On Good Friday I was done with work but instead of going home like everyone else I stayed in China for a few more days. There’s loads of day trip opportunities around Suzhou, including one of China’s largest lakes, but that will have to wait for another time because I instead picked one of several historic “canal towns” nearby. This one is called 同里 “TongLi”: the characters mean “with” and “inside” but I’ve no idea what the etymology is. It’s about an hour from Suzhou by long distance bus. The “long distance” bit is an important distinction as it means it departs from a totally different bus station to regular buses and boarding one involves a tortuously complex ticket buying and queuing system. Riding it was an interesting experience. Let’s just say I’ve been on cleaner coaches. But on the way back I made friends with a fellow passenger and got to practice my Chinese a bit, so overall it was a positive experience.
Modern Tongli has about 30 thousand inhabitants but the old town core is incredibly well preserved, perhaps due to a fee-charging tourism zone. The town is criss-crossed with canals, miles of them, to the extent that it has hardly any real roads. Apparently Suzhou was like this too once, but most of it was concreted over in the 20th century.
With a single “town pass” you get access to a myriad of old buildings and gardens. I ambled around so many beautiful traditional gardens that they all blended into one and I can’t recall what was the significance of each.
Anyway it all made for a nice relaxed atmosphere. All the guides I read cautioned that it would be heaving with tourists as it’s a popular day trip from Shanghai, for local Chinese at least. But I think I got lucky by visiting on a weekday. I ate lunch outside the house of an old lady who had set up some tables by the canal side. It was very… homely. But no sign of food poisoning and the tea was lovely so an excellent choice.
The evening light was fantastic so I snapped a few photos of the colourful waterfront houses before hopping on the bus back to Suzhou.