There are a lot of beautiful water towns located on the shores of the beautiful Taihu Lake around 18 kilometres from downtown Suzhou, which itself is known as the 'Venice of the East'. One of the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful water towns, Tongli ancient water town covers an area of around 24 square miles, and has a population of just under 34 thousand people. The majority of the residents earn their living from the tourism industry.
Originally named Fushi, Tongli is a preserved ancient water town with a history of over 1000 years. The town is surrounded by water, and has the following lakes inside its area: Tongli Lake, Jiuli Lake, Yeze Lake, Nanxing Lake, and Pengshan Lake. Tongli town is juxtapositioned next to a small island, Luoxing Zhou that hosts a beautiful temple hosing various Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism artefacts. Its scenery is very beautiful. During the Spring Festival, people will go to there to strike the bell to pray. A ferry on request can be taken from the main Tongli pier to the Luoxing Zhou. The trip only takes around 5 minutes.
The most beautiful feature of the town are its bridges - all 55 of them in fact. Out of these, the most famous are the three bridges of Taiping, Jili, and the Changqing Bridge. They all represent a certain amount of blessing for human life. Chinese people believe that it’s best to go and take a small walk on the bridges when getting married, the birth of a child, celebrating a birthday. This rather simple yet powerful ritual offers people the chance to pray for a good health, and they believe that it gives them happiness.
Tongli was also the birthplace and home of the famous Chinese poet, Chen Qubin. His former home is located on Shanyuan Street. Chen Qubin's greatest literacy achievements are embedded in his poems. His home was listed in the Focus Cultural Relic Unit under State Protection for many years. It is a national scenic spot that includes Haoge Hall, Baichi Tower, and Blue Emerald and Green Jade Hall, among other structures. His bedroom and many other features that made up this great man’s daily life are neatly preserved and on display for all to see.
As you walk along the narrow lanes of the water town you'll come across an abundance of small shops selling all kinds of local delicious food items. The most famous dishes are (please excuse the direct translation to English from Chinese): "Pork chops served with spices"; Shell fish, Freshwater shrimp in cakes (bright red and boiled shrimps); Roasted horse chestnuts, Three-sliced spring rolls; braised and minced Eel; and the classical dish of all time, Watertown bouillabaisse (this dish is made of a combination of whitefish, weaver fish, mandarin fish and turtle meat). There are plenty of antiques to be bought as well, including ancient Chinese coins, stamps, and various posters related to the Chinese communist party.
The beauty of a town like Tongli is that despite the super rich living in the big Chinese cities, it is amazing that here we have a small ancient town where people in the same way that their ancestors lived many hundreds and thousands of years ago. The only slight comfort to them is that they have some basic essentials of modern life such as electricity, gas, internet, mobile phones, and satellite television that allows them to keep in touch with the world.
Allow a good 4 to 5 hours to absorb and see experience the whole town. A good advice would be to wear good quality, and comfortable pair of shoes as you'll be doing plenty of walking.
How I got there:
There are frequent buses from Suzhou Railway Station (or Suzhou North Bus Station) that go to Tongli everyday (at least 7 buses everyday each way). The cost of the 1 hour ride is 9RMB. Visitors can buy a ticket for 80RMB that includes a one-way ticket to the town. When coming back you just pay for the return journey (again 9 RMB). When you get to the Tongli station, you will have to walk for around 10 minutes to the main entrance of the town.
When is the best time to visit Tongli:
Tongli town is open for tourism purposes all throughout the year, but perhaps the most suitable time to visit is in the spring, autumn and, summer. The winters in Suzhou tend to present bitterly cold weather with a high humidity (i.e. the chilly weather gets into your bones- it can be unpleasant).
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