When tired of seeing the same Western stores you see back home after flying a few thousand miles, it’s time to take a break and find something more traditional. After all, you went all this way to see a culture that is so unlike what you are used to back home. Less than two hours from Shanghai, there are a few towns that you can visit, which give you a more traditional sense of what China is. In a city where the old is constantly being knocked down and replaced with bigger, taller and louder developments, these destinations aim to give you the taste of the real China you crave.
Zhujiajiao - 36 stone bridges and traditional tea
Dating back from the Yuan dynasty (1270s-1370s), the major draw of the ancient village of Zhujiajiao is her 36 stone bridges crossing the riverbanks and the historic houses and shops that line along the canals.
The most famous bridge is the Fangsheng Bridge, which is the first bridge that you will cross from the bus station to get to the old town. This bridge is also the busiest, with tourists crowding along the lion statues, to sellers hawking goods in the bridge. Once you’re over the bridge, follow the waterfront, relax and take in the scenic view. If you’re tired, head on to one of the tea shops, like the charming Book Room, and get a spot overlooking a canal.
If you’re not up to walking around, you may opt to go on a gondola ride through the various canals, going through its many bridges, and eventually ending up at Fangsheng Bridge.
Getting to Zhujiajiao
Zhujiajiao is located an hour by bus away from Shanghai. The fastest way to get there is to get a bus from the People’s Square, which leaves every fifteen minutes. Be aware that the bus is normally packed so try to get to the bus station early, get in the bus stop queue and expect to stand up for an hour if you’re one of the last people to get in. Once you get to Zhujiajiao, remember that the last bus back to Shanghai leaves at 9PM and the bus queue gets pretty packed before then. Try to be at the bus stop around 7:30PM to allow enough time for queuing for the bus and getting on one of the last few buses back.
Suzhou - Venice of China and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Recognised as a garden city, around 45 minutes by train from Shanghai, the gardens of Suzhou are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the city itself is hailed as the Venice of China. The biggest and most famous garden is called The Humble Administrator’s Garden. Built in the early 1500s, the name of the garden came from a poem, and has a striking design of islands, pools, pavilions, and bridges. The garden can get very crowded, but you may be able to find a nice alcove here and there to rest your weary feet and enjoy the tranquil environment.
The admission fee varies by the time of the year. In mostly colder months (January, February, March, November, December, June), it’s 70 CNY (11 USD), and in mostly warmer months (April, May, July, August, September, October), it’s 90 CNY (14 USD). You can easily spend a few hours exploring the garden, and the best time to go is the morning, when the temperatures are cool.
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Tiger Hill Pagoda
Another draw of Suzhou is the Tiger Hill Pagoda (or Yunyan Pagoda), located 4 miles from the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Also known as the Leaning Tower of China, the pagoda was built in the early 900 CE, and is still standing today. As the structure is very delicate (two internal columns have already cracked), people are banned from climbing to the top of the pagoda.
The entrance fee is 80 CNY (12.50 USD) for peak months (April, May, July, August, September, October) and 60 CNY (9.40 USD) for off-peak months (January, February, March, November, December, June).
Canals and pagodas
Shanghai has many interesting side trips that are within an hour or two by car or bus. Whether it’s Suzhou’s many beautiful gardens and pagodas or Zhujiajiao’s canals, it’s important to leave Shanghai’s bustling metropolis for some quiet and relaxing getaways. These trips will not only inspire you and teach you more about China’s past, they will also refresh and rejuvenate you before returning to Shanghai’s fast-paced buzz.
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