Southern Cities of the Grand Canal
By staff reporter JIAO FENG
THE prosperity of Shanghai and her surrounding cities used to depend heavily on a single waterway – the Grand Canal. With Beijing and Hangzhou at its ends, the canal was the main route between the South and North of China till the introduction of the railway. Productions of the fertile southeast, like tea, silk and porcelain, were shipped to the North non-stop through this canal.
The grandness is due to its 1,794-km-long course, the longest in the world. Started as early as the fifth century BC, construction continued on the canal for about 1,700 years with it opening to full navigation by the end of the 13th century.
Hangzhou is located about 200 km southwest of Shanghai – an hour and a half by bullet train that can be booked six days ahead through the ticket vendor in the Shanghai Railway Station. The southernmost city of the canal, Hangzhou sits at the end of the thriving waterway.
1. West Lake. The lake is a household name for Chinese, not only because of its natural scenery, but also the numerous legends and love stories set there. In people’s minds, the lake is synonymous with romance. Large-scale performances are staged in the center of the lake. With perfected lighting and sound effects, actors and actresses appear to float on the water. It was directed by Zhang Yimou, the Beijing Olympic opening and closing ceremony director.
2. Xixi Wetland National Park. About five km away from the West Lake, guests can enjoy plentiful ecological resources and a pristine landscape maintained for the delight of guests and citizens alike. You can take bus K194 at the West Lake and then transfer to K193.
3. Chinese Grand Canal Museum. The museum provides ample information on how the canal was dug, utilized and protected, as well as the traditions and culture that rose around it. It is situated next to Gongchen Bridge which marks the canal’s starting point in north Hangzhou. Built in 1631, the 92-m-long bridge is the longest stone bridge in the city. The museum is open from 9:00 to 16:30, Wednesday to Sunday (closed on Monday and Tuesday), and entrance is free. You can take a water bus to Gongchen Bridge and proceed from there on foot.
4. Longjing Village. Besides the West Lake and the Grand Canal, the other specialty of Hangzhou is tea – Longjing Tea, or literally Dragon Well Tea. The namesake village is the green tea’s place of origin. You can take bus Y3 at the Sudi Causeway of the West Lake Scenic Area to the village.
5. Hangzhou Leisure Expo Park. Located in Xiaoshan District, it was the main venue for the 2006 World Leisure Expo Hangzhou. The venue consists of three lakes, connected by a 10-km-long river. Travelers can take a boat tour of over 100 pavilions representing the world’s major cities, and attend a range of themed events to experience the traditional and exotic arts of different countries. In the evening, a water-sprinkling festival is worth taking in. You can take K515 or a sightseeing bus to the Expo.
In Hangzhou, dozens of public buses can carry you anywhere in the urban area you want to go. The special lines, sightseeing routes and night buses make getting around very convenient. Touring the canal in a water bus is highly recommended, especially in the evening.
Water bus route: Genshanmen Dock - Shijia Bridge Dock - Wulinmen Dock - Maiyu Bridge Dock - Beixinguan Dock - Gongchen Bridge Dock
Water bus night tour: depart Wulinmen Dock at 19:30, return at 21:00
Tickets can be bought anytime at Wulinmen Dock.
You can also take a boat at Wulinmen Dock to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. This section of the canal will allow you to take in many beautiful scenes.
Huzhou is an ancient city with over 2,000 years’ history, and is 165 km away from Shanghai. There is no railway between the two cities, but it takes only two hours by bus. Buses depart every half hour from 6:50 to 19:20 at Shanghai General Coach Station.
1. Nanxun Town. This birthplace of Chinese capitalists is also dubbed the most beautiful town in southeast China. The town is characterized by a blend of Chinese and Western cultures. It is here that Chinese gardens meet typical Greek architecture and Western-style ball rooms with mosaic floors. Baijianlou, or literally A Hundred Houses, is a group of ancient constructions built about 400 years ago. Sitting along the canal, the typical house is separated into a front store and a living area behind it. In many ways they make the best accommodation for travelers. The buses from Huzhou to the town depart every 15 minutes from 6:30 to 17:30.
2. Mogan Mountain. It was named after two famous swordsmith Mo Ye and Gan Jiang as they cast the sharpest known swords in their forges here. With bamboos planted all over the mountain, the slopes and peaks are pleasantly cool and it is becoming a popular summer resort. You can take the bus to Wukang of Deqing County first, and transfer to Mogan Mountain (Moganshan). The park administrator operates tour vehicles for visitors.
3. Anji Bamboo Expo. In this museum, you can see about 400 species of bamboo from all over the world, and also see the production process and use of bamboo in China. Travelers can take buses to Anji County first, and transfer to the museum.
The urban area of Huzhou is very compact, so public transportation is very convenient. The flag-down fare is only six yuan. The city is famous for four dishes – whitebait, white shrimp, coilia and crab, all of which come from Taihu Lake. If you are shopping for cultural mementos, Huzhou is famous for its brush pens, the most important writing tool in Chinese history.
It takes about 40 minutes by bullet train or an hour and a half by intercity coach to reach Jiaxing with its dense network of waterways and several lakes. The canal crosses the small city and makes a 90-degree turn. Sitting silently beside the canal are three pagodas featured in National Geographic February 1926 issue as symbols of China.
1. South Lake. Located in the southeast of Jiaxing, the lake is famous for the Yanyu Tower rising from its center. Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) climbed the tower several times when he came to southern China, and even ordered a replica built in his summer resort in Chengde, which took the same name. The lake is open from 8:00 to 18:00.
2. Jiaxing Catholic Church Site. Located on Ziyang Street, the church was established in 1917 by Han Rilu (as his Chinese name), an Italian priest and famous architect. The church took 13 years to build, being the third largest of its kind in the Far East. It was destroyed in the 1960s and no restoration has been done. The fine architecture is still apparent in the ruins of the dome and relief work.
3. Wuzhen Town. Located 35 km west of Jiaxing, this town has a history of 6,000 years. It remains typical of the early 20th century in its appearance. A river runs through it, and houses are built along its banks. The river is the street, for locals use boats for transport, and the banks are their markets. The upper tier of a house usually extends out over the river, supported by wooden or stone pillars sunk in the river bed. This is what they call a “water pavilion.” You can take coaches at Jiaxing West Bus Station from 7:20 to 16:45, with six round-trip a day.
4. Xitang. Located 38 km north of Jiaxing, it is also famous for its rivers and lakes. The town keeps well preserved buildings that date back hundreds of years to the Ming Dynasty. The feature that stands out is a 1,000-m-long corridor, with one side open to the river. You can take coaches in Jiaxing North Bus Station every hour from 6:40 to 16:30.
The public buses in Jiaxing are mostly air-conditioned vehicles, charging RMB 2 a ride. You should prepare exact fare as they are all pay-to-the-driver buses. Most of the buses go out of service at 18:00.
There are a range of hotels in the urban area. While visiting small towns, it’s better to arrange a homestay inn, and the prices are very reasonable.
A must-do is eating zongzi, or steamed sticky rice wrapped in reed leaves, in the century-old Wufangzhai eatery. The main one is at 318 Jianguo Road, and several branches can be found in the city. You can also try lake foods in South Lake while enjoying the scenery. Other famous snacks include Gusao pancake and water chestnut.
About 140 km away from Shanghai, it takes an hour by bullet train and you can hop on just about any time in the station.
Compared with other cities, the canal in Wuxi boasts the oldest and best preserved section. The part from the Nanchang Bridge to the Qingming Bridge is 1.5 km long and 20 meter wide, with old residences arranged in an orderly manner along both sides, as well as odd ancient pagodas, temples and kilns. It is called the “corridor of historical and cultural scenes.”
Tourism has become a pillar industry of Wuxi. Treasures include Taihu Lake, bamboo forestlands, the Lingshan Giant Buddha, and a CCTV film studio. The Huishan Spring is also a popular spot, and is reputed as the “Second Spring under Heaven.” It gave inspiration to blind musician Hua Yanjun (1893-1950), who created his epic masterpiece for the erhu, The Moon Reflected on the Second Spring.
1. Yuantouzhu Scenic Zone. Yuantouzhu is a peninsula jutting into Taihu Lake. The giant stone extending into the waters resembles the head of a tortoise. You can take bus No. 87 at Wuxi Railway Station to the zone.
2. CCTV film studio. It is China’s first theme park that combines location shooting and tourism. About 9 km from the Yuantouzhu Scenic Zone, you can take bus No. 1 at Yuantouzhu and transfer to No. 82, or take No. 82 directly from the railway station.
3. Rongxiang Street. Located in the western part of the city, this street is home to the Rong family, one of the biggest financial groups in modern China. This 280-m-long ancient street is well preserved and 157 modern architectural works stand in contrast to strong local characteristics. Bus No. 2, 26, 87, and 88 will take you there.
4. Huishan Town. It is called the open-air museum of Wuxi. Besides Huishan Temple and Huishan Spring, the town recently developed a water street that allows visitors to experience local customs and tradition. The town is located in western Wuxi, next to the canal. Bus No. 57, 58, 202, 208 will take you there.
Famous food markets of Wuxi can be found at the Chong’an and Nanchan temples and on Qingshi Road.
Bus fare in Wuxi is one yuan, or two yuan for air-conditioned vehicles. The Shanghai transportation card can be used here.
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