Traveling by boat is the most common way to reach the Shengsi Islands, southeast of Shanghai. And while islanders long viewed this as an inconvenience and disadvantage, their comparative isolation is now proving a blessing.
Facing the East China Sea on the east, the Shengsi Islands have been dubbed a "fairyland in the sea," apart from the bustle of modern society and maintaining old fishing village traditions.
Today, the ocean's bounty and tourism are boosting the islands' economy and popularity. Swimming, fishing, enjoying seafood and local art, or simply appreciating the ocean sunrise are among Shengsi's special tourism programs.
Consisting of 404 islands dotting the ocean, the Shengsi archipelago can be reached from Shanghai by bus and ferry in three hours, therefore a place perfectly for Shanghai people to have a weekend tour.
Though late autumn is a little chilly for swimming in the sea, Shengsi is ideal for walks, running along the beach and taking photographs - all without being besieged by masses of visitors.
And as the peak season has passed, there is scope for bargain meals at the seafood restaurants.
Shanghai Daily took a two-day autumn trip.
On landing at "the hometown of seafood," the first port of call, of course, should be a great seafood lunch!
Ask your hotel or guest house for recommendations, or get them to book ahead before you arrive.
Shengsi is home to many kinds of seafood - including mussels, jellyfish, cuttlefish, Chinese herring, grouper fish and portunid crabs. Now is the season for all kinds of crabs, shrimps, grouper fish, hairtails and flounders. Ask locals for recommendations.
After a fine seafood lunch, take a well-deserved rest because the next item on the itinerary requires plenty of energy. It's time to go fishing; not sitting by the shore, but on a boat, casting a net in the sea.
To feel the sea breeze in their faces and be surrounded by lapping waves, visitors can accompany local fishermen to inner islands, cast a net and see what they catch.
Trips can be arranged by guest houses or hotels, with destinations including Shenshan or Gouqi Island, where most local fishermen work mostly.
The fisherman-for-a-day trip costs 80 yuan per person (40 yuan for children), and you keep your catch. According to locals, the trick to a heavy net is to wait at least 15 minutes before hauling it in.
Take the food back to your happy fisherman's house, and your host will rustle up a perfect fresh seafood dinner (with a charge of around 5 yuan per dish), or try your hand at seafood chef yourself.
The day wouldn't be complete without a moonlit walk along the beach. How could anyone from a light-polluted urban environment miss the opportunity to see myriad glittering stars? And though the sea and beach are shrouded in darkness, isn't it all the more mysterious to feel the sand beneath your feet, the breeze against your skin and the waves crashing in the blackness?
If there's a list for five things to do at the seashore, watching the sun rise must be one. All you need is a little self-discipline to get up early - the sun rises at 5:30 am at this time of year.
The best spot to watch sunrise in Shengsi is Liujing Pond, which, though called a pond, is actually sea. The most economic way to get there is to hire a bus with other travel pals, which can be arranged by hotels and fishermen's houses. A taxi is another, more expensive, option.
It's recommended you get there around 5am to secure a good spot for taking photographs.
A ticket for Liujing Pond is 25 yuan. Remember to bring a warm coat because the sea breeze can be bracing.
Waiting in the chilly pre-dawn glimmer as rays grade orange along the horizon is rewarded when the sun disc finally emerges, casting mysterious splendor to the sky, clouds and islands far away.
Little by little, the cherry red morning sun rises, until eventually it breaks free from the waves, its red and gold sunglow crowning sea, sky and clouds.
But of course, seeing this daily natural miracle depends on the weather, which, in locals' eyes, depends on one's luck. So, good luck.
Morning is the busiest time at local market, when the freshest seafood is available. A taxi ride from Liujing Pond to the grocery market costs around 30 yuan.
In addition to fresh seafood packed in ice, dried and packed fare is also available. And if you pass local snack stores that serve breakfast, try the porridge served with tiny sauteed shrimps, which smells so good when served hot and tastes crisp and savory.
The next trip is to tour around some of the islands. There are a dozen of scenic sites dotted on the islands, and here are some suggestions. Please check with your accommodation about transport.
Dabei Mountain in the east of Shengsi Island is the best spot to get a panoramic view of your surroundings. Locals say you can appreciate all the different aspects of the sea the whole year round: mists in spring; a glittering seascape in summer; huge tides in autumn; and white-capped waves and sea spray in winter.
On the mountain is a Linyin Buddhism Temple, of which the oldest part was built 1,000 years ago and since ancient times has been a sanctuary for local fishermen.
Also according to ancient books, during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) monk Jian Zhen, who preached Buddhism to Japan six times, was twice cast up on the shore in his ship during storms. The spot is marked to commemorate the eminent monk.
Shengsi's island location has led to its people to create distinctive art - mostly about the fishing life - in a colorful, imaginative naive style.
The tradition continues, especially at Bianjiao Village, where many exterior walls of fishermen's homes feature vivid fisherman paintings.
A different artistic touch can be found in Tianqiao Village, where the outside walls of locals' house are all painted yellow, in different shades such as pale yellow, lemon yellow and maple yellow, all according to the color design system tailored for the village by Song Jianming, the leading color expert of the country.
All those sites can be reached by taxi, or you can charter a bus with other travelers.
After rounding off the trip with another lunch of Shengsi seafood, it's time to catch the ferry and say goodbye to the "fairyland in the sea."
If you go
How to get there
Buy a one-way ticket for around 200 yuan (US$32) per person at Nanpu Coach Station. It's better to organize the return time for the afternoon of the second day.
The bus will take you to Shenjiawan Dock from where a ferry will take you to Shengsi. Morning buses leave at 7:00am, 7:30am, 8:40am, 9:10am and 9:50am, and the total trip takes about three hours.
For more transport information please call 1373-2538-680, the Shenjiawan Dock's customer service line. Also, you can drive to Shenjiawan dock to catch the ferry.
For other travel information call 0580-5083-111.
What to pack
Pack for the sea and beach - sandals, sunglasses and sun hat - but swimming costumes are not necessary, unless you can bear cold water.
Also, take some warm clothes as there is a marked temperature difference between day and night.
Don't forget to bring seasickness pills in case the crossing is choppy.
Jihu Beach is in Caiyuan Town, the urban area with abundant seafood restaurants and "happy fisherman's houses."
Like "happy farmer houses," these offer traditional accommodation and fare, and are numerous on Caiyuan Town and along two beaches. It's better to book before you go, so the owner can help arrange the trip.
Large hotels in Shengsi include Fei Cheng Wu Rao Hotel, a new establishment facing beach and featuring cabins; Fenghua International Hotel and Haibin Hotel. Hotels and guest houses can arrange trip for guests.
Similar accommodation is found on other beaches and islands, but Caiyuan Town and Jihu Beach are at the center of Shengsi.