Amazing Places…Hidden Gems: Wuzhen, China
Virtually unknown to the foreign tourist, Wuzhen is as a gem of a destination as any for those looking for a unique experience outside the bright lights and big cities of China. Up until very recently, little information can be found on Wuzhen. Yes, even on the Internet. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to keep this little hideaway a secret from the masses. But located just 2.5 hours by road outside of Shanghai is this amazing ancient watertown of unsurpassed charm that dates back 1,300 years. But don’t let this relatively short distance tempt you to do Wuzhen as a day trip, you will positively not do this place (or yourself for that matter) justice not spending at least an evening to soak up its serene atmosphere.
Wuzhen is romantic yet family oriented, tranquil yet vibrant, ancient yet chic. Upon entering the old town, it takes no time for one to realize you’re in a very special place – one that is steeped in history in the quaintest and most picturesque setting nearly extinct in today’s modern and hectic world. Recently awarded one of China’s Top Ten Historical & Cultural Towns, civilization in Wuzhen, then and now, centers around its sprawling Grand Canal that is part of the world’s longest canal system of 1,200 miles connecting Beijing and Hangzhou. Branching off Wuzhen’s two-kilometer section of the Grand Canal is a string of islands all connected by centuries-old stone and wooden bridges. Strolling along this ancient water village offers one of the most enchanting experiences to locals and visitors alike. Better yet, take a romantic ride on a wooden sampan to further heighten your senses and see why Wuzhen is truly the “Venice of the East”.
Art galleries, waterside teahouses, quaint boutique shops and cobbled alleyways beautifully complement the Ming Dynasty Era water town’s quiet canals and ancient bridges. But unlike most tourist spots, you will not find flamboyant storefronts, postcard and souvenir stands or even signage for hotels and restaurants here. Each lodging, dining and shopping outlet is tastefully disguised as an ordinary home to preserve the pristine heritage setting as it was centuries ago. So while Wuzhen is indeed a tourist destination, it is far from being touristy.
Besides its surreal ambiance reminiscent of ancient China, Wuzhen boasts a myriad of exhibits and workshops suitable for all ages. Day and night, there are numerous cultural and engaging attractions and activities that are both intriguing and educational – everything from a rice wine distillery to a Chinese medicine shop to a Wedding Museum; and fascinating shows like the Shadow Play, Huagu Opera and Martial Arts performances will delight even the most seasoned traveler.
For the photographer, Wuzhen is a dream. Photo opportunities abound at just about every turn, every vantage point – at every minute of the day. At sunrise, Wuzhen turns golden as the bright orange sun radiates off its stone bridges, waterside homes and tranquil waters while multi-colored skies create a dramatic, postcard-like effect at sunset. At night, the vibrantly lit canals, bridges and glimmering red lanterns reflect off the calm waterways to produce an entirely different ambiance unlike anywhere in the world. For the foodie, Wuzhen is filled with delectable delights – everything from delicious rice cake stands to mouthwatering noodle shops and to fine Western cuisine, most of which boast open-air dining commanding stunning views of the canal. Once nightfall, Wuzhen comes alive with its bustling atmosphere of happy people, colorful shops, outdoor performances and an eclectic array of pubs and bars with live music.
Though a relatively short distance from Shanghai and Hangzhou, this is a place you really ought to spend the night to appreciate and enjoy it fully. China has countless spectacular off-the-beaten-path places but not all of them have adequate accommodations (and English) to cater to the Western Folk. This is certainly not the case here in Wuzhen. There are a dozen or so well appointed lodging venues inside the water village ranging from guest houses to B&Bs to courtyard or garden style resorts, each with its own unique character and charm. Among the upper echelon is the Tong An Inn, The Club House, Waterside Resort, featured on our Wuzhen tour package. But be sure to book early, these rooms fill up fast. Climate in Wuzhen is rather mild so it’s suitable to visit year round – but try avoiding the Golden Week Holidays in May and October when crowds swell and hotel rates skyrocket.
Explore the myriad of alleyways, courtyards and canals by foot or by sampan, sip your tea, wine or beer at a canal-side tea house, or stroll through the cobbled street of this ancient town in total bliss and relaxation. Wuzhen will exceed your highest expectations.
For those interested in visiting Wuzhen, check out our China Ancient Waterways Tour or any of expansive array of high-end China Vacation experiences on our China page.
- ^ Wuzhen, check out our China Ancient Waterways Tour (www.explorient.com)
- ^ high-end China Vacation experiences on our China page (www.explorient.com)