In the minds of we Shanghainizzles, Chongming is the city's NYC Long Island. We imagine lush greenery, sea breezes and coastal roads. Our mid-term plans include a beach side weekend house in Xiaohamton. We'll cruise there in the drop-top on weekends and munch on snow crab legs.
It's absolutely nothing at all like this. Chongming is a big flat slab of Shanghai's outskirts wedged into the Yangtze river covered in light industry and arable farmland. It's a nice escape from the city, but don't get your hopes up.
There are two ways to get to Chongming Island. By boat or bridge. The bride is a new affair and brings the 4hrs journey down to a drive over a pretty impressive 10k elevated road across the water. There are stories that bikes aren't allowed on the boats (they're definitely not allowed on the bridge) and being that we wanted to ride the island we hired a driver to take the 6 of us.
Being that this is Shanghai he rocked up in a 30 seater coach. 1000RMB? deal! So yeah. Over to the north east outskirts of town. Through a tunnel, past all the stranded cyclists (haha)(in our minds), over the massive bridge and then 50k west to the other side of the Island where the trees kind-of roam free and Qianweicun village is a beacon for the hordes.
Qianweicun is, according to the sign, a China AAAA rated site. This, according to the sign, means it basically has Unesco status. 60% of it is coach park and 20% identi-kit restaurants so there's not a lot to see except a distinct lack of skycrapers on the horizon and stars at night. Which is effectively what we came for...
... and the fairground which time forgot, where for 20RMB you can put your Shanghainese girlfriend who has absolutely no road sense in a dodgem and then drive at her whilst she spins uncontrollably backwards in dizzying circles.
Instead of paying one tout an inflated 400RMB for a hotel you can pay another tout an inflated 120RMB for a farmer's cottage. Farmer's cottages sound about 555 times more quaint than they are.
They do, however, have clean rooms, a bit of peace and quiet and an able chef who can toss up some of the local specialties which basically comes down to some damn tasty belly pork 紅燒肉 and cold beer.
With a good stiff neck and without the sound of traffic, mornings on Chongming Island are only let down by congee. Fresh air requires a fresh fry-up. Not here. After half a dozen boiled eggs it seems only right to head off and find a breeze.
Nice(!) that the Dongping Forest Park doesn't allow bikes so the only choice is which direction to ride. The island's roads are long and straight and basically turn into drag strips for Santanas so best to find a balance between quiet back road and turns-into-a-ditch farmer's path.
We found every farmer's path ditch in the west of Chongming trying to reach the shores of the Yangtze. In 3 we hours traced the edge of a 2km square, boxed in by a murky canal and wound up exactly where we'd started with just enough time to raise a beer to the sunset and to the elusive coastal path, forever over that next line of trees.
Feeling lonely without a population density of 2500/sqkm? Head to the village market to be stared at by the locals. They didn't disappoint and came out in-force with their children to see which cucumber we would buy and squeeze the bike tyres.
As we sat in 10k of tailbacks on our oversize coach heading back into Shanghai we pondered over Chongming and its escapist-appeal. The Hamptons are safe for now.