In all the years that I have lived in Shanghai I had never been to Chongming Island. Especially since the tunnel and mega bridge from Pudong to the island had been finished in late 2009 there was no excuse anymore not to go there, so this weekend we decided to drive over. I got up at 8 AM to buy some food and drinks for a picnic on the island and just after 9 we left our house. Despite it being a Sunday morning it was quite busy on the outer ring road and it took us almost 1.5 hours just to get to Chongming.
The island is located in the mouth of Yangtze river, opposite Pudong. I had seen it tens of times already from the air, flights from Japan and the US often come in over Chongming, and I was actually quite curious to take a look on the ground.
Once you get off the bridge you can continue the toll road a few more kilometers until it stops (they are still extending it to Jiangsu province) and you end up on 4-lane roads that were packed. I was glad that I had asked my driver to drive us today, I hate traffic jams, and especially those in China where people keep on trying to cut in. The countryside was a bit like some of the Dutch northern provinces, very flat, not many trees and lots of canals and other waterways. The island is just above sea level and is likely one of the first to disappear when sea levels should start rising later this century (they do have dikes though, just like Holland).
After another 45 minutes or so we arrived at our first destination, the Dong Ping national park in the middle of the island. Like most Chinese parks it was very busy here, despite the steep entrance fee (RMB 70, or about USD 11 per person). But like everywhere in the world, if you move away more than 200 meters from the main roads you hardly see any people anymore. So we made a pleasant walk through the forest, accompanied by Chinese pop songs on hidden loudspeakers in trees (also a common thing in Chinese parks).
After a while we got hungry, so we decided to look for a place to have a picnic lunch. We found a picnic table at a quiet road and set up all our food there (among others French baguettes, croissants, Camembert, Emmentaler, jams, and hot dogs for the kids). Not long after we sat down some Chinese tourists walking by saw us and started taking pictures of us. As usual in this country quickly a small crowd developed, and some even came close to our table to take a look. Saying something to them in English (“Hello young man, do you like our food?”) normally scared them away quickly. Over the years I learned that speaking Chinese has the opposite effect, it only attracts more people. I didn’t mind though, I have gotten used to it over the years, especially since I have my kids.
We managed to have lunch without being disturbed too much, and after finishing our food and drinks we continued our walk. The park is nice, but very touristy. There are a lot of things to do for tourists, but we decided to walk back to the entrance and move on to our next destination. That was the Xiasha wetlands, on the Northern part of the island.
These wetlands are right outside the Chongming island dikes, and are either inundated or muddy depending on the tide. The wetland are a few hundred meters wide and wooden boardwalks make it possible to walk through the wetlands without getting wet feet. They are beautiful, but we had the bad luck that it started raining (not a very big deal, we had rain coats) and that there were tons of other tourists.
Generally I don’t have a problem with a lot of tourists, but it turned out that most of them were not interested in the beautiful nature of the wetlands, but only in catching small crabs. Almost every small group of tourists had bought sticks with a small iron loop on top with some meat on it to catch crabs. And while doing this they blocked the boardwalks and you had to avoid their sticks. Pretty annoying, especially when one guy even hit me and Elaine with his stick. Catching crabs is something I used to do as a young child, but it’s not something I would consider doing as a grown up (well, maybe catch one on a beach for fun, and then let it go).
But here everybody seemed to be obsessed to catch the tiny animals. They seemed too small to eat, and knowing how polluted the Yangtze river is here I don’t think eating them can be healthy anyway. But whole groups of adults were screaming when one of them caught a tiny crab. Some even jumped in the mud to catch a small one, getting mud all over their clothes… Funny to watch, but not my cup of tea for sure!
Luckily closest to the sea the tide came in, so there were no crabs, and therefore also not a lot of people anymore. The walk there was a lot more pleasant, but it was also quite windy and cool. So we decided to head back, especially because the kids were also getting tired.
The drive back went very smoothly. On the island we still had a bit of a traffic jam, but once we were on the highway to the bridge we could speed up and were back home in less than 45 minutes. Chongming is a nice day trip from Shanghai, you feel far away from the huge metropolis even though the city center is only about 25 kilometers from the island. But don’t go on weekends or national holidays, because the crowds spoil some of the pleasure. There are lots of bikers on Chongming as well, it may be a nice trip to bike out there (or take your bike on the ferry) and then drive partly around the island. Recommended!