The Fairytale of Houtouwan: Nature’s Takeover of a Forgotten Chinese Village
Like a scene from a storybook, the abandoned village of Houtouwan on Shengshan Island, nestled within the Shengsi Archipelago off China’s eastern coast, has become an internet sensation and an extraordinary travel attraction.
A Village Lost in Time
Houtouwan, once a thriving fishing community with over 3,000 inhabitants in the 1980s, gradually saw its residents depart during the ’90s, owing to its remote and challenging accessibility.
In 2002, the village was officially depopulated and merged with a neighboring settlement.
After decades of abandonment, the village’s ocean-facing houses, some still adorned with furnishings, are now enveloped by a lush carpet of climbing plants. A ghost village transformed into a tourist haven.
Rise to Internet Fame
In 2015, Houtouwan captured the imaginations of Chinese netizens when captivating photos of the deserted village went viral. However, the surge in tourists prompted caution from Shengsi Archipelago officials.
“Our telephone lines are jammed, and we are witnessing an influx of tourists to Houtouwan,” stated Chen Bo, an official of Shengshan Island. “Houtouwan is not yet fully equipped to receive tourists… We implore visitors to preserve its serenity for now.”
A Tamed Beauty
Now, after more than two years of careful planning, Houtouwan, while still somewhat off-the-grid, has introduced measures to manage and profit from the tourism boom.
A viewing platform, offering a panoramic view of the village for a $3 ticket, opened in 2017. Visitors can explore the hilly village for $8, with signs cautioning about the risks of entering deteriorating structures.
Houtouwan’s fame has boosted Shengshan Island’s tourism industry, with new bed-and-breakfast accommodations springing up around the island, though not within the village itself.
In 2021, the village welcomed 90,000 visitors, contributing RMB3.3 million ($470,000) to the island’s economy.
A Weekend Escape from Shanghai
Situated around 40 miles from Shanghai, the Shengsi Archipelago is China’s sole archipelago designated as a National Scenic Area. With over 400 islets, it’s a popular weekend retreat from Shanghai.
Shengshan, the easternmost island, along with neighboring Gouqi Island, is renowned for its seafood and hosts one of China’s largest fish farms.
Planning Your Journey
The best time to visit Houtouwan is during the summer when the vegetation is in full bloom.
Accessing Houtouwan is not straightforward. Limited ferry services connect mainland China and Gouqi Island, which is linked to Shengshan by a short bridge.
One daily ferry departs from Shanghai’s Shenjiawan Pier at 9:25 a.m. Travelers taking the ferry must purchase tickets and catch the 7:15 a.m. bus from Shanghai Nanpu Bridge Tourism Centre. The bus ride takes approximately 1.5 hours, and the ferry ride takes 3.5 hours, dropping passengers off at Gouqi Island, where local taxis are available to reach Houtouwan.
Another ferry departs from Zhoushan Shenjiamen Banshengdong Dock at 7:45 a.m. bound for Gouqi Island. Booking tickets in advance is recommended due to limited availability.
Overnight visitors can pre-arrange return tickets and taxi rides through their hotels or bed-and-breakfast accommodations.