10 Must See Photos: Ancient Zhouzhuang Water Town
Updated: Nov 11
Located just a short two hour bus ride from the city hustle and bustle in modern Shanghai, you can be transported back in time to one of China's most ancient water towns. According to Smithsonian online, Shanghai is one corner of a triangle called the "Venice of the East", which encompasses a number of local towns comprised of canals and centuries of history. Read on to get a glimpse of our recent visit to Zhouzhuang and you might be inspired to visit yourself!
This gorgeous tower welcomes visitors to the entrance on the Southwest corner of this ancient town. If you ignore the copious trinket shops lining the streets, you might feel as though you are stepping into the past.
The canals connecting the streets serve as a highway in their own right! We splurged on a boat ride (150RMB for a boat to ourselves---or the equivalent of about $20USD) and enjoyed the slow ride through the town. For an additional 30RMB, your poler will sing traditional Chinese songs (but we were able to hear the one in front of us, instead----shhh!). The most interesting thing to me was the juxtaposition of tourism and everyday life. While we were rowed along, we could see locals coming out to wash their dishes in the water (or sometimes their pets...which makes me question the sanitation of our lunch juuuuust a little).
Even in the middle of the (blazing hot) summer tourism season, the streets of this charming town were surprisingly quiet. The cobblestone and lantern-lined pathways were beautiful and filled with local artisans sharing their crafts. We even stumbled down an alley and discovered a Taoist temple, where we were invited to burn incense and receive our fortunes. Granted, we were then badgered for 500RMB to show our gratitude for the spiritual honor, so there's that.
Gardens and Retreat
As we wandered the streets (and I think we did a lot of circles...it's very easy to get lost in there!), we found a beautiful garden and bamboo forest by the water's edge. We even saw what appeared to be an eco-lodge that offered reasonable rates for a health retreat.
Authentic Chinese Food
There were plenty of options for family-run restaurants serving traditional Chinese cuisine. The location we visited even offered a "Foreign Friends Menu" conveniently translated into English with recognizable Chinese dishes (just like being back at Panda Express!). Beware, it is a bit more expensive than the menu written in Chinese---maybe that is the overhead fee for translation costs? Either way, we ordered the "family recipe" Chinese Burger (made with pork) for only 10RMB. Pretty much your best bet is to walk around and see what other people are eating and then just point at what looks good.
Ok, I just had to squeeze this last one in because it's so darn cute. This tiny puppy was wandering the streets alone, so we spent time with him because he was so sweet! Dogs are everywhere in China, but they are rarely leashed, so you never know whether a dog is a stray or a pet. Hopefully, this little guy has a good place to go home to.
Zhouzhuang is just one of many water towns readily accessible from Shanghai proper. Each have a unique personality and charm. We hope to visit again in the fall or spring, to see the changing of the colors in some cooler weather.
Interested in visiting Zhouzhuang? Keep an eye out for a new blog series---The Lost Girl Guides to help you find your way to interesting places around the world!