In 2012, I was incredibly lucky to be given a scholarship to visit China and learn the basics of Chinese. This episode has been one of the most influential travel experiences of my life: it has shaped the way I perceive the world, gave me some of the most intense friendships and has triggered my lust for further Asia experiences.
The China I got to see was vibrant, colorful, tasty, blatant, kind, open, noisy, dirty as well as clean and smelly at the same time. It is hard to describe the overload of everything when the Cultural shock hits you for the first time. Fortunately, after a few weeks of learning Chinese, we started being able to communicate with the people. Which changed everything to the good for us.
In reminiscence of that time and to assist those wishing to visit the Shanghai/Beijing area, I will upload pictures and images of the most recommendable tours and stops we made within the next 7 days. This is part 1: Zhouzhuang Water Town. The most beautiful place I saw in China.
Zhouzhuang is definitely one of the most famous water townships in China and only 30 kilometers away from Suzhou (I’ll leave a post of Souzhou later this week). It’s situated in the middle between Shanghai and Souzhou and thus perfect for a week-end trip. Zhouzhuang is noted for its profound cultural background, the well preserved ancient residential houses, the elegant watery views and the strong local colored traditions and customs. The most convenient form of transport here are the gondolas – anyone reminded of Venice?
60 percent of the Zhouzhuang’s structures were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which is from 1368 to 1911. Once you step into the city, you’ll feel like being transported with the TARDIS (sorry. This was just the perfect moment for a Doctor Who reference).There is a big map of the old town of Zhouzhuang to the left after you’ve entered the main entrance. You can also purchase maps from the local shops, but generally the old town is not big and easy to move around.
Must-Do No. 1: Wandering the historical center.
Seriously: Do it. Zhouzhuang’s historical center is compact and easy to walk around. There are a number of remarkable buildings and temples marked as tourist attractions but you will get the best just enjoying the picturesque views of houses, bridges and canals . No cars are allowed in that part of town, which ensured a much quieter experience than most Chinese cities do. Getting lost in the historical center takes from a couple of hours to half a day. The city itself is rather small, but so densely filled with shops, markets and fairs that you will have the urge to stop and look on a minute-basis.
Access to the historical center is for a small fee, which is used to preserve the old buildings.
Must-Do No. 2: Take the Gondola.
When you come to Zhouzhuang (not if), there is no reason not to take a canals tour in one of the beautiful gondolas. The tours are organized and managed by local tourism authority and the itinerary and the price are fixed as well. Which can be quite pleasant considering that you have to argue over the price of nearly everything you buy in China. The departing point is on the tourist path right in the town center. During the cruise the rower (mostly women) will sing you traditional local songs and, if you speak Mandarin Chinese, will tell you about the story of the town. Price per boat is approximately 9 EUR and carries a maximum of 8 people.
No. 3: Temple, Pavillons, Lake and Gardens
At the southern end of the water town lies a very beautiful old temple with pavillons, lake and huge colorful gardens. Here, you can experience the beauty of the classical scenery of this part of China which the Chinese call Jiang Nan – south of the river. Here, you can also witness a huge stone bridge across the lake which surrounds the entire town of Zhouzhuang. There is also a pavillon where you can take a rest and admire the scenery.
No. 4: Bridges
Actually, what Zhouzhuang is most famous for are its ancient and incredible bridge structures. You don’t have to be an architect to acknowledge the beauty here. The city is surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers. 14 stone bridges cross the rivers, showing distinctive views of the water-town. The most famous are the Twin Bridges (Shuang qiao), Fu’an Bridge and Zhenfeng Bridge.
Once you’ve done all of this, your day will be over, you’re camera will be filled with images and your stomach will be growling. Zhouzhuang is full of tasty restaurants which offer fresh sea foods as well as vegetables and meat options.
How to get there:
1. take bus from Suzhou North Bus Station located at No.2 Xihui Road, near the railway station
2. take bus from the north square of Suzhou Railway Station
1. take bus from Shanghai South Long Distance Bus Station located near Shanghai South Railway Station
2. take bus from Shanghai Hongqiao Long Distance Bus Station located near the Hongqiao Airport to Jiangze, and then walk around 5 minute to the west gate of Zhouzhuang
3. take tourism bus from Shanghai Tourist Distribution Center located at Shanghai Stadium
4. take Shanghai subway line 11, get off at Huaqiao Station and then change tourism bus no. 7 to Zhouzhuang Bus Station (recommended)
5. Car Rental: full-day car rental service from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang offered by TravelChinaGuide, with experienced chauffeur.
Take bus from Hangzhou North Bus Station located at No. 766 Moganshan Road
Take bus from Kunshan Passenger Transport Center located at No. 788 Baihu South Road
Take bus from Nanjing East Long Distance Bus Station located at No. 17 Huayuan Road