City Escape

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Friday, August 14, 2009 

under Travel by Steph Wy Ng

For anyone in need of an away break from city life, the Shanghai Tour Bus Center has great deals this summer, offering trips to destinations across China. While you can reserve beforehand, trips run daily, so if you want to escape Shanghai on the spur of the moment, just arrive by 8:30am, buy your ticket and prepare to board. Go to any one of their five office locations to check out the latest offers, from two-for-one bus tickets to cut-price family discounts.
¬There are several fun little deals on offer. A recent half-price deal (RMB40 per person) featured a trip to Zhujiajiao. After a 5pm pick-up, it is a two-hour journey to one of the best-preserved water towns in the region. With its small winding roads, 36 bridges, rivers and a lake, Zhujiajiao is a gentle canal-side retreat away from the city's incessant car horns and jackhammers.
There's no entrance fee for the village of Zhujiajiao, so you can just start exploring and pay the individual fee for the venues you want to visit (RMB5-15). Inclusive tickets (RMB30-80) are also available at the entrance permitting access to various historical sites, such as the Kezhi Garden - built in 1912 at a cost of 300,000 taels of silver; the Great Qing Post Office - the only remaining historical post office in eastern China (look out for the message written on a turtle shell); and the temple. Inside this last edifice, two parrots greet you with tone-perfect ‘Nihao' and ‘Gongxifacai' squawks. You'll be offered incense, the chance to have your fortune told (in Chinese) and, afterwards, be asked for a donation.
Zhujiajiao has several small restaurants and cafes, including Ah Po's Teahouse for tea, lunch and waterside views. Visitors can also take a boat tour down the canal (RMB60). For those who feel the urge to stay on into the night, accommodation is available at the Bum Café (bum as in idle, not rear-end) and the Uma hostel.
One of the pleasures of a short break to Zhujiajiao is the freedom to explore a new place at your own pace. If you would prefer some guidance and informed commentary, tour guides are on hand - but beware: Some of these tours will march you briskly through the areas of cultural interest and straight into tourist traps, where you'll be harangued to buy unwanted trinkets at exorbitant prices.
The Bottom Line: Escape the pace and pressures of city life and board a bus for a short break in the countryside.