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Friday, May 08, 2015 

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FRIDAY afternoon and you still haven’t decided where to go this sunny weekend? Well if you didn’t fancy any of the options in our Wednesday Two-Day Tripper piece, we’ve got a zinger of a hotspot destination for you today.


It’s a pristine water town where modern life has been cast adrift, and you couldn’t feel further from the city if you tried. Yes, it’s Tongli, cited by the China Daily in a recent survey as one of the 10 best preserved ancient towns in the whole country.


And it is still surprisingly untouched as a tourist destination, despite its reputation. In fact Tongli remains a living, breathing community, little changed from the time when wealthy merchants first created this peaceful retreat.


Even today, in the shade of its opulent Qing Dynasty courtyards, locals can still be found preparing meals for their families and tourists alike. This overwhelming sense of time-stood-still hasn’t escaped the attention of film and television producers, and since 1983 some 120 TV shows and movies have been shot in the town, among them the universally popular Dream of The Red Mansions.


Tongli’s winding, picture-postcard canals are still used on a daily basis for washing clothes, and life in general, revolves around the waterways, including their use as the main means of transport. (Attempts to stop locals washing rice in the canals as a sop to tourist sensibilities have largely fallen on deaf ears.)


The RMB100 entrance fee to the town covers a dozen separate attractions – far too many to appreciate in a single day – and it’s advisable to carefully plan your itinerary if you’re not planning to stay overnight.


The serenity of the town’s lantern-lit evenings are excuse enough to book a room. And among the highlights that shouldn’t be passed over is the expansive Tuisi Yuan. A relatively late addition to the town’s spread of gardens, this classically designed array of pavilions, rockeries and terraces deserves a leisurely morning in itself.


How to get there: Take the fast train to Suzhou from Shanghai Hongqiao station, and Tongli is a 35 minute taxi ride from there (18km). Alternatively a bus to Tongli departs from the train station every 15 minutes and costs only 9RMB.


Where to stay: The Tongli Lakeview Hotel offers the area’s only five-star accommodation and is a brisk 15-minute walk outside the town itself.  Rooms are an average of 800RMB a night. For reservations call (86 512) 6332-2800 or log onto www.tonglilakeviewhotel.com