Beaches and Buddhas: A Weekend Trip to the Zhoushan Islands of Shenjiamen, Zhujiajian, and Putuoshan


This past weekend our friends Paul and Stephanie organized a trip to the Zhoushan islands off the Zhejiang coast (see this nice map).  I’d been there several times in the late ‘90s and have great memories of these early trips.  We used to go regularly by overnight boat from dock No. 16 to the island of Zhujiajian where we stayed in a local farmer’s home close to two long beaches on the southeastern part of the island.  And last fall I took my students to the Buddhist island of Putuoshan, which they all loved.

This time we traveled in style.  On Friday night we caught a 30-minute flight from Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport to the airport on Zhujiajian.  Stephanie booked the Phoenix Island Resort Hotel on the southern side of the big island of Shenjiamen, a five-star hotel located about an hour’s journey by taxi from the airport, including a ferry ride over to the small island where the hotel was located.  The ride over gave us the chance to see the rapid development of the island, which is being built up Shanghai-style with endless rows of identical apartment buildings.  There was even a MacDonalds and a KFC in the biggest town, as well as quite a few supermarkets and department stores.  On either side of the highway running across the island were several industrial parks and many factories, but otherwise the mountainous green island is still beautiful.

It had been cloudy or raining steadily for nearly a month and we were expecting some more of the same, but lo and behold, the skies cleared for the weekend and we could even see stars!  The hotel was impressive and the quality of the rooms and service were high.  There was a nice southern view overlooking the islands, but other than drinking wine and playing cards on the balconies outside our rooms, there wasn’t much to do there, so the following day we took a cab to the beaches of Zhujiajian, which is connected to Shenjiamen by a long bridge.  At first we went to the southernmost beach, which was nearly empty of people.  It was extremely windy on the beach, but we enjoyed the sand and surf anyhow.  

Paul and Stephanie’s son Nathaniel, who is the same age as Sarah, had a great time playing ball with his dad, while Sarah enjoyed digging in the sand.  I took her into the water for a brief spell.  She was scared of the big waves, but she enjoyed playing about in the shallow end of the surf.  This is maybe the closest we can get to the kind of life we enjoyed in Sydney.  


On Sunday, after heading back to Zhujiajian, we caught an early 20-minute ferry ride over to Putuoshan, a sacred Buddhist island whose temples go back about 1000 years. The island and the temples are dedicated to the Boddhisatva Guanyin, known as the “goddess of mercy.”  On the southern tip of the island is an impressively large golden statue of Guanyin looking out over the ocean, which we visited the following morning.  


We toured the Puji Temple, the biggest and most famous of the island’s temples, hiring a tour guide to take us around to the various prayer stations in the temple.  This temple is very specialized.  There are places for children to pray for their parents’ health, for students to pray for good grades, and for working people to pray for successful careers.  Sarah really got into the praying ritual and ended up bai-bai’ing at every station.

But my favorite temple on Putuoshan is the Fayu “law rain” Temple located at the base of the mountain on the northern part of the island.  The stonework, ancient trees, and inclination of this temple against the mountainside make it very unique.  After visiting this temple, you can climb the mountain to visit another temple on the island’s highest peak, but with two 3-year old children and a 65-year old grandma we decided not to do the climb.  Not to mention that it was extremely hot and humid and we were all pretty exhausted by that time.


After visiting the Fayu Temple, we walked down to the coastline and hung out on the “thousand steps beach” (qian bu sha) for a while before heading back to the Putuoshan Hotel.  After dinner, Paul and Stephanie and Nathaniel caught the plane back to Shanghai, but we stayed on til morning.  The Putuoshan hotel was not nearly as nice as the Phoenix Island hotel.  The beds were hard and the rugs were old and stained.  But I had an extremely deep sleep nonetheless.  The following afternoon we took a hydroplane boat back to the city—a four hour trip divided into a 2.5 hour boat ride and 1.5 hour bus ride to the base of Nanpu Bridge. 

Anybody who lives in Shanghai or visits for a while is well advised to take the trip down to these islands.  I’ve also uploaded some more photos from our trip.