Shanghai is called the commercial capital of China. Shopping malls stretch for several blocks, and there are numerous bars, restaurants, and entertainment centers catering to the global tourists. Everywhere you look, you see hordes of stylish people walking around! When my friend and I went there in 2008, we couldn’t get enough of the sights and sounds that is Shanghai.
After a couple of days, however, we decided that we had enough of the city. Shanghai is beautiful, yes, but we wanted nature for a change. Just a couple of hours away are wonderful gardens and lakes that are definitely worth a visit. Here are our suggested day trips from Shanghai.
Visit Suzhou and Its Numerous Ancient Gardens (One Day)
The city of Suzhou is most known for its ancient and well-preserved gardens. It is accessible by car, bus, or train, the last of which is recommended for its price and convenience. The bullet-shaped train leaves the Shanghai Railway Station a few times every morning, and arrives in Suzhou in less than one hour.
Once in Suzhou, there are numerous taxicabs just outside the station. The following gardens are recommended for a day tour.
Tiger Hill Garden. This is Suzhou’s most famous sight, with its leaning pagoda, old trees, and colorful flowers. Also known as the Surging Sea Hill, Tiger Hill was made to be a king’s burial place.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the city’s most famous garden. It has a number of pavilions and pools and islands connected by bridges. Swarms of colorful koi provide contrasting colors to the green water in the ponds.
The Lingering Garden is one of Suzhou’s four most famous gardens. It was built in 1566 and was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997.
Go Boating in the West Lake in Hangzhou (One Day)
Hangzhou is best known for its famous West Lake (Xi Hu), surrounded by mountains on three sides with a large natural island in the middle. A boat can be hired to take one around the lake.
For a bit of tranquility, choose a paddleboat; it is quiet and there are not so many passengers to accommodate. There are a lot of tourists who come here, but out in the middle of the lake, with just the sound of the paddle hitting the water, one can easily imagine being alone in the middle of nowhere.
Aside from the West Lake, however, Hangzhou also has its share of temples. Lingyin Temple—the Temple of Soul’s Retreat—is one of the ten most famous in China. Behind the Temple are statues of Buddha carved into stone cliffs, and inside it are more statues in various poses and guises. One of the most striking is the Golden Buddha.
Trains bound for Hangzhou leave throughout the day from Shanghai’s South Railway Station, taking around two hours to arrive. Communication could be difficult for those who do not speak Mandarin, but there is one booth in the station with an English-speaking ticket seller.
See the China Sex Museum in Tongli (One Day)
Tongli is one of the numerous water towns in the Yangtze River Delta. Built around a canal system, one can experience traditional Chinese culture in Tongli.
All throughout the small town, the locals proceed with their daily life, unmindful of the tourists roaming around. They could be seen playing cards beside the canals, washing their laundry in the murky green water, and even peeling beans and gossiping with each other in the numerous alleys of the town.
Aside from its gardens, of which the most famous is called Tuisi, Tongli’s major attraction is the Ancient Chinese Sex Culture Museum which boasts of a collection of thousands of erotic artifacts, from paintings of people making love, to stone and ceramic sculptures of sexual organs, among other artwork. The Sex Museum was originally located in Shanghai but was relocated to the small town in 2004.
Buses bound for Tongli are located in the Shanghai Stadium. It leaves for the two-hour trip starting at 8 in the morning, and picks up passengers in Tongli for a trip back to Shanghai at 4 in the afternoon.
A weeklong visit to China would be too short, given that in and around Shanghai alone, seven days would only cover the city itself plus the day trips to Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Tongli. However, when one has a short vacation in mind, it would be great to plan for a variety of places and attractions to visit to maximize the trip.
Have you been to any of these destinations? How was your trip there?
This post was previously published in Suite101 on March 31, 2010 and deleted there upon my request.