Seafood and sand in Shenjiamen

Beaches and night markets on the eastern island of Zhoushan

Located on the south eastern tip of the main Zhoushan island, Shenjiamen is a bustling port town that serves as a passenger hub for ferries to the temple and tourist-filled island of Putuoshan just a few minutes away and the less-visited Dongji islands, China’s most eastern inhabited tracts of land. It’s a pleasant enough destination in its own right however. Home to the largest fishing fleet in China (which brings in an annual catch of around 120,000 tons), the main street beside the port hosts a brilliant night market every evening with dozens of seafood restaurants stretching along the waterfront.

In the day, Shenjiamen itself offers few attractions, but a 40RMB taxi ride will get you to Zhujiajian island, which offers a number of pleasant beaches. Chief among these is the south beach (entry 60RMB), located within the Sand Sculpture Art Square park (国际沙雕艺术广场). Skip the unnecessary performances and tat sellers inside the entrance to the park and instead head toward the coast where you’ll find a large expanse of soft sand. It’s a popular destination, but the beach is big enough for you to find your own spot even at peak times. Although signs warn that there is ‘no swimming for the drunk and sick’ (fair enough), it is permitted in designated areas for the healthy.

Each summer, sand sculptures are crafted at the back of the beach – hence the park’s name – though, on our visit, last year’s Disney creations were looking a little worse for wear (much of Buzz Lightyear’s body armour had crumbled away for instance). There’s also a small wooded area flanking the beach, but there’s not much to distract you from just lying on the sand or splashing about in the sea, which is as it should be.

If you're looking for more of a hidden spot for a dip, head to the right of the Sand Sculpture Park's entrance without entering and continue up the hill (this is best done in a car - it's at least a half hour walk) to the entrance of the island's scenic area. It's 100RMB to get in, but the rewards include a couple of coves with more secluded - and far less crowded - beaches.

Shenjiamen

Back in Shenjiamen, the waterfront becomes a hive of activity at night. What looks like a row of abandoned buildings during the day is transformed into a huge night market in the evening. As the sun goes down, the small, orange-roofed huts throw open their doors onto the street and present a huge array of seafood on beds of ice at their storefronts. These tables essentially act as your menu, with all manner of fresh fish laid out atop them.

Choosing between the dozens of restaurants is difficult. The number of diners inside is a fairly reliable rule of thumb, though in reality there is little to choose between each spot. Be sure to agree on pricing before you sit down at a table inside, however – the overhead electronic screens installed by the government to try and ensure fair pricing are largely ignored.

Once you’ve chosen your catch, it’s prepared at a small cooking station in front of you, usually with some vinegar and a smattering of peppers. An average meal for two, with a couple of bottles of beer thrown in, should come to around 150-200RMB, though prices naturally climb during the peak tourist months over the summer.

Getting there

Direct buses leave Nanpu Bridge Tourist Bus Station around every 30 minutes from 6.40am-6.30pm. Tickets are 138RMB and the bus takes around four and a half hours one way. Flights to Zhoushan airport take around 50 minutes and start from 260RMB one way with China Eastern.

For sleeping options, if you take the bus to Shenjiamen, you’ll get dropped off at the main waterfront street of Bingang Lu (滨港路) where you’ll find the night market on one side and a string of hotels on the other.

Rooms start from around 150RMB for a double, with the better (and more expensive) hotels further away from the ferry terminal. A reasonable meeting point of affordability and comfort is the Dongfang Hotel at number 50, with rooms from 268RMB, but generally, as with the night market stalls opposite, there is little to choose between the accommodation options. Just be sure to look at the rooms before you hand over any money.

If you're looking for something a little more upmarket, the Westin Zhujiajian Resort offers a lot more comfort, with a beach-side location, outdoor swimming pools and all the facilities you'd expect from an international hotel chain. Rooms start from around 1,500RMB a night for a basic room, though villas with individual pools are also available if you really want to splash the cash.