The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River
The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River is part of the Tentative list of China in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
2500 years ago, when Suzhou became a city, its surrounding areas sprouted a number of half-urban, half-rural towns such as Tongli, Luzhi, Wuzhen, Nanxun, and Xitang as distribution centers of goods, stimulated the growth of a water-based economy in the rural areas. Most of the towns have made full use of their nature-given geographical conditions to plan out their alleys, lanes and streets along rivers and waterways, thus creating a unique architectural style. Nowadays, they have still completely preserved the layout and settings in the late Chinese Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China period.
Map of The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze RiverLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
I actually grew up in that region, but had never been to any of these renowned tourism spots. In the summer of 2023, I brought my family back, and picked Zhouzhuang (one of the four towns in this site) to visit.
Zhouzhuang is a little town in the prefecture of Suzhou, who also houses the WH site of Classical Gardens of Suzhou, which we also visited. My parents drove us to Zhouzhuang and spent a good half-day. The town is a network of rivers and canals with numerous traditional residential buildings that are at least 200 years old. In fact a lot of people are still living in those buildings, but some chose to rent them out to shops and restaurants and live in the modern parts of the town.
The town is not huge. I suggest walking the streets first to feel its ambience, tour one of the nobility residences, then eat at one of the snack shops, and buy some local crafts, before taking a boat ride to experience the serenity of the town. Some of those restaurants and craft shops are a bit touristy, but others are authentically interesting. My daughter bought a landscape wall art piece entirely made of reed leaves by a local artist. My mom got a beautifully decorated vessel flute. We also ate some traditional snacks that I hadn't eaten for a decade.
The boat ride was absolutely adorable. The canals are clean, and buildings well-maintained. Besides many tourists, we did see local residents just doing their daily business.
Many of the Chinese tourists were dressed up in traditional costumes and having photos taken there, which might be something worth doing. There were many costume rental shops there. One could also purchase some traditional dresses in nearby Suzhou and add the less dramatic, more functional ones to their wardrobe. My daughter had a shopping spree and really loved those dresses.
We had our lunch at one of the restaurants right outside the site. There were many of them, and some of them also provide lodging. They are mostly run, I believe, by the locals so price and quality are reasonable.
I speak Chinese so we didn't check if there are tour materials in English. Honestly though, the histories of the place could be found on Wikipedia in great detail. And the shops and restaurants should be quite easy to navigate. Transportation-wise, one could consider taking a taxi from Suzhou or even Shanghai.
I am an armature photographer and took a lot of photos during this trip. If anyone is interested, please visit my Flickr album. Each photo should have captions about its location.
Read more from Bluewonder310 here.
Have you seen the movie Mission Impossible 3 and ever wondered...wait, haven't? Okay, watch that first...done? Ok, good. So the last part of MI:3 was filmed in Xitang. You'd be surprised how many people think it is Suzhou because they think "canal + these bridges = Suzhou" as they went there for the gardens. Well, Suzhou has those canals and bridges but it is not the same. Also I heard people say that Suzhou would be the Venice of the East but actually that was the term also reserved for the water towns (and apparently Hoi An sometimes too). Seeing that the towns are so close to Suzhou I can understand the mistake. As a side note I booked the tour from Hangzhou but I bet public transport to at least one of the water towns is easy in this "Suzhou-Hangzhou-Shanghai delta".
I personally picked Wuzhen (as pictured) because for one the tour offering was better and second they told me this is the best preserved one of the four places. I think what they meant was that you get more shops but never mind that now.
When you go make sure it is not the deep summer. You will die of the humidity. The tour takes you on a boat ride through the village and then lets you freeroam for another hour or so. It is just enough time to stroll through the area, take pictures, avoid all souvenir shops and get a refreshing drink while doing so. The town is super authentic and every corner has picture opportunities. Whereas I enjoyed the trip I was hoping they would tell you more about the history of the town than just the facts you find on Wikipedia or the WHS description.
Includes the 4 former TWHS * The Ancient Town of Zhouzhuang (1998); The Ancient Venetian Township in the South of Yangtze River - Luzhi; The Ancient Venetian Township in the South of Yangtze River - Wuzhen; The Ancient Venetian Township in the South of Yangtze River - Xitang (2001)
2008 Added to Tentative List
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