Sun, Sand Sculptures & Sea: Zhujiajian Island

Written by Jun 10, 2009 00:57
Add Friends:
Email 1 Email 2 Email 3

No more than 10 friends at a time, please.

loading... island of sunshine...

Most travellers can boast of taking in the exotic city of Shanghai, many will wax lyrical about the magnificent charms of Hangzhou, and some will even be able to sing the praises of the island of Putuoshan... but very, very few know of the island of Zhujiajian, which is one amongst thousands of others lying off the coast of Zhejiang Province.

And indeed, its lack of fame is precisely what renders it so attractive in a country whose beaches are scarce and whose people number 1/5 of the world’s population. Chinese beaches can be a hit and miss affair, either over-crowded and visibly suffering under the weight of people, umbrellas, litter and the vast array of “activities” the combination of sea and sand makes possible, or set in the midst of hotels and tourist hotspots with their inevitable vastly inflated prices.

It’s delightful then, when taking the road less travelled in the hope of finding something special, that something special is found – and that something is special is Zhujiajian: an island of sunshine, secluded sandy beaches, and whispering waves...

...ordered off the bus - to push...

The ferry from Ningbo to the island of Zhoushan is on a strict schedule. Every half hour it docks at one harbour or the other, disgorging its full load of tourist coaches, trucks, van, cars, scooters, bicycles and foot passengers in a whoosh of engine noise and smoke, and just as quickly welcoming aboard the long line of waiting vehicles: no delays are brooked.

It is the stares of the ferry workers, their eyes as glaring as the bright sun on the reflective yellow bands that stripe their orange waistcoats, that first signal something is wrong. Despite our bus being fully loaded with passengers, engine running, and all the traffic in front of us having already cleared the deck, we are not moving. The driver is putting his foot down on the gas, there’s a creaking and grinding, but the bus isn’t going anywhere. The traffic behind us slowly disperses, and we’re left in the now vast space, under the scrutiny of the impatient crew whose eyes are now clearly yelling: “Get that bus out of here NOW!”

Not much later and we’re all ordered off the bus – to push.

...Chinese tourist spot meets British seaside...

The bus somehow manages to pick up enough speed on the downhill section of the ramp to move of its own accord and the driver bawls at us all to jump on quickly. The last passenger aboard and the bus reluctantly slugs up the incline, passing a long, visibly impatient queue of waiting vehicles, and leaving a fug of fumes in its wake.

After crawling to the main bus station on Zhoushan, the bus driver calls a halt to the journey declaring that the bus cannot go on. There are still a good many of us expecting to have been at the small eastern-most town of Shenjiamen at least an hour ago, and the driver is not unsympathetic. So we stand, bags scattered around us, as the sun goes down and our driver tries in vain to flag down passing coaches and buses to see if they are willing to take us on – eventually he succeeds. An almost empty shiny new air-conditioned coach is bound for Shenjiamen, and its laissez-faire driver is happy to wave us and our baggage up the clean black steps and into the luxuriously plush seats.

Thus I arrive late, but comfortable, into the bustling evening streets of Shenjiamen.

Shenjiamen is like Chinese tourist spot meets British seaside: the neon lights of KTVs and massage parlours glow in abundance; makeshift tents masquerade as seafood restaurants, where white plastic tables wait under twinkling bare bulbs; men laugh raucously; baijiu and beer flow; stuffed toys hang in plastic bags; youths zoom up and down on noisy motorbikes; and in the sticky hands of children are melting ice-cream cones and pink clouds of candy floss.

Taking a seat, I order a plate of fresh shrimps that the chef scoops alive from a tub and pan-fries in minutes. They are delicious; as is the ice-cold beer... and I soak up the atmosphere of the Chinese on holiday mixed with the unmistakable smell of the sea, at this place where civilisation meets the land’s end in a long row of tall masts bobbing and rocking to the rhythm of the waves.

...enjoying the open road...

I spend the night in the cell-like room of a dingy 旅馆 [lvguan]: the bed is hard, but the wobbly ceiling fan manages to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and it’s ridiculously cheap.

In the morning light, Shenjiamen is somewhat diminished into grey streets and grey buildings, and for a moment I wonder if Zhujiajian can possibly be any different, but I shrug off the thought and give in to a grinning taxi driver. I wouldn’t normally be so extravagant, but the driver is friendly and talkative, agrees to take me to an ATM on the way, and promises to get me to Zhujiajian for 30RMB.

The island of Zhujiajian is linked by a long road bridge to the island of Zhoushan, so it’s a matter of sitting back and enjoying the open road over the sea, before the gentle grassy slopes of Zhujiajian take over. I feel immediately happy, as if this empty highway is suddenly a million miles away from the clutter and grime of life, and I’m lost in the blues and greens of land and sky.

I only tell the driver I want to stay close to the place where the sand sculptures are, this being as much as I know myself about the island, and he finally pulls up outside an ordinary looking hotel that suddenly appears on a random street. It’s a quiet place, with a few restaurants in a row, and I’m pleased to discover the sand sculptures are within walking distance.

I book a couple of nights at the hotel, all I have time for, and am as delighted by the double bed and power shower, as I am with this peaceful place I’ve landed in.

...the kind of view I’d never expected...

Being ever thrifty, I soon discover that it costs 60RMB per person to get onto the beach and view the sand sculptures. This isn’t expensive for a whole day’s lounging perhaps, but before 6am it’s free... so I decide to wait until tomorrow morning to explore the sculptures. In the meantime I discover that a kilometre down the road is a completely free beach... and so I set off to explore.

The road hides the sea completely, and 20 minutes or so later I am greeted to the kind of view I’d never expected to see in China. Beyond a clump of fluffy white pampas grass, a moon-shaped stretch of pale orange sand fading into green hills, and an ocean of clear blue, lighter than the sky. A deserted beach.

I almost run down the steep embankment, ignoring the shrubs that try and scratch my legs on the careless descent. The sand is warm and soft under my delighted toes, and the waves sparkle and break in a continuous whisper. I walk the length of the beach, before marking my spot at the far end near a rocky outcrop. I read, swim and spend a day of utter contentment on this quiet beach, feeling far from the world, astonished by such simple beauty, and as free as the giant white cumulous clouds that walk the sky.

Inevitably, evening discovers me, and I am nudged back to the hotel by failing light. There, the few other guests are happily dining out on the edge of the street in one of the restaurants. Sea-food is compulsory – there is literally nothing else on the menu – so I order a small fish, that’s weighed still wriggling from its tank, and a plate of shellfish. This simple fare isn’t cheap, but it’s undeniably delicious, fresh and pan fried with a little garlic, chilli, soy and ginger.

And it’s not that late but it’s amazing how tiring a day lazing on the beach can be. I power-shower the sand off me, and sink into sleep. air of mystery and legend...

At 5am the air outside is cool and moist, and the sun is only a suggestion of light. Half an hour later and I am down on the damp sand of the sand sculpture beach; there’s a deep mist that hides the sea from view and into which a row of thatched parasols are dissolving. But it is the sculptures I have come to see...

It is the summer of Beijing’s about-to-be Olympics and the theme of the sculptures is their history. I wander a path through the giant sculptures of Zeus and Athena, of strange mythological creatures, followed by a sinuous strand of the Great Wall, as Chinese and Greek history combine. Further on and the figure of Baron de Coubertin, backed by the Eiffel Tower, puts a finger thoughtfully to his lips... and beyond this the Olympic Games’ flavour becomes unmistakable: a stop watch, and the cogs of time – a boxing bout, basketball, and the Olympic flame.

That they are all made of sand seems at once impossible, even as I see it is true. The damage from the elements means that every so often the thin crust of glued-sand that holds the sculptures together is cracked, and pale sand spills from it like water. In other places, the wind has swept great swathes of sand over the sculptures, as the beach begins to reclaim its own.

When I turn to leave, an hour or so later, the sun has already all but burnt off the mist, and the beach is revealed; it’s a place for families, and fun, and crowds. There are life-guard towers, swimming sections marked out, and a clump of paddle boats with wheels like inflated Polo mints, striped with shades of strawberry and lime. The sand sculptures are just a small part of the organised tourist whole, and I’m glad I’ve seen them in the silence and gloom of early morning, where the mist gave them, for just a while, an air of mystery and legend...

Information (July 2008)

Zhujiajian is an island off the coast of Zhejiang Province. There are a few scenic areas on the island, and I would say this is a much cheaper and less touristy alternative to Putuoshan Island. I came here for the quiet beaches and to see the sand sculptures, and it makes a perfect getaway from city life. Be aware that the beach I visited has no facilities (toilets, parasols, shops etc) and that in summer it’s extremely hot, so sun block, and your own food and water need to be taken. You can buy snacks and drinks, hats and umbrellas from little shops along the road.

Please note: Very little English is spoken here.

Getting There:
From: Ningbo South Bus Station 宁波南站
To: Shenjiamen on Zhoushan Island, 沈家门,舟山
Time: 2 hours
Cost: 41RMB per person
Note: Journey includes ½ hour ferry crossing across to Zhoushan

Zhujiajian Island 朱家尖岛can be reached by taxi from Shenjiamen 沈家门for around 30RMB. You can also find buses from Shenjiamen to Zhujiajian.

I stayed at the Jin Hai Hotel 金海湾度假村
Tel: 0580-6632888 Mob: 13706803133
Cheapest room I bargained to 200RMB per night (with a/c, ensuite shower and double-bed)
The hotel is right next to the entrance to the sand sculptures and beach.

Sand Sculptures 沙雕文化之旅
Located at: 南沙景区
Entry fee to the beach (including the sculptures): 60RMB per person
Free before 6am

 More Zhejiang Travel Reviews
1. yiwu international trade city YIWUTRANSLATOR from CN Apr 23, 2009 12:35
2. Island of Sunbeams and Salty Air: Dongji LEMONCACTUS from CN Jan 31, 2009 22:55
3. More than just a Big Bright Mountain LEMONCACTUS from CN Dec 5, 2007 01:00
Comments (0)

Write Your Comment

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.

Send me an Email if anyone replies.

Your Reply to

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.