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Weekend trip to Putuoshan

Thousand step beach was totally deserted when I was there

Last weekend I went to Putuoshan island with some colleagues of Spil Games Asia and Zlong Games. Putuoshan is an island about 3-4 hours (driving) south of Shanghai, and is famous for its many temples and beautiful nature.

We left Shanghai about 8 AM by bus and arrived around 12 in the port from where the ferries to the island leave. But because we were all a bit hungry we started with a nice seafood lunch on the terrace overlooking a lake. The food was great, especially the many different shellfishes that we got. Once lunch was finished we took the boat to the island, just a 15 trip from the mainland (boats go constantly, and we did not have to wait).

Departure to Putuoshan by boat

Cars are not allowed on the island (except a few local ones), so you have to leave your car or bus behind in the port. On the island itself all transport is by bus, small buses loop around the island and stop at the major temples and monasteries. Because the island is quite small (6 km from north to south I was told) you can also walk. If I would be an entrepreneurial Chinese living on the island I would start a bike rental company, I am sure that would be a good business.

Grace at Puji Temple, Putuoshan

We sent our luggage to the hotel and immediately started with a visit to one of the many temples. The first one was the Puji temple, which was located next to one of the beaches but strangely had no view of the sea. Most of the team wanted to pray for the different buddhas, so we started by buying incense sticks and candles. Or buying is actually not the right word, officially you get these things for free but you have to pay a fixed donation for them. Very pragmatic.

Puji Temple, Putuoshan

I watched some of my colleagues (and many other tourists) during their prayers and walked around a bit while they were busy. The temple is very beautiful and reminded me a bit of the temples in Kyoto (Japan). I like the atmosphere in the temple but didn’t pray myself, as an atheist I am happy if others do it but it does not bring me anything. I prefer Buddhism over Christianity and Islam, Buddhism is so much more relaxed and less pushy for non-believers. If I would ever choose a religion I would probably choose Buddhism.

Side note: I have been reading :”The Monk and The Philosospher” on and off for the past 2 months (while reading many other books), a great book for people like me who have difficulty understanding how intelligent people can believe in religion. I respect people who can do it, and assume there is more between heaven and earth than we can see, but believing in something goes against my rational mind. The book opened my eyes a bit, especially for a friendly religion like Buddhism. Not an easy book but recommended, even though I did not finish it yet.

Self portrait at Putuoshan

The next temple was directly on the sea and I enjoyed watching the waves hitting the shore while the others were praying. The location was fantastic, on the rocks a couple of meters above the water. A great place to build a house, but in this case I guess that won’t be possible.

Nice place to build a house (not allowed, I checked)

While we were there it started to rain a little bit, just a few drops. But the rain made the stairs to the temple wet and one lady slipped on them. She was clearly hurt but everybody laughed when it happened (which is a typical reaction in China, but does not mean that people laugh at her for being hurt). She got up, took one more ste, slipped again and fell down the remaining steps. At that point I also laughed, it was like a slapstick movie. I felt bad for her though, maybe she didn’t pray hard enough.

Walking from temple to temple

We then walked to a temple at the southern end of the island, from where I could observe fishingboats sailing from nearby islands to the sea. We walked quite a bit already and mainly at a very slow pace, so my legs and feet were getting a bit tired. I don’t mind running 15 kilometers and it won’t really make me tired, but slowly walking 5 kilometers is something that I really feel in my legs. Not sure why actually, I guess I am just not used to it. But walking is a good way to talk to people and catch up with some of the others on the trip, so I did not mind it too much.

Guanyin, Putuoshan

From there we walked to the huge Guanyin statue that towers above the coastline on the south side of the island. It’s an impressive statue, one of the nicer ones I have seen in China. Also here lots of people praying and a group of people were chanting Buddhist texts in front of the statue. A very special atmosphere, especially because it was around sunset. Too bad that it was cloudy, otherwise Guanyin must have looked even nicer (I think it’s facing into the direction where the sun sets).

Big seafood dinner

At night we had another fantastic seafood meal. I ordered a beer with it, but that was not recommended according to the waitress and some of my colleagues. The combination of seafood and beer is dangerous according to them. It’s not the first time I combine beer with seafood and I was thirsty, so I ordered one anyway (and I survived without any problems). After the dinner we went to our hotel, which was not bad. A spacious room with a balcony overlooking the town and the sea in the distance (but most of the view was blocked by trees in the hotel garden). I did some emails and then went into town to buy a drink (the hotel had no mini bar nor a normal bar) and spent the rest of the evening reading The Secret Race (great book, maybe I should put a review here in the coming days).

Village on Putuoshan, every house turns into a seafood restaurant at night

The next morning we had to get up early because our first temple visit was planned for 8 AM. I had a quick breakfast in my hotel room (I am still not a big fan of Chinese breakfasts, so normally just bring some instant coffee and muffins or croissants on short trips) and went down to the lobby. It turned out that it was raining very hard, so we changed our original plan of walking up to the Huiding monastery on Fodingshan (mountain). Our tour guide had good local connections and arranged that the car of the monastery picked us up (‘grey channel’ of course). That was a smart move because it kept on raining hard for the next hour and we would have gotten completely soaked otherwise.

Heavy rain while visiting Huiji Monastery on top of the Fodingshan (mountain)

The monastery was beautiful and the rain gave it a special feeling. But the downside was that you could not see much, so we did not stay too long. The car of the monks also rode us down the mountain, and while we descended the rain finally stopped. The car stopped at the Fayu Temple, another nice temple complex in the woods. But by now I had seen enough temples and I decided to walk to the beach, which turned out to be just 2 minutes from the temple.

Thousand step beach was totally deserted when I was there

To my big surprise the beach was totally deserted. At the temple it was quite busy, but here there was nobody. And the beach was very nice, I walked from one end to the other which took me about 12 minutes (partly jogging with my backpack), so probably 1-1.5 km one way. Being alone on a beach is always a magical experience. Seeing the waves, looking at the mountains behind the beach and just staring into the ocean. I loved it and this was probably the highlight of my trip, especially because there was nobody else.

Entrance to Fayu Temple, Putuoshan

I then went back to the Fayu temple but could not find the group, so waited outside until they came out. Because it had started raining a bit again we agreed that we had seen enough and we all went back to the port to take the ferry back to the mainland. There the bus was waiting for us already. Instead of another seafood meal we stopped at a KFC and ate the chicken wings, burgers and nuggets in the bus.

Walking to the boat with a monk ahead of me

The bus driver seemed to be in a bad mood and drove like a maniac on the highway. He drove the bus at absolute top speed, the sides and bottom of the bus were vibrating because of the speed. At a certain point a car was standing still in the left lane of the highway (where we were driving), and he could just swerve around it. It turned out that he was angry at one of our managers, because she had told him to park somewhere where he did not want to park and this guy could not take that. He then tried to take revenge by refusing to let some people out in the suburbs of Shanghai (which would save them at least an hour of additional travel time), and when we called his boss he refused to talk to him (“I am driving and so I can’t take a call”). Typical behavior of someone who finally has a little bit of power over others and immediatley wants to abuse it. Eventually he gave in (luckily for him and his job), but it was not a nice end of the trip. Anyway, you have this kind of people all over the world I guess.

Puji Temple, Putuoshan

The trip itself was a big success in my opinion, despite the lousy weather on the 2nd day and despite the strange driver. I had never been to Putuoshan and am glad that I have now seen it. Because the island is not very close to Shanghai it’s not extremely busy (as long as you avoid Buddhist holidays), but you could just do it in one day if you would not want to stay overnight. In a car it will be about 3.5 hours to get to the port, so if you leave Shanghai at 7 AM you can be on the island by 11 AM. Most temples close between 5 and 6, so you can spend 6-7 hours sightseeing before driving back. Staying at the island is no problem either, there are a lot of decent hotel options available, but book in advance. There is no real entertainment (it’s a Buddhist island), so bring a book for the evening.

As usual I took a lot of pictures and put a couple of them online, you can see them here

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