Food in Tongli Transportation in Tongli
Luzhi Town Wuzhen
Tongli is another charming and historic water town outside Suzhou. It's located fairly close to Zhouzhuang, making it easy to visit both in a day - although they have many similar features, each has its own distinct personality, and many tourists feel that seeing them gives a new perspective on what makes each place so special. Canals run between the two towns, and you can experience a true taste of the old riverside lifestyle by traveling between them by boat! Tongli has a rich historic atmosphere - most of its buildings are still traditional one and two story houses and shops with white walls and black tile roofs, and the local government has recently begun remodeling the few modern buildings so they too match the historic atmosphere. Tongli has a very different mood from it neighbors, however - instead of the tight alleys dense feeling of Zhouzhuang or Luzhi, the canals of Tongli are lined by wide cobblestone sidewalks. Trees grow along the embankments, and the wider walkways are great for a pleasant stroll or whiling away the hours at a sidewalk teahouse. One of the Suzhou region's finest gardens is hidden amongst the alley and canals of Tongli.
Behind a small and unassuming doorway (to avoid the attention of bandits) lies the UNESCO recognized Tuisi Yuan, a true masterpiece among Jiangsu gardens. The name of the garden is means "to retire and contemplate" - the owner of the garden, Ren Langshen, was a government official who was forced out of office by his rivals, and planned to retire to the calm of the garden and consider his life. Past the standard reception lies the calm and beautiful Wanxiang Hall, a courtyard two verandahs on two stories. The floor is tiled with small stones in a repeating pattern, except where several strangely shaped rocks rise from the pavement to make the base for a cluster of small trees and stalks of bamboo. The upper verandahs were reserved for the unmarried young women of the family and their guests - Confucian propriety dictated that they could not mix with adults from outside the family, but from behind the carved balustrades they could watch the comings and goings of the mansion. Their chambers also look out over the centerpiece of the garden - the pond and the buildings that surround it. The area around the pond is truly beautiful - although it is not as large as some of the other Suzhou style gardens, every piece is perfectly places. Waterside terraces, a rockery topped with a small pavilion, bridges between the sections of the surrounding buildings, and trees and clumps of bamboo are all set up to make a magnificent hall. Every place on the pond offers and beautiful and unique vista.
Outside the garden, the streets and bridges of Tongli are fun to explore. While the paths which line the canals are quite wide, off them branch narrow alleys that lead deep into clusters of houses. Some of them are barely wide enough for one person, and run for almost a hundred meters parallel to the main streets. Its very quite inside these alleys, with high, whitewashed walls on both sides, and occasionally an open door provides a glimpse into the inner courtyard of an old house. If you're interested you can explore several more historic mansions, restored and open to visitors. The Chongben Hall is renowned for its abundance of traditional carved wood decorations, and Shide Hall is combines a vinegar and pickle shop in the front with the family's mansion in the rear.
Touring Tongli is not only about history and monuments, however. In addition to strolling the city's streets and window-shopping at the many stores selling local products, there are several other ways to experience the charming atmosphere and traditional rhythms of life in the water towns. A great place to take a break from your sightseeing is the historic Nanyuan Teahouse set alongside the banks of the grand canal. Although a tea house has stood on this site for several dynasties, the current one is over a hundred years old, and was a favorite meeting place for local activists and reformers at the turn of the century. Climb up to the second story, where broad windows look out over the towns slate rooftops and waters of the canal. Tea is served in the traditional style, and sometimes a troupe of local musicians perform traditional music.
If you have more time, several historic homes around the town have been converted into small inns. Instead of staying at a hotel outside of the historic center, many visitors prefer the more memorable experience of staying in these houses. Each inn is run by a local family and their quality and cleanliness are certified by the local tourist board. You can enjoy home cooked meals and try the authentic family style dishes of the region. Best of all, you can experience the atmosphere of Tongli at your own pace. Watching the waters of the canals turn reddish orange as the sun sinks over the horizon, or seeing the town slowly come to life again in the mists of morning are truly unique experiences.