My 5: Tongli Water Town Part I, China.

Entrance gate Tongli Water Town Suzhou China

1. December 2018. It was my last day in Suzhou and as I made my way out for coffee I was already reflecting on a highly productive four days of exploring. I hadn’t been disappointed with the city’s somewhat lazy “Venice of China” tag, thanks to the particularly charming canal neighborhoods of Pingjiang Road and Shantang Street. But I couldn’t leave Suzhou without making a day trip out to one of the six nearby ancient water towns. After a bit of research I plumped for a visit to Tongli, a beautifully preserved 1000-year-old canal town sat just to the south of The Yangtze River. 100RMB (£11.40/€12.90/$14.70) entry tickets can be bought here just to the left of the old entrance gate.

Taiping Bridge Tongli Water Town Suzhou China

2. December 2018. Tongli Water Town is pretty touristy, make no mistake about it. But again I was blessed by the fact that my visit came during the absolute trough of the low season, ensuring I could wander about in peace. Many of Tongli’s shops were closed and the inevitable photo sessions like this one at Taiping Bridge were few and far between.

Ming and Qing Shopping Street Tongli Water Town Suzhou ChinaRestaurant Ming and Qing shopping street Tongli Water Town China

3. December 2018. Open to the public since 1986, Tongli Water Town stands in tribute to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911) with ancient lanes, bridges, pavilions, halls, temples, gardens, museums and historical residences. This Ming and Qing style Shopping Street is Tongli’s main commercial stretch and features traditional food stalls, handicraft stores and a large restaurant with a really impressive sculpted exterior depicting typical daily life back in the day.

Comb maker Ming and Qing shopping street Tongli Water Town China

4. December 2018. Tongli Water Town is famed throughout China for its community of craftsmen and their workshops of handmade buffalo horn hair combs. This old dude was keen to show me that this combs were the real deal by enthusiastically holding a lighter up to one of his creations. Indeed there was no resulting burb mark; if only I’d known the Chinese for: “Sorry mate, I haven’t used a comb in years!”

canal street Tongli Water Town Suzhou China

5. December 2018. Tongli Water Town’s canals are pretty special and admittedly more picturesque than anything I’d seen in Suzhou itself. This main canal street had a fair bit of boat action that day, including one old man whose cruises included a live osprey show. From what I could gather such performances involved the birds diving into the canals to whip out fish.

Tongli Water Town is mercifully straightforward to get to as it’s connected to Suzhou city centre via the subway. Tongli Station is the last station at the southern end of Line 4 and it takes about an hour from the heart of the city centre. Once at Tongli Station it’s either a forty minute walk to the water town or simply hail a DiDi for a ten-minute drive.

Like this? Then be sure to check out tomorrow’s article: Tongli Water Town Part II.

And there are more pieces to read on Tongli Water Town.

You can also read my travel guide to Suzhou, or maybe delve further afield with my stacks of 5s from across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of My 5s from over 30 countries.

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Freelance travel writer, voice over and English teacher from London. Former music and film journalist, interviewer of the stars. Passionate about travel, film, music, football, Indian food.

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