselves can be explored on foot, by tourist buses, or hired taxis. Sijiao Island is the transit center of the archipelago, and most ferries to other islands depart from there. 

The islands offer a range of affordable accommodation options ($15 to $100 per night), most of which are located on Sijiao and Shengshan-Gouqi. Staying in a homestay or guesthouse can provide a more authentic experience and an opportunity to engage with the islanders. Most locals do not speak English, and there are very few foreign tourists. Traveling here is an excellent opportunity to practice your Chinese and immerse yourself in the local culture. If you're looking for a beautiful island destination in Asia that is largely untouched by mainstream tourism, the Shengsi Islands are it.