Everyone in seems to be talking about Mogan Shan these days. This rumored green paradise of bamboo and clean air that's a three hours' drive from Shanghai. I guess after a while of living in this beaster of a city, anything that promises the two things that we lack here—green and clean air—sounds like paradise. But don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
Set aside a weekend, get a few friends together, rent a car (and driver) book in at Naked Retreats or Moganshan Lodge, pack some supplies, wine, cheese, chocolate, or whatever kind of stuff you happen to be into and... escape. Mogan Shan is becoming really popular for little weekend mini-vacations. Some of the bungalows in the area can sleep up to 16 people and while not super cheap, its not going to cost more than a boozy weekend in Shanghai.
What is there to do in Mogan Shan? Hiking, hiking and hiking, moutain biking... and my personal favorite—cooking up big home-cooked meals, eating and lounging around a nice, old restored villa from the glory days of the colonizers and Shanghai gangsters of the 1920s and 30s.
Peaceful Shanghai Weekend Getaway
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Mogan Shan became a popular and exclusive retreat for the Shanghai elite. Today, the bamboo-clad slopes rising from Zhejiang plain are regaining their reputation as an escape from the noise of traffic and jackhammers and strenuous pace of the Shanghai lifestyle. Part of the Tianmu Mountains, Mogan Shan is 60 km (37 mi) from Hangzhou and 200 km (124 mi) away from Shanghai (3 hours' drive). The village is now home to over 40 guesthouses, villas and hotels. Mogan Shan is an ideal place to catch some much-needed fresh air during weekend away from the city.
The key is to book good accommodation in advance and to pack proper supplies for your stay—enough for late summer evening barbeques and wine. Mazes of paths cross the slopes where you might stumble upon old, deserted villas. In the past several years, abandoned 1920s-1930s villas have been restored into visitor accommodations and the place has generally started to pick up. But don't expect hopping nightlife—the best you're likely to get is a bit of karaoke.
At the same time, the place is not so popular as to be overrun with tacky hotels and you can still bargain for a hotel room for RMB 180. Few foreign tourists come out this way. Just to note: you have to pay RMB 80 for a pass to get into the Mogan Shan Scenic Area.
If you leave Mogan Shan and come back by the road, on any day after the day you bought the ticket, you will have to buy another unless you can convince the guys on the gate. Be sure to bring your ticket with you wherever you go on the mountain and if you leave and intend to return the same day.
Mogan Shan's Not-So-Humble Origins
A little over a century ago, foreigners stumbled upon the cool, leafy breezes of Mogan Shan, where at the time rooms and houses were rented from locals. Not too long after, the news got out and a mixed batch of gentry, missionaries, foreign diplomats and businessmen pooled about 50 bucks and bought the mountain top for their own exclusive hideaway.
They then set up shop in a European manner with villas, holiday homes, public halls, tennis courts, out-door pools and churches. Many of these villas and houses and been turned into hotels and guesthouses operating today. Servants would be often seen shouldering their colonial masters on sedan-chairs up the mountain in late afternoon.
By 1910, three hundred Brits and Americans had summer homes on the hill. The village had its own governing committee who decided who qualified for the exclusive enclave. Even Shanghai's notorious 1930s underworld—who were running the city just as much as the foreigners—spent the summer here. Mogan Shan was once a favorite spot of Du Yuesheng, Shanghai's opium gangster-king of the 1930s. The villa that once belonged to Du Yuesheng is a now a hotel with a decent pub.
In 1949 with the rise of the Communist Party, the foreigners left the mountain and their villas were given to different work units from Hangzhou and Shanghai. During the post-colonial era, the village was hosts to big name visitors as former minister president Zhou Enlai who met with Chiang Kai-shek in one of the villas to strategize how the Communists and Nationalists could work together against the Japanese. Chiang Kai-shek built himself a massive house on the mountain top. Mao Zedong is believed to have once had a power-nap in a building which is now commemorated as the Mao Museum. The main attraction of this museum is the bed where allegedly slept.
Where to Stay in Moganshan
Naked Retreats who have a number of beautiful eco-friendly bungalows. Moganshan Lodge which was the original guesthouse in the area and has an excellent little restaurant, terrace and bar (the only place in town with good coffee).