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Jiangsu Province | Population: 70,000
Tucked away in the Jiangsu Province of China is the charming Tongli Ancient Water Town which is often referred to as the mini oriental Venice. The town looks like a beautiful Chinese painting that has inspired several poets, artists, authors, naturalists, and tourists over the ages. There are 15 rivers that divide the town in 7 small islands connected by 49 classic Chinese bridges. The fact that five lakes, namely Jiuli, Nanxing, Tongli, Yeze, and Pangshan surround the town, contributing to the breathtaking vista and making the town a well-connected landscape.
The locals are an educated, cultured, and tourist-friendly lot. Additionally, Tongli is close to the cities of Shanghai and Suzhou. Consequently, it has become a part of the regular tourist circuit. Several films have been shot here. With celebrities and the media coming to Tongli on a regular basis, the town has become a popular tourist attraction in the last decade.
Besides the abundant waterways and ancient bridges, the buildings in Tongli are also a wonderful sight. The architecture of the 47 ancient temples and 38 large mansions is typical of the Ming and Qing Dynasty styles. Also, there are several classic Chinese gardens around the town which have become famous all over the world.
Visitors prefer to stroll around or take a boat ride on the waterways to admire the town rather than shop or eat in Tongli, although the town has a few Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops. The type of souvenirs available is similar to what one can get in any other city in China so it is not worth carrying back the stuff while returning by bus. The town has clean facilities and one can spend a day clicking pictures. One can get the best shots from the bridges which act as vantage points.
Among the magnificent gardens in Tongli town, the Tui Si Yuan (Retreat and Reflection Garden) is the best and most famous one. It features on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The Tui Si Yuan has a fascinating water-garden within its garden. The water-garden is surrounded by ornamental corridors, pavilions, halls, rockeries, ancient trees, flowerbeds, bridges, and pools teeming with fish.
Another must-see of Tongli town is the site called Three Bridges. The Jili Bridge, Taiping Bridge, and Changqing Bridge for the perfect spot for photography. This site has also been used in films due to its picturesque panoramic views and its old-world look.
While in Tongli, one must not miss seeing the unique Pearl Pagoda. It is located in a residential complex constructed during the Qing Dynasty era. The pagoda is small but it is decorated with real pearls and is a beautiful sight.
Built during the Ming Dynasty reign, the Gengle Hall or Happy Farming Hall is a beautiful tourist attraction with its classic Chinese architecture. Besides its design, the house is also famous for the vast collection of root carvings shaped like flowers, birds, animals, trees, human figures, etc.
After clicking pictures in the day, a boat ride at sunset is a must-do in Tongli. The entire town is lit with ancient-style Chinese lanterns that cast an ethereal glow on the shimmering waters. It is the perfect end to a perfect day in Tongli Ancient Water Town!
Food and Dining
Tongli Water Town has its own food specialties. Having a history of over 1,000 years and with the constant visits of overseas celebrities and media persons, the town has several restaurants that serve their favorite local dishes. The signature dish of Tongli is the popular Zhuangyuan Pig Trotter famous for its awesome flavors and tender meat. Other food specialties of the town are Wadisu crisps, Qianshi cake, and Qingtuanzi (a sweet dish of green-rice balls). The tea is brewed in the water from the local streams and is very aromatic.
Where To Stay
A majority of the tourists say in Shanghai or Suzhou and make a day trip to Tongli Water Town. There is not much choice in accommodation in the town itself besides low-priced hotels, inns, or youth hostels. But there are a few lakeside luxury resorts on the outskirts of Tongli where most of the overseas tourists stay if they wish to explore the town at leisure. These hotels have spacious rooms, in-house restaurants serving International and Chinese cuisine, and other amenities.