Autumn has an unmistakable sense of charm in the air. The season brings in its fold a slight dip in temperature and a change in color when it comes to the foliage all around.
Autumn is one of the best times to travel in China since the weather is neither too hot, nor too cold. With the Golden Week holidays aligning perfectly with this period, it always makes for a good time to see and explore the beauty China has to offer.
This past Golden Week, I decided to go somewhere I had never been before. The seaside of China had remained a hitherto untouched destination on my travels, so I decided to finally tick it off my list.
Among the coastal cities, Sanya and Xiamen are well known tourist destinations, but if you want to go to beaches without hordes of tourists and find serenity and peace then you need to find places that are not the typical "tourist attractions."
So, I decided to venture to a hidden gem along China's coast.
The gem I speak of is Gouqi Island. Its name may not ring any bells since it is a largely unexplored, yet boundlessly beautiful island. The best part of Gouqi Island is it is located in Zhoushan city, Zhejiang Province, which is only a few hours drive away from Shanghai.
However, Gouqi being an island, it is only accessible by ferry.
When the journey to the destination itself fills you with zest and vigor, it certainly becomes a great start to a holiday. A regular plane or bus ride cannot rival a boat ride simply because it is so uncommon and gives the traveler a break from the usual modes of travel. To get to Gouqi Island, you can drive to the Xiongyangshan docks at the outskirts of Shanghai. I had never traveled to the docks of Shanghai before so a visit to the docks to catch the ferry provided a glimpse into the bustling maritime trade the city enjoyed in its past.
Only four hours long, the journey to Gouqi Island is as memorable as the island itself.
Simply standing on the decks catching the breeze from the sea waves, and taking in the all pervasive smell of the water was enough to put me in a calm and tranquil mood.
On setting foot on the island, you are greeted with the stunning vistas of the coastline. Gouqi is incredibly gorgeous with its blue-green waters, and you will surely not be able to take your eyes off the shoreline. The pristine and panoramic views are eye candy to weary city folk and act like a magic potion to refresh the mind.
The island has small walkways and you can observe the slow pace of life here. The dusty roads though are built on an incline and you will find yourself walking up and down on sloping pathways instead of straight roads on some parts of the island, so you can expect a few huffs and puffs as you make your way up and down these slopes.
There are many seaside inns on Gouqi in and around the marketplace and you will definitely find a cosy comfortable place to stay. The rooms may be a bit too compact for comfort, but I am sure you won't want to stay indoors most of the time, so you can spend your time exploring the island.
Wi-Fi and fresh local food is readily available wherever you go. However, since it is a remote island, convenience stores are few and far between and those that I found were not open past late evening hours. Fresh fruits and vegetables though can be found in abundance here.
Gouqi may largely fly under people's travel radar but it is modern enough to also have KTVs! You read that right. I was surprised but apparently even high tech entertainment options exist on the island.
Tourist attractions on the island are all within walking distance of the seaside inns. One of these is the Mountainous and Sea Wonders, which is situated on the peaks of the cliffs. You will have to hike up some winding narrow roads to reach there. The challenging part is that you will be hiking up a slope so it can get a bit strenuous, but do not let that deter you. It is manageable and the view along the way is of the gorgeous seaside, so I'm sure you will find it worth the effort!
When you reach the top of the cliffs, you can just sit and take it all in. The vast expanse of the skyline, the blue-green tints of the water and the breeze flowing gently past you... you are sure to get caught up in the moment and forget everything else.
Just ahead of these cliffs, is an ancient Buddhist temple and the adjoining cliffs offer spectacular views of the fishing boats set against the setting sun. I actually watched the sunset while resting between two rocks on the cliff and for a few moments time just stood still.
Watching the amber sun slowly metamorphosing into a small fireball and then sublimely melting on the horizon juxtaposed against the dark silhouettes of the fishing boats floating on the sea was nothing less than sheer magic unfolding before my eyes!
The next morning, as the sun rose the temperature soared. Since Gouqi is an island, the temperatures during the day can actually get unbearably high if you are out in the sun for too long. By contrast the evenings are cool and pleasant with chilly temperatures that might surprise you.
During the daytime, I decided to go to a nearby village on the island that I had heard was abandoned. We took a small boat from the docks and went to the village, named Houtou Bay, and it was a real revelation. The village was indeed abandoned, filled with half-constructed homes and broken furniture which showed signs of decay from being left out for years. All the houses on the cliffs were covered in flowing vines and creepers. At a glance, it resembled a green wonderland. One of the houses even had a pair of slippers in a room in a corner lending it a spooky air. Suffice to say, I did not spend a lot of time in that house!
There are multiple cliffs in Houtou Bay, and as you explore the multiple paths up the cliffs, you will be able to take in the exquisite seascape.
Abandoned homes and even an abandoned school are waiting to be discovered, but make sure you are careful while exploring as there are loose bricks and gravel all over the place.
Also, the vines and creepers cover the muddy paths. I got numerous scratches on my hands and feet from walking on the small hilly pathways.
Locals told me that the reason the village was abandoned was that it was too far from the other residential areas, which made life difficult due to the inconvenient transportation. Hence, there was a mass exodus and the village was abandoned and over the years this led to the mossy green wonderland it is today.
Besides Houtou Bay, other places you can visit on Gouqi Island is, of course, the beach.
There are two beaches here, one small and a bit far away from the main market, the other one, a big beach aptly called King Beach, is located right in the center of the market area.
For a one-time fee of 25 yuan ($3.75), you can frolic in the waters and spend a lazy day under the sun relaxing on the beach. It is a good opportunity to catch up on some reading and play some games. I had an enjoyable time making a sand castle with shell decorations while simultaneously trying to protect my fortress from the eagerly incoming ocean waves!
On your way back to your hotel, you can buy some shell souvenirs or jewelry from the local market.
The local artisans have lovely decorative artifacts made from seashells which make for interesting home decor. I bought a pair of bespectacled turtles, a baby tortoise and a turtle with a pink hat and the kind seller threw in a rabbit with an overcoat for free!
As you leave for the docks to head to Shanghai, you will surely take along the memories of the lovely island escape you just experienced and recall the stunning blue-green vistas of the sea on your ferry ride home.