Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In October, we shift our focus to the offbeat, highlighting everything from (allegedly) haunted spaces to abandoned places.
Like something straight out of a fairytale, the abandoned village of Houtouwan on Shengshan Island, part of the Shengsi Archipelago off the eastern coast of China, has recently become an internet sensation and an unusual travel hotspot.
Houtouwan was once a prosperous fishing village, with a 1980s population of more than 3,000 residents. However, because of its remote and hard-to-access location, its residents started to move out in the ’90s.
In 2002, the village was officially depopulated and merged into a nearby village.
After decades of abandonment, empty houses in the ocean-facing, cliffside village – some of them still furnished – have been taken over by a blanket of lush climbing plants.
A ghost village-turned-tourist hotspot
Houtouwan soared to fame among Chinese netizens in 2015 when a series of mesmerizing photographs of the deserted village went viral.
Instead of celebrating its new-found popularity, the officials of Shengsi Archipelago were cautious of the impact brought by the sudden surge of tourists.
“Our telephone lines are jammed and we are getting more tourists to Houtouwan,” Chen Bo, an official of Shengshan Island, said in an official statement at the time.
“Houtouwan of Shengshan hasn’t been equipped with the conditions to open to tourists… We urge visitors to preserve its tranquility for now.”
But now, it’s ready for tourists. Sort of.
After more than two years of planning, Houtouwan – despite still being comparatively off-the-grid – has implemented a few new moves to control and monetize the boom.
A viewing platform opened in 2017, offering an overview of the village from afar (for a ticket price of $3).
Visitors can hike around the hilly village for a fee of $8. Signs are put up outside empty houses to warn tourists about the possible danger of entering the deteriorating structures.
The fame of Houtouwan village has bolstered the tourism industry of Shengshan Island.
New bed-and-breakfast accommodations have popped up around the island – just not inside the village.
According to local news reports, the village welcomed 90,000 visitors in 2021, raking in RMB3.3 million ($470,000) for the island.
A popular weekend trip from Shanghai
The Shengsi Archipelago, around 40 miles from Shanghai, is the only archipelago officially declared a National Scenic Area in China.
With more than 400 islets, the archipelago is a popular weekend getaway from Shanghai.
Shengshan is the easternmost island and, together with neighboring Gouqi Island, is famous for its seafood.
It boasts one of the biggest fish farms in China.
How to get there
The best time to see the village is summer – when vegetation is in full bloom.
Getting to Houtouwan isn’t a straightforward trip. Limited ferry services run between mainland China and Gouqi Island (the island is connected to Shengshan by a short bridge).
One ferry departs daily from Shanghai’s Shenjiawan Pier (at 9:25 a.m.) Visitors who want to take the ferry have to buy the ticket and take the 7:15 a.m. bus from Shanghai Nanpu Bridge Tourism Centre.
The bus ride takes around 1.5 hours and the ferry ride takes 3.5 hours. It will drop you off at Gouqi Island, where you can get a local taxi to Houtouwan.
Another ferry departs from Zhoushan Shenjiamen Banshengdong Dock (at 7:45 a.m.) to Gouqi Island.
It is recommended to book tickets early due to its limited availability.
Overnight visitors can reserve their return tickets and taxi ride in advance through their hotels or bed-and-breakfasts.
This story was first published in 2018. It has been updated and republished in October 2022.