My third port of call on my journey around Zhejian province was the ancient water town of Wuzhen. Located a little off the usual tourist trail Wuzhen is famed for its Venice-like canals, ancient stone bridges, wooden buildings, and delicate carvings. It’s said to be over 1000 years old and while its roots may lie in trade and agriculture the town is almost completely focused on tourism today. China and tourism usually equate to ultra-tacky souvenir stands and busloads of noisy tour parties but in stark contrast, this was surprisingly tasteful with the restoration not being over-done and enough room for the crowds to mingle in relative tranquillity.
I arrived in the afternoon from Suzhou after one of the most hair-raising bus rides I have ever experienced in China whereupon we were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. A short walk and a taxi ride later we arrived at the entrance-proper of the town. Here you checked into a guest house and paid the entrance fee (80 RMB) which I imagine is what partly keeps the masses out. A room in one of the traditional houses cost 450 RMB per night (more if you want one overlooking the water) which is pretty good value for what you get and included an interesting take on the traditional English breakfast (albeit the portion seemed to be sized for a midget).
If the town is picturesque by day then at night it really shines with subtle lighting accentuating the old wooden buildings and calm waterways. Walking along the 2km+ of canals is a wonderful experience on its own with endless buildings and courtyards to explore. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the food which was over-priced and nothing to write home about. This is probably due to the town being controlled by a single organisation.
Around the town, you could see various examples of traditional crafts being demonstrated by local people such as basket making, wood carving and silk dying. The above shot shows cylindrical vats of a special black sauce being brewed – it looked a lot like Marmite but with a totally different taste.
Of all the places I visited on my previous trip Wuzhen was definitely the best. Highly recommended for those seeking a taste of old China in an accessible location not far from Shanghai.
Note: I wrote more about silk production in Wuzhen in a later post along with a video detailing the process.