Rolling hills, clean air, and total tranquility only three hours away from Shanghai. But you probably already knew that. Moganshan is not as secret as it was in 2003 when Mark Kitto became the first foreigner (supposedly) to rent property there in over 50 years, but the amplified scrutiny it has come under in the past decade or so has not removed the defining qualities that make it such a great city getaway.
Large parts of Moganshan are still owned by nature more than a century after missionaries first built it up as a hill station. The scene on the mountain today is a peaceful one that hosts romantic retreats for couples and a welcome hiatus from urban life for everyone else.
What to do and where
Moganshan and the surrounding county of Deqing covers a lot of ground — too much to be covered in one weekend. Moganshan Scenic Area at the top of the mountain is where the first settlements were built, then down in the surrounding valleys are several small towns and villages such as Yucun, Houwu, Dazaowu and Laoling. All have something different to offer and are worth visiting depending on how much time you have. Some options are:
Hiking in the bamboo forests
The hills of Moganshan are threaded with footpaths.
Swimming in the reservoirs
If you can get away with it.
Cycling and mountain biking
On road or off-piste.
Stay in luxury and soak in the infinity pool.
Eating chicken soup
A must for every traveler. So much better in the countryside.
Kayaking the reservoirs
Companies will rent you a kayak.
Horse riding, tea picking, kids activities, “couple’s retreats”, village hopping…
Moganshan Scenic Area (莫干山风景名胜区)
Initially built by American and European missionaries looking to escape the sweltering heat and lethal cholera outbreaks of early 20th century Shanghai summers, this fresh alpine area is home to over 100 beautiful villas built with stone quarried from the mountain.
Moganshan was a paradise for the residents who spent their days hiking around the bamboo forests, playing tennis, and cooling off in the mountain streams and swimming pools.
The area became neglected during World War Two and dropped from prominence. Years passed and the 21st century has seen a new flurry of activity on the mountain, with villas being restored and turned into prime real estate used as boutique guesthouses or private city getaways. The area is humming with interest again.
There are several routes to get up there depending on where you are staying, but the most commonly used is a road from the village of Yucun leading right to the top that can be accessed by most vehicles and requires an entry fee of 80rmb per person. An alternative, much more scenic 40-50-minute hike through the forest (again starting in Yucun) along the International Mountaineering Footpath takes you past the famous Sword Pond and an impressive waterfall. The climb is relatively straightforward but be sure to wear grippy shoes and bring plenty of water.
The pond in which two swords were forged by Chinese legend Ganjian (the "gan" in Moganshan)
Waterfall just below the Sword Pond
Once you’re up there, you can walk down Yinshan Street, lined with heritage houses that wouldn’t look out of place in a French ski resort or a remote village in Cumbria. This is where you’ll find Mark Kitto’s café The Moganshan Lodge which serves full English breakfasts, pastas and other slightly expensive Western food (Kitto himself left in 2013).
There are also several local canteens that serve organic, homegrown produce at a fraction of the price. Look for the characters 农家菜.
Other features of the area include the spot where Mao once took a nap, Tianchi Temple (天池寺) and lots and lots of bamboo. Strolling along the winding road and through the forests can take most of a day, especially if you are hiking up and down.
Much of the hike up there looks like this
A bustling little village at the foot of Moganshan that has benefitted tremendously from the last decade’s spike in tourism.
Yucun has the largest collection of restaurants out of any of the surrounding villages, along with a town square, seasonal fruit and vegetable market, tourism office, library, transport museum, and a Rural Revitalization VR Museum. It also has an arts-y area called 1932 Culture and Creative Park that has a few cafés, exhibitions and teahouses.
An exhibition in Yucun
A nearby teahouse
The square is lit up in the evening and gets pretty busy at weekends (this photo was taken on a Monday).
Yucun is the base for both previously mentioned routes up to the Moganshan Scenic Area. Outdoor activity center Discovery Adventures Park is just down the road which is a good spot for team building and has a climbing wall, zip wires, high ropes course, guided hikes and hot air balloon rides (299rmb for 20 minutes). Bookings must be made 10 days in advance.
Naked Outdoor Sport (no relation to naked) also offer slightly more hair-raising activities like abseiling, wild rock climbing and river trekking.
Laoling is a bigger area to the south of Yucun with a small village nestled in a corner of a hill. Nothing particularly special about the village itself, but at its foot is a picturesque reservoir and a view across some farm land and the valley beyond. The grassy verge and the pagodas on the edge of the water are great places for a picnic.
The view one way from the grassy verge
The view from the opposite direction, across Laoling Reservoir
You can rent kayaks on the reservoir from a company called Le Tour Kayak Centre — nip over to the office across the road and book two hours for around 300rmb.
Down the road is the Joykie International Cycling Camp which has a dirt track on site and guided routes into the nearby bamboo forests. Limited English at both these places.
In between is YYO Farm where you can feed animals and pick fresh fruits and vegetables. When we went in August 2019, it was closed to the public for renovations but was due to open again by October.
Aside from the unfortunate tunnel currently being built through the nearby hillside, Dazaowu is probably the most remote and untouched village in the region. It has largely been left alone during the tourism scrum of the past decade and is definitely better for it. When the cicadas pipe down the silence is deafening.
Rice paddies and bamboo - a common sight across the region
Not far from the village is the Dadouwu Reservoir (大斗坞水库), known to be a good swimming spot despite plenty of warning signs. The water has a sort of milky blue color, perhaps from the limestone in the rock of the surrounding hills. No one was swimming when we visited but neither did anyone look like they were policing the situation.
Signs are up but the water looks very tempting
The very last house at the end of the village, almost half way up the hillside, is Solvang Village. This place is awesome and will be explained more later, but they have a couple of great hiking routes that lead out the back of their complex. One goes to Moganshan Scenic Area, the other to a viewpoint on a hill called Dayangli (大洋里). The hike is a little arduous and you will get bitten by mosquitos, but the view from the top is definitely worth it.
A nearby waterfall
A smaller, more personal village around 30 minutes’ drive from Yucun, to the west of Moganshan. Houwu is basically a collection of guesthouses and local restaurants that surround a fork in the road. It’s dead quiet - not many people are out and about, especially in the heat of a summer’s day. A solid option for a guesthouse if you are looking to flee the hustle of the city.
Houwu is home to Prodigy- a reasonably priced hostel/guesthouse up a side road near the back of the village. If you ask nicely, their friendly English-speaking staff will let you go out with them on a bike ride or a hike for a certain fee. This is done at your own risk though, as they cannot offer you the same insurance as their guests.
The Houwu National AAA Level Scenic Spot on the right of the valley has several hiking routes and a road up to the Moganshan Scenic Area, although it’s best to speak to someone first before you go galavanting off into the forest. The owner of your guesthouse or a local will have more information.
Xiantan (仙潭) is a village at the northern foot of Moganshan that has lots of guesthouses and a few decent hiking routes, although some are better-travelled than others so be aware.
A little spot towards the south-east of Moganshan called Wusi (五四) has a huge meadow called Flower World which looks spectacular in season. Everything had recently been trimmed when we were there, but if you are in the region during Spring this would be a solid place to spend an afternoon.
Flower World off-season
Where to stay
As previously mentioned, the whole area is huge and the villages are not within walking distance to each other, so where you stay will affect your trip if you’re only here for a couple of days. Moganshan is known for its luxurious resorts, but you don’t have to spend 3,000rmb a night to have a relaxing vacation. Guesthouses are a solid alternative and number in the hundreds across the entire region. A handful of cheap hostels are dotted about the place, too. Here's the map again, in case you're getting confused.
Let’s get the obvious out the way first.
This ostentatious but undeniably impressive structure sitting atop a peak on the southern side of Mount Mogan was initially built by a Scottish doctor named Duncan Main in 1910. It fell into disrepair during the early 60s but was restored by naked Company in 2007 to the condition it is in today.
You could easily spend a weekend here and barely leave the compound. Activities on offer include yoga, hiking, swimming in the infinity pool, archery, vegetable picking, tea picking, pottery making and about a million other things. Non-residents can get access to the resort for 900rmb, which gives them 900rmb worth of activities.
naked Castle's infinity pool
The castle grounds have 30 suites perched on the slopes of the hill and several bungalows spread out in the bamboo forests of the compound. The bowels of the castle itself have 10 rooms inside that follow five themes: Diva, Gangster, Den, King and Queen, and Dungeon. Here’s what Den looks like.
All types of accommodation at naked Castle cost around 1,800rmb a night during the week and 2,400-2,600rmb during weekends. Whack another 800rmb on that if you want to book during a national holiday.
*After clearing things up with naked staff, we can confirm that the cheapest type of accommodation is the one-bedroom village rooms costing roughly 1,800rmb a night, while the castles suites can cost just over 4,000rmb if you book 14 days in advance. Any bookings made later than that will be 4,500rmb+ per night. Price of the bungalows depends on how many bedrooms you want. Click here to check availability.
If the Castle is all about wanting to be noticed, Stables is the complete opposite. It’s south of Laoling and a good 40-minute drive from the foot of Moganshan. Basically, it’s in the middle of nowhere, but that’s precisely the point. Back in 2014, naked founder Grant Horsfield told us that the reason for choosing such an isolated location is so that no one would want to build something nearby and destroy the calming vibe they have worked very hard to create — a valid trepidation in a region experiencing a tourism boom.
The view from a hillside villa balcony
The eco-resort has 30 villas on the hillside and 40 smaller huts that are marketed towards couples. Three restaurants on site offer a range of Asian and Western food using ingredients from their substantial fruit and veg plots. Much like at the Castle, you’re not going to get bored here. Loads of activities are on offer, from horse riding to a Land Rover experience, and can be partially accessed by people not staying at the resort for 888rmb.
One of three pools at naked Stables
The huts are 2,000-2,500rmb per night during the week while treetop villas are upwards from 5,800rmb+ depending on how many bedrooms you choose. . Expect to pay more if it’s last minute.
A real gem of a hotel buried in the bamboo at the foot of the hillside; the very last house at the end of the road going through Dazaowu. Solvang’s simplicity is its defining quality. They have just got the little things right. Helpful, English-speaking staff in a great location with comfortable rooms, good food and minimal hand-holding if you don’t want it. The nearby reservoir, waterfalls and hiking routes can certainly keep you busy for a weekend, but if you want to explore elsewhere, the staff will happily arrange a car to pick you up.
Solvang Village was started by a guy who owned a business in Shanghai for 17 years then decided it wasn’t for him, so moved his family out here and built Solvang himself using stone and timber from the mountain. If you’ve lived and worked in Shanghai for as long as that, I’m sure there’s been times where you’ve pictured yourself dropping everything and fleeing to the hills. There’s a bar, a restaurant, a handful of rooms, a terrace and a rooftop, but that’s about it. Nothing too extravagant but totally adequate. Dog friendly, too.
A standard one-bed king room costs 780-880rmb per night during the winter, spring and autumn, then 880-980rmb during the summer. They also have family rooms and a super mountain view room for a little more. Full prices are on their website.
A 28-room country house somewhere between Yucun and Houwu that has gradually become one of the nicest places to stay in the region. The main focus of La Passage is cuisine, but the people behind it have also created a place to meet other travellers, relax poolside and go hiking and mountain biking. The deep wine cellars and foie gras put Le Passage at the high end of high-end, but if you’re willing to shell out on luxury then this is where.
Click here to read our full article on Le Passage from 2013.
A much cheaper guesthouse/hostel hugging the side of the mountain in Houwu village, Prodigy are big on biking and regularly go out on rides with their customers. The English-speaking staff are helpful and will arrange other activities like hiking, boating and farming. There’s a bar, pizza oven, BBQ and fresh coffee all on site, plus it’s surrounded by hiking routes that the staff can give you advice about.
If you don’t mind sharing, a bed in their dorm room costs a very reasonable 200rmb a night considering the location. Private en suites are 600rmb, and the whole base that sleeps 30 people can be rented out for 6,500rmb a night.
Prodigy's dorm beds
If you want to get involved in their activities but are not staying here, you can contact Prodigy via their website.
Bamboo used to be the major source of income for those living in the Moganshan area. While it still does play a role in supporting the community, saturation of the market and technological alternatives to the traditional uses of bamboo have led to locals being forced into other methods of earning. Guesthouses are one of those methods, and boy are there a lot of them. Most look a bit like this.
The majority are houses built in the last 20 years owned by local families or an elderly couple that will have at least two or three dogs running around, a bunch of chickens out back, a veg plot and maybe the odd grandchild here or there. The rooms are cheap and the hosts are extremely hospitable. They will try and fatten you up, no question.
Most are located in one of the previously mentioned villages, but there are a couple inside the Moganshan Scenic Area like Yan Shui Hua Ye Guesthouse and Fengxiang Mountain Villa. Kitto's lodge, too. Some things to keep in mind; they aren’t always the most relaxing place to stay. A rooster might wake you up at 5am or the mattress might not be quite as soft as your Ikea memory foam topper back in the city. A lack of English is almost guaranteed. That being said, the convenience, hospitality, home-cooked meals and inside knowledge of the area more than make up for it. Best option for doing Moganshan on the cheap.
Places like booking.com, agoda.com and trip.com all have extensive lists. Air bnb is also worth looking into.
There are a couple of cheap hostels in the nearby town of Wukang (武康) where you can pay below 200rmb a night and mingle with other travelers, but the small amount of money you may save compared to a guesthouse will be cancelled out by constant transport to and from the Moganshan area, which is around 40 minutes in a car each way. Snail Youth Hostel and Nianba Youth Hostel are your options and will speak a variety of languages. Qiyu Sports Hostel in Yucun is also very cheap.
How to get around
If you have a car or can legally drive in China, just drive. You’ll save a fortune on taxis if you want to go to a lot of different places. There’re gas stations in the nearby towns of Wukang and Deqing.
Metered cabs are few and far between, and when they finally do appear, there’s a high probability that a maniac is behind the wheel. During the two metered cab journeys we got, half way through the trip the driver exclaimed that there was a surcharge of 30rmb on top of the fare due to us driving on winding mountain roads that take longer to navigate, causing him to lose time and rake in less money from other potential fares. On initially refusing and questioning the timing of this statement, they both proceeded to literally put on their seatbelt and start driving like Vin Diesel, overtaking at 40kmph round blind corners and other such reckless behavior. After about one minute of fearing for our lives, we gave in and said he could have the extra 30rmb.
Didi Express is a little more fruitful and much less dangerous. They will probably still ask for the surcharge but will do it in advance and won’t use your life as a bargaining chip. They are almost always up for private hire too, so if your Chinese is up to it, you can negotiate hiring them for the whole day. If you are just staying in the Moganshan region, don’t pay them much more than 600rmb for the day.
These yellow e-bikes are all over the Moganshan region and are available for anyone to drive.
There’s usually at least one station in every village (about five in Yucun). Just scan the QR code on the front with WeChat. It will ask for a few details then take you to a price layout. A 30-minute trip will cost 30rmb, three hours is 100rmb and five hours is 150rmb. They do not have to be returned in the same spot you got it from, just as long as it’s a designated station (there are other bikes parked there). They max out at around 25kmph on the flat and are extremely slow going uphill, but can get up to 40kmph downhill, so wear the helmet that should be provided.
These yellow ones are the only ones that foreigners can use and are owned by a company called 逗哈快组. The red ones or other yellow ones run by a company called 猪吧出行新 require registration with a Chinese national identity card. Probably the cheapest way to get around (and the most fun), but not always the most efficient.
You may see these shared bikes around. They’re single speed and aren’t dissimilar from Ofo or Mobike. Basically they are not made for mountain roads. You’re better off renting one from your guesthouse if they have them. Many will provide pretty decent mountain or road bikes or know where to find them.
What to eat and drink
Food at your accommodation
All the accommodation mentioned above has food on site. The Castle has a pretty casual eatery called naked Bite, whose Asian-inspired international menu includes a bunch of Western classics like pizza and pasta. It also has a fancy Cantonese restaurant called Pao Tai Lou. The Stables has a naked Bite too for informal stuff, plus a fine dining experience in the form of their Kikaboni restaurant where set menus are 500rmb+.
Solvang and Prodigy both have reasonably priced and varied menus that combine Chinese and Western classics. The quality is good and the portions sizable.
Guesthouse food is authentic and delicious, with the vegetables often being grown in their gardens. The portions they bring out sometimes border on ridiculous though, especially if you are just one person. Breakfast consists of fresh fruit, zhou (porridge), meat buns, soy milk and fried eggs from their own chickens. You will eat like a king at these places for very little money.
Yucun, Houwu and the Moganshan Scenic Area all have loads of restaurants and canteens serving up fresh, locally sourced meat and veg at low prices. Again, look out for the characters 农家菜. A common dish in Moganshan is chicken soup with a whole chicken in it. Super good. Obviously the bamboo shoots in spring and winter as well.
This chicken soup will sooth your soul
A couple of decent local canteens in Yucun were 阿华饭店 and 邮电餐厅. 莫干妈妈味道餐厅 in Houwu was really good, and there’s a lovely spot on the water in Laoling called 湖畔水上餐厅.
The Moganshan Lodge in the Scenic Area serves pricey Western food and there’s an Ocean Grounds café in Yucun right near the main square that has burgers, pizza and pasta for under 100rmb. Quality is pretty average. Then across the road from there is what seems to be an extension of Le Passage that serves substandard pizzas for 90rmb. Swerve this place. In fact, unless you’re at the real Le Passage, swerve all Western food. Eat local.
All the main accommodations we mentioned have bars. The Castle even has a little separate whiskey bar in the basement somewhere. Some guesthouses will provide refreshments but not all. If they don’t, there’s probably a nearby shop that stocks Moganshan beer, of which there are a few kinds. The kind that comes in a tall bottle is alright but go for the green one - it’s tastier and is stored inside bamboo apparently. A guesthouse host told me that the yellow one is so weak that they use it for cooking.
There are couple of bars in Yucun that double up as restaurants. Link Beer Pub has a climbing wall out front, a swimming pool in the back and Stella on tap (only during peak season). If this place was in Shanghai and had Stella on all year round, you’d be looking at a goldmine.
Link's pool out back
There’s a bar in the square too, and one just opposite. Walk around at night and you’ll see them, although they don’t stay open very late. In fact, nothing does. Make sure you’ve eaten before nine because everywhere will have stop serving food around then.
Seating for the bar in Yucun Square
How to get there
Train then taxi
Every day there are two direct high-speed trains from Hongqiao to Deqing, the nearest city to Moganshan. They depart at 7.27am and 6.18pm and take 1 hour 42 minutes and 1 hour 56 minutes respectively. Both cost 93.5rmb one way. When you arrive at Deqing you can get a taxi right to your accommodation which will probably cost between 50-100rmb and will take about 30-40 minutes depending on where it is, so in total you’re looking at roughly 150-180rmb one way and a rough travel time of 2.5 hours . Not bad at all. There are four direct trains on the way back, check here for the times. Always book trains in advance.
Another route you can take is Hongqiao – Hangzhou (45 minutes & 73rmb) then Hangzhou – Deqing (13 minutes & 16rmb). This is a little more flexible as there are tons of trains daily from Hongqiao to Hangzhou so it can fit your schedule. Tickets will need to be bought separately and you might have a transfer time in Hangzhou station, but still probably the best and fastest option. Total ticket cost plus a taxi to your accommodation in Moganshan from Deqing would be about the same as the previous option – 150-180rmb, and would take just over 2 hours. Always book trains in advance.
A third route is to just take a train to Hangzhou then get a taxi directly from there which would take a total of two hours and 25 minutes travelling from Hongqiao. A taxi from Hangzhou to Moganshan will cost 200rmb+ leaving total cost of this journey around 300rmb. ALWAYS book trains in advance.
Bus then taxi
The cheapest option, but not by much. There are direct buses from Shanghai Long Distance South Bus Stop (which is about a ten-minute walk from Shanghai South Railway Station) straight to Deqing. The journey takes about 3.5 hours and costs 69rmb. Add that to a taxi from Deqing to Moganshan and you’re looking at no more than 150rmb. You might save 20rmb, but the train is way faster.
The lazy man’s route. Getting a Didi Express from Hongqiao to Moganshan will cost over 700rmb plus whatever the tolls are and will probably take the best part of three hours.