THE XITANG WATER TOWN

During our two-day stay in Suzhou from October 20 to 21, one popular tourist attraction we visited was the Xitang Water Town. It is situated in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province and lies somewhere between Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Xitang has a total area of only 83 square kilometers, of which the ancient town's scenic area is just about one square kilometer. It has a population of some sixty thousand people who live in this cultural and historical ancient town. Although Xitang is one of China's small typical water towns, it has over a thousand years of history.

The most distinctive difference between Xitang and the other ancient water towns in China is its waterside long corridor. The total length of this corridor is more than one-thousand meters like the long corridor in the Summer Palace in Beijing. This corridor allows its residents and visitors to move about even during rainy or hot sunny days.

There are nine rivers going across the town of Xitang which divides it into 8 districts with some 100 ancient bridges that join these zones together. And we went through some very narrow alleys and passage ways. This is probably the reason why it is sometimes referred to as the Venice of China. Nena and I have earlier visited Venice in 2004 but I wouldn't say that Xitang is really as grand, colorful, and scenic as Venice.

There are a number of well-preserved ancient buildings from the Ming and Qing Dynasties in this ancient town. The architecture has high artistic value and has been the subject for research. The picturesque scenery of Xitang will surely captivate any local or foreign visitor that Hollywood actor Tom Cruise was in Xitang where some unique scene shots were taken for the movie titled, Mission Impossible III.

Many shops are scattered on the two sides of its grand canal, selling fabric, accessories, and snacks. Along West Street there are many shops that sell local handicrafts, such as coiled buttons, Chinese knots, and embroidery. The intricate needlework is all homemade, so you are guaranteed a unique piece. Some merchants also seel toys, fans, purses, masks, and other souvenirs for the curious traveler.

Xitang is also known for its glutinous rice dumplings. The ones here are filled with flavored pork and soy sauce, wrapped with plant leaves. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are salty, and sometimes just plain delicious. The storeowners make and sell many of these delicious rice dumplings and a number of local and foreign visitors have tasted these.

Walking on the street, you can find shops selling other snacks such as zongzi, broad beans, and smelly tofu. And if you ask the local residents they will tell you who makes the best ones. The zongzi are so delicious that many local Chinese tourists bring them home to share with their families and friends. Our visit to Xitang was primarily to see the place and not to go shopping that we didn't get to buy anything at all.

Although Xitang has opened to hundreds of tourists, the residents' normal lives have surprisingly been disturbed very little. The town fishermen still do their fishing and the local merchants still set up shop to cater to the needs of the local residents and visitors as well. Others who have visited Xitang will tell you that unlike many other water towns, Xitang will not make you feel like a tourist, but rather apart of their community.

The pictures I took during our visit to this scenic and ancient water town can be viewed by clicking on the link shown below:

The Xitang Water Town

Our visit to Xitang was only for a day and we had to return to Suzhou where we were billeted at the Holiday Inn Jasmine Hotel.