This Ghost Town Was Swallowed Up by Nature and Now It's an Eerily Beautiful Hiking Destination
Now the hillside town has become a tourist attraction for what appears to be a garden of architectural topiary.
The village of Houtouwan was established on the Chinese island of Shengshan as a fishing town in the 1950s. It is located in the Shengsi Islands, a collection of about 400 islands located about 40 miles east from Shanghai. Of all the towns on the archipelago, Houtouwan is the only one that has naturally transformed from decay to attraction.
The town thrived for decades. At its peak, it’s estimated that Houtouwan had more than 2,000 residents. But over the years, as ships got bigger, Houtouwan’s tiny port could no longer compete with larger fishing towns. The only way for residents to get in and out of town when the seas were unnavigable was a small winding path up the side of a hill.
“Giving birth, children going to school, when old people got sick - all we had was that small path. It took too much effort,” a former local resident told the Daily Mail. These days, she returns to the island only as a safety officer.
It’s estimated that everybody in the town moved away in the early 1990s to look for jobs in bigger cities. They moved to nearby towns on the same island that had more reliable paths of transportation.
But in its abandonment, Houtouwan was repainted in a new living layer. Over the past almost-30 years, nature has reclaimed the town, covering the buildings in a lush layer of green. Ferns and vines now drape over almost every square foot of the brick and stone buildings. Since its rediscovery in 2015, Houtouwan has become a tourist destination as a sort of green ghost town.
Last year, local authorities implemented a 50 yen (about 50 cents) entry fee to visit the abandoned town. Tourists can now walk alongside a dirt path that weaves between houses and greenery. Some of the abandoned houses are still furnished, adding an extra eerie element to the experience.
Less than a dozen people have moved back to the town, working as guides for intrepid tourists, and selling bottles of water. The hilly terrain and overgrown paths make Houtouwan a bit of a hike. Those who visit should be prepared to spend much of their time climbing uphill.
Reaching the abandoned town is a time commitment. It takes hours (up to 36) to reach the town from mainland China. Travelers can take a series of ferries, buses and taxis to reach the town of Houtouwan.
But, despite the difficult journey, travelers who have visited describe Houtouwan as a magical place, “the scenery of a dreamland” that “captures the beauty of that which is no longer there.”