Venice is a very popular destination for travelers. It is in most of the traveler’s bucket list. Unfortunately for those living in Asia like me, Venice is very far, it’s a 15+ hour flight away with more than one connecting flight. However, Tongli Water Town is a great alternative if you cannot visit Venice in Italy since it’s just a few hours’ flight. Tongli Water Town is also called the Oriental Venice or Venice of the East. Aside from Tongli, there are several hidden gems in China, these cities are China’s best-kept secrets.
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Tongli water town is a very beautiful ancient town. The traditional architecture is also really beautiful. You can explore the oriental gardens, beautiful halls, and see the Three Bridges. My favorite part about Tongli water town is you can also ride a gondola just like the one in Venice.
How to visit Tongli Water Town From Shanghai
- You need to take the train to either Shanghai Station or Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.
Tip: Train arrives every 5 minutes in Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Stations so I prefer this over Shanghai Station where trains arrive every 30 minutes.
- Once you arrive in Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, take the high speed or bullet train to Suzhou Railway Station. It would take around 30 minutes.
Tip: I highly recommend you buy your tickets online in advance especially if you are traveling on a weekend. The machines are only for locals and you can only buy tickets from the ticket counter. However, on weekends, the ticket counters are usually closed.
- When you arrive in Suzhou railway station, transfer to line 4 and take the train to Tongli. Tongli is the last station in line 4. It would take around 50 minutes.
- When you arrive at Tongli station, go to exit 10. You can see a lot of tourist buses heading to Tongli water town when you go to exit 10.
How much time do you need to enjoy Tongli Water Town?
Tongli Water Town is very big. I highly recommend spending at least 3 – 5 hours to enjoy and explore everything in this town. There are a lot of things to do in this town. You can explore the gardens, ride the gondola, eat street foods. There are also lots of souvenir shops selling local crafts.
You can easily take a day trip to Tongli Water Town from Shanghai but I recommend staying at least a night in Suzhou. When you stay a night in Suzhou, you can explore more gardens and tourist attractions in Suzhou. We stayed at Suzhou Sun Plaza Hotel, it is a beautiful hotel and really affordable for a 4-star hotel. There are also several beautiful and affordable 5-star hotels in Suzhou.
Tuisi Garden is a World Heritage Garden and also one of the highlights of this place. It was also built during the Qing Dynasty. Tuisi Garden is also translated as ‘Withdraw and Reflect Garden’.
There is actually a meaning behind the name of this garden. It is where a demoted Qing government official retired. I liked the pond in the center, it makes the Chinese architecture that surrounds it looked like it is floating.
There are several photo-worthy spots in Tongli water town. We were just strolling when we suddenly saw this cute and colorful alley. We were the only ones there, we did not see any tourists or locals which was really great since we were able to take great photos.
After walking and exploring the town, we purchased a ticket to ride the gondola. Since we did not want to ride with other tourists, the cost for the whole gondola was 100 CNY for a 10 – 15 minutes ride.
After taking the photo above, we were walking along the river when I suddenly dropped my phone. My heart skipped a beat because I thought my phone fell into the river. It almost fell into the water but I was really grateful that it didn’t and my phone screen did not have any scratches too which was really great. The aunties and grandmas at the shops beside the river told me to be careful after witnessing what just happened.
Taking this gondola ride was the highlight of my trip to Tongli water town. It was what I was looking forward to the most prior to our trip. It’s very peaceful and the gondoliers or the gondola driver was really kind and friendly. He did not speak English but my mom understands and speaks Mandarin well so she translates what he is explaining. I don’t speak Mandarin fluently but I can understand a little so it was really interesting to hear their conversation.
He told us that it is much better to DIY your trip rather than join a tour group. He also shared that there are Malaysian tourists who visit there that also speak Mandarin well and that do not join tour groups. It was really fun listening to their conversation.
He also explained that there are Three Bridges and it symbolizes the three important stages in our lives. The first bridge is when we were born, the second is when we get married and have our own family and the last is death. We passed by those Three Bridges while riding the gondola.
I noticed that some of the gondola drivers were smoking while driving tourists. If you are like me who do not smoke and do not like the smell of the smoke, you would be bothered by it. Fortunately, our gondola driver did not smoke which was really great. Not only the gondola drivers are the ones who smoke but almost all locals do. I highly recommend packing a mask before your trip to China.
Restaurants in Tongli Water Town
There are several restaurants in Tongli Water Town. But if you want to a great ambiance and a great view while you eat, the riverside restaurants are perfect for you. You can enjoy people watching as you eat.
The only downside to these restaurants is they require you to order a minimum worth of 200 yuan. We did not eat here. We decided to just buy from the food stalls and ate them while sitting on the bench beside the river. It’s a great alternative to have a great ambiance while you eat without spending a lot of money.
I would have like to stay longer in this town but we had to go back to Suzhou Railway Station. We stayed in the premium lounge while waiting for our scheduled train to Shanghai.
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Have you heard about Tongli water town, the Venice of the East? What did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments 🙂