On a Slow Boat From China
So, how do you get from China to Japan without flying? There’s only one way of course, by ship. Fortunately for us, there is a ferry from Shanghai in China to Osaka in Japan. So our quest to travel around the world without flying continued onboard the Suzhou Hao ferry.
Shanghai Ferry Terminal
Firstly, we had to get to Shanghai’s ferry terminal. Since I started planning this trip, the Chinese kindly added a new subway line (line 12). So we could take the metro line directly to the terminal. The ferry departs Shanghai just once a week on Tuesdays so it was important not to miss it.
As it turns out, the ferry terminal entrance is quite easy to miss. You enter the terminal through the underground car park and there is no separate pedestrian entrance. Once inside, the terminal is modern and spacious.
Booking the Ferry
You can book the ferry by email in advance or via the website but you have to pay on arrival at the terminal. They do not accept credit cards and you must pay in Japanese Yen as it’s a Japanese ferry company. Fares start from around £100 per person (20,000 Yen) if you don’t mind sleeping in the communal dormitory.
We booked a two-berth cabin which costs around £200 (40,000 Yen) each. For that, we got a very spacious room with a large window and a seating area. We also had a reasonably sized bathroom. Certainly plenty of space for a 2-day journey. If you’re on a tight budget but don’t fancy the communal room you can get a berth in a 4-bed cabin for around 24,000 Yen which offers good value and a bit more privacy.
Leaving Shanghai on the ferry was quite exciting. Moving on from China and heading for Japan was a new chapter in our adventure and we were looking forward to it. We also got to see Shanghai from the river which was a cool experience. Before we could get going, however, we had to wait for what seemed like hundreds of coal barges to pass down the river first. The Huangpu is a working river and it does get busy at times.
We passed the main Shanghai cruise terminal right at the end of the river as we sailed out into the open sea. It’s quite a long way out of the main city but the river isn’t deep enough for large cruise ships to get closer. The Suzhou Hao is really small by comparison and so she has no problems navigating down the river to the central ferry terminal. Certainly lucky for us.
Onboard the Suzhou Hao Ferry
Indeed, the Suzhou Hao is no cruise ship. Onboard the facilities are pretty basic but comfortable enough. Fortunately, the weather was good during our crossing. The sea was calm for the entire journey and we were able to sit on the deck and enjoy the sea air. In the photo below you can see me relaxing on deck. There is a seating area like this on either side of the ferry but that’s pretty much it for outdoor space.
Nothing much happens on the Su Zhou Hao so our day at sea was a quiet one. Fortunately, we worked out the meal system and do didn’t go hungry. The cafeteria opens for brief periods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As soon as it opens loads of passengers charge in and take all the food and seat. Then half an hour later they are all finished and we can go in for the next meal session with the remaining passengers. This works well, as it is much quieter at the 2nd session. The food isn’t so great but it’s good enough. Breakfast is included and consists of conchee (thin rice porridge). Then some form of bread roll or bun, a few pieces of pineapple or cucumber and either an egg or sliced ham. Lunch and dinner are some kind of green vegetable, meat or fish and rice.
There is a duty-free shop onboard which sells ice-cream and biscuits. Due to the small food portions in the cafe, we bought all the biscuits and ice-cream so the shelves were bare in the end. Most of the other passengers had brought provisions with them and if you make this journey I’d advise you to do the same.
There is a bar open from 8 pm to 10.30 pm. It is hard to find because they keep the lights turned down low in the entrance to make the passengers think it is closed. This is so they can play on the karaoke machine undisturbed. We foiled their plans, however, by discovering the bar and spending a couple of hours both nights drinking beer. They have a range of bottled beers on display on the shelf behind the bar but none of these are available. Only the local Chinese beer, Tsing Tao, but it is very drinkable. They did go ahead with some karaoke despite our being there although they seemed a bit shy and I don’t think they wanted an audience. Hopefully, none of the passengers on the return journey will find them.
This little bird hitched a lift with the ferry on the way out of Shanghai. He stayed with us until we reached Japan. Watching him provided some entertainment on board. Otherwise, the view was just miles of ocean once we left the Shanghai area.
Before we set off on the ferry I was worried about seasickness and I know the China Sea can get really rough. We were lucky and it was a very smooth crossing so my tablets stayed in my bag. It was a welcome rest after our time crossing Europe and China so we didn’t mind having a few slow days. However, once we spotted the Japanese coast we were very excited and ready for the next part of our adventure.