There are multiple water towns nearby Shanghai, each with it's own charm and reasons why visitors might visit them. We selected Zhujiajiao with a private guide because it was a short distance from Shanghai (technically still in Shanghai, about an hour from the city center) and it was a little touristy, but not considered the touristy of them all. Why does "touristy" matter? We were looking for something where we could experience the charm of the water town but also experience multiple food and shopping options for souvenirs. Since the towns are small and can be easily explored on foot, we wanted to make sure there was enough there to hold our attention for the few hours we would spend in the town. Plus, this town doesn't have an entrance fee like some of the others. It was ranked as one of the better choices and overall sounded like a good choice for us.
What is a water town? It's pretty much what you are imagining. Like the Venice of China. These ancient towns lack cars and roads, using water as a main method of transport. I only have experience with what we saw in Zhujiajiao, but from what I researched the other towns are similar. Streets are mazes of small alley ways and everything looks really old. This particular town has had an increase in tourism and this resulted in an increase of very cute, trendy little cafes and restaurants along with cute shops and local artists. If I had longer, I would have stayed overnight. There were tourists, but it wasn't over run with sightseers and those that were there were more laid back and not part of giant tour groups. I am sure some were part of larger groups, but they weren't intrusive, thankfully.
Our private tour guide was awesome, so if you are contemplating a visit to any of the water towns or Shanghai in general, let me know and I will get you her information. She was probably the most comfortable tour guides I have encountered. She was comfortable with her English skills and knowledge and everything seemed to be genuine conversation and not a recitation of history and facts. I don't necessarily mind that because I know they just want to make sure you know everything and sometimes it is stressful to give a tour in your second language, but it was refreshing to have a tour guide that was so comfortable just having conversation. She was quick to share information with us that she thought we would be interested in and wasn't necessarily part of the tour "material".
Here we are at the entrance of the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao. There is more to the town that is not on the water and bigger bridges to connect areas where cars drive. This town is about 1,700 years old.
Here is the map of the ancient town and the area we would walk around.
The main canals were lined with wider side walks and bridges to connect one side with the other.
I took tons of pictures because the town was so cute and peaceful. It wasn't the sunniest day, but I think that was good because it wasn't too hot.
Boats are a big help for transport and tourism.
Thought this sign was so funny.
This little guy was adorable, but he was sitting here in hopes that people would donate money because he has a condition with this eyes and needed treatment. He could probably use some good grooming too!
Down a little alley way we found these birds outside of a cafe. They speak. They can say a few phrases. They said ni hao which means hello in Mandarin. They also said some finny phrases, but I can't recall them all now.
By someone's house (yes, people still live in this town in the very old buildings) we found a lovely vegetable garden.
Looks like the back side of a restaurant, of course something very casual.
Maybe like crawfish?
Like I said, there were tons of cute little (somewhat trendy) cafes, bars, and tea houses. This one was hilarious...and so true!
Inside one of the restaurants.
The little alley ways back off the main canals were lined with food stands. This was one of the things about this town that interested me. There were more stores like this than in the other towns. Lots of little restaurants and food vendors.
Hungry for lunch? There were seriously tons of options with lots of variety.
Some sort of eggs
Love that these tables lined the canals. Locals were getting ready to enjoy their lunch.
Fruit stand with jack fruit, cherries and what I believe is the red bay berry.
I didn't try this fruit (because of food safety concerns in China with fruits with skins) but I did look it up and I believe it is the red bay berry. I am hoping to find this in Taiwan and I will try it there. I think they have them in Japan too but I haven't seen them yet.
More lovely views of the canals.
Some of the more secluded walk ways off the water. These are the traditional buildings.
This is the Yuanjin Buddhist Temple.
Lots of boat rides taking place, mostly with tourists.
Tons more food!
Since it was recently the Dragon Boat festival these sticky rice treats in lotus root leaves were all over the place.
These leaves are used to get rid of bugs. Works as a natural bug repellant, or so it is believed. Our guide wasn't too sure that they actually work.
Inside one of the newer cafes.
Cute little house.
The next major sight we stopped to see was the Fangsheng Bridge. This is one of the most famous sights in this town.
Here I am with Ryan sitting on the bridge.
This is the bridge from a distance.
After crossing the bridge we went back into the little alleyways.
Here is the temple again.
More food pictures.
Standing on one of the smaller bridges.
More birds around town.
This is the old post office.
Didn't send any mail, but I did take a picture here.
Watching the locals enjoying the afternoon.
The next stop was at a silk museum. Silk originated in China and is a major part of their history and culture. It is a major product for them and lots of beautiful things have been created with silk in China.
A local Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pharmacy.
We couldn't resist buying one of these large oysters and opening it to see what was inside. Guaranteed at least 20 pearls inside.
She was actually surprised to see how many pearls were inside.
Then she removed them from the oyster and cleaned them off.
Some better quality than others. And some that were very nice.
I took them all home and hope to have some set in jewelry soon.
Next up was lunch.
Ryan and our guide both had these dumplings in broth.
I had noodle soup with veggies and an egg. Vegetarian! Very yummy!
Ryan also had a noodle dish with some veggies and meat.
After lunch we took a boat ride to see the water town from a different view.
Here is our boat "driver".
Enjoying our boat ride.
Loved looking into restaurants from the water side. Lovely little places to eat and enjoy with the windows open out to the water.
After the boat ride it was time to head back to the car and then off to Shanghai. Outside the ancient city area as we approached the cars we spotted this little museum with the giant cat out front. He's very recognizable from Japanese culture too.
When we returned to Shanghai there was still time to visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. Our guide was so kind to take us inside and give us a brief explanation of the museum before leaving us to walk around (this was not part of our planned itinerary, she was just genuinely nice and when she heard we were interested in visiting it, she made sure we were able to fit it in).
Pretty neat looking building.
Inside there is a replica of the entire city. We spent a lot of time walking around and looking at the different places, trying to locate various things we had seen around the city.
Pudong area at night.
The scene changed from day to night a few times while we were there.
Ryan tried out one of the exhibits where you drive a boat in a video game, but he seemed to be stuck going the wrong way.
Some of the things from the exhibit, which shows the planning of Shanghai and where the city wants to go, with sustainable living and cleaning up the city. Notice they really want to be "green".
Models of the city and the future look of Shanghai.
Can't remember what this was a model of, but I do know I liked how it looked.
The lobby of the museum. The skyline of Pudong.
When we came back to the hotel this food cart (literally a cart on a bike) was parked right across from the hotel and there was a line of people waiting for the fried chicken. I thought it was great that she was cooking food fresh (although frying it) and taking her business on the go.
That night we headed back to the French Concession area for dinner to check out a well known dumpling restaurant. This was a statue I saw outside of the subway station. Pretty interesting and not something I expected to see in China.
Dinner was at Din Tai Fung. This restaurant is originally from Taiwan and was made famous back in 1993 when the New York Times called it one of the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world. Since they locations have opened up all over, including the US. When we went we didn't realize quite how famous it was and of course didn't expect there to be a wait (thankfully not a long one).
They are most famous for the xiaolong bao, which is a soup dumpling. These are the directions for how to eat these.
These are the ingredients needed to make the dipping sauce.
And the final product.
I started off with this tofu and greens soup, which was awesome!
Ryan had these dumplings.
Here are the xiaolong bao.
And some steamed buns.
These were my xiaolong bao. I had shrimp with green squash. Yum!
Once I saw the chilled sago with fruit in coconut milk on the menu for dessert I was sold!
Stuffed from an amazingly delicious dinner (we plan to visit the original when we are in Taiwan next month), we headed back to the hotel to get some rest after a long, but great day.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever visited a town where boats were the main method for transport or the city was connected by canals? Have you ever been to a Din Tai Fung? Have you ever tried sago?