Being as we are on the Yangzte River Delta, many villages around the city are built on a system of canals for irrigation and transportation. Although modern infrastructure has made the need for this all but obsolete, there are a few towns on Shanghai’s outskirts that have managed to preserve the vestiges of what life was once like in this region of China. They’ve been referred to (rather tenuously) as ‘Little Venices of the East’, and make for a refreshing sojourn from the city’s oppressive smog and heat.
Pretty they certainly are, complete with cobbled jumbles of alleyways abutting waterways and open wooden doorways that offer a nosey glimpse into a time gone by. If your friend is a bridge enthusiast, all the better, as bridges you’ll see plenty of: arched ones, flat ones, twinned ones, stone ones and ones that make photogenic reflective circles.
The town of Luzhi, some 75 kilometers west of Shanghai, has 41 of them, some around a thousand years old. Luzhi is not the biggest or best known of the water towns, but this makes for a more serene, less-crowded visit as you explore the numerous passages, pathways and curio shops peppered around this very delightful attraction.
Buses leave throughout the day from Shanghai Bus Station (806 ZhongShan N. Road) but get there early. The bus ride is longer than you think (three hours, largely spent passing a bleakly depressing industrial landscape), after which a short rickshaw ride from the (modern) town centre will take you to the gates of the water town itself.
The RMB60 ticket includes admission to the main sites of interest that you’ll pass on your canal-side wanderings. The Wanshen Rice Shop, built in 1910, displays many of the tools and machinery in use when Luzhi was a major rice distributor in the area, and Xiao House, dating from 1889, shows you how a well-to-do family would have lived here in the Nineteenth Century.
Beware of: the baying mob forming an airtight bottleneck at the bus station ticket counter; going on a rainy day; the numerous ‘photography studios’ offering to take your picture alongside the canal in a rented medieval princess or tartan-kilted schoolgirl costume; the last bus home, as it’s surprisingly early (5pm).
However, whether or not you are unlucky enough to experience all the above, a trip to Luzhi would still be worthwhile for all its captivatingly romantic charm