The area around Shanghai and Suzhou, China is famous for its water towns. There are at least eight different villages within a few hours of the cities, each with its own special character. These villages are perhaps the best way to get a glimpse of the old way of life in central China.
When my mom visited me last November, we decided to go to Tongli, one of the quieter towns. There was only one problem: after riding the subway to the outskirts of Shanghai and then taking several more buses, we ended up in the wrong Tongli! This version of Tongli had some farm fields and animals, but a “Venice of the East” it was certainly not. We walked until the road ended at a river, took a ferry across, and continued walking toward Shanghai. Just when we were cursing our bad luck, a girl offered us a ride back to the subway. She wasn't sure where there was a water town called Tongli, but she did know how to get to Zhouzhuang. She dropped us off and wished us better luck.
Zhouzhuang (周庄) is meant to be the most touristy and overcrowded water town of them all. But it was too late to start over in our search for Tongli, so we decided to just go for it. As it turned out, Zhouzhuang wasn't so bad. It did have a lot of “Ye Olde” shops set up for tourism, but a few people actually lived there. Some of them didn't even try to sell us stuff. We just had to walk away from the main streets to get a more authentic experience.
Here are some of my photos from the village. It's not Venice, but at least it was easy to get to. And sometimes in China, accessibility trumps authenticity.
Many of the old homes are well preserved.
One more of the village's old doorways.
The ivy tells you that it's at least a few years old.
The village is known for its lanterns.
Another interesting lantern.
The red lanterns provide a cool contrast to the white buildings.
Here are some of the boats you can ride around the village.
The canal water is nice and calm.
A ghostly gondolier, looking for passengers.
A boat passes under one of many bridges in the village.
A friendly gondolier.
You can stop for a drink during your gondola trip.
Zhouzhuang is famous for its bridges.
The gazebos have decorative ceilings.
Riding a motorcycle sure is tiring.
This is the biggest pagoda in town.
Chengxu Temple (澄虚道院) is a Taoist temple built in 1086.
Incense burns at the temple.
Aw man, I was totally looking forward to swimming here.
Yes, it's China's Number One Water Town! Want proof? Just look at all of the A's!
More photos from Zhouzhuang water town
More info about visiting Zhouzuang
More info about all of the water towns around Shanghai