Wuzhen is a beautiful land that is representative of China’s Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River) area and its old towns. It sits in the “Golden Triangle”, an area that holds Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and the city of Shanghai, on a 79-sq-km area and with a population of 57,000 and convenient transportation and plenty of tourist resources and cultural relics under national or municipal protection. It is one of China’s first Historic Towns, one of its Top 10 Charming Towns, a National Environmentally Lovely Town, and a National AAAAA Tourist Attraction.
It was established more than 1,300 years ago and is seen as the “last site of waterside households in China”. It is also the home of many famous people and is rich in culture and folk customs. It is surrounded by a canal and is crisscrossed by rivers, with an East Gate, South Gate, West Gate and North Gate. It has maintained a number of unique Jiangnan-style residences that date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.
If you walk around the town, you might feel as if you were in an ink drawing when you see the white walls, tiled roofs, small bridges and streams or see the historical changes in the beams, painted pillars, stone lanes and old houses. And you might hear boats creaking their way past every now and then, or the hawking of goods at waterside shops.
The town has a wide variety of restaurants and eateries with real gourmet food everywhere. Its most famous specialty is braised lamb that is crispy, sweet and a little bit spicy. The best time to enjoy is after the winter solstice. Then there is Baishui Fish, another local delicacy. For household dishes, there are the sauced chicken, braised pork with preserved vegetables, boiled crayfish and stir-fried shell fish, to name just a few. Some famous snacks are Gusao buns (sugar pastry with sweet bean paste or other filling), dried stinky toufu, Dingsheng steamed rices cakes, smoked bean tea, qingtuan herb-flavored glutinous rice balls filled with sweet bean paste, steamed pork rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and small wontons.
There is a free shuttle bus from the East Gate scenic area to the West Gate scenic area, 7:30 am to 5:20 pm, Monday to Thursday, every 20 min, and Friday to Sunday, every 10 min.
There are taxis outside the Wuzhen tourist region, with a starting fare of around 10 yuan ($1.50), and 1.8 yuan per kilometer.
There are two types at the West Gate – one for public-transport, from Andufang, with six stops along the route, for 10 yuan/stop; the other for sightseeing, with a 6-passenger capacity for 360-yuan for the whole journey, both day and night. Or, you can cover the route on foot or hire a 3-wheel cycle.
Wuzhen has a large variety of hotels to suit all budgets and needs, from luxurious 5-star hotel to tidy 3-star, to a waterside guesthouse or youth hostel that are popular with DIY tour lovers. The town has 13 high-standard star hotels, with more than 1,600 rooms in all, which can accommodate 2,500 guests. So, the many Internet elites attending the World Internet Conference will surely be able to find the right spot to stay. The Waterside Resort, one of the main conference halls, will be holding many functions and will be responsible for various tasks. The hotel has experience and senior personnel to maintain standards. The staff who deal with foreign guests are expected to have passed the College English Test-4 at least, and some have Test for English Majors-8 qualifications. In addition, there are special training sessions for reception etiquette, room service, and luggage handling.
Wuzhen’s East and West gates are tourist areas, while the North and South are for living. To fully experience the town, an overnight stay is recommended with a sightseeing tour of East Gate at around 3 hours, and at West Gate, 5-7 hours. This year, Wuzhen has been promoting smart tourism, with the whole area covered by WIFI, and an official website and interaction via WeChat and online forums. An online sales site provides information on accommodations, tickets, service packages and local products, and you can book these services through a PC or mobile phone.
East Gate attractions: the Huiyuan Pawnshop, Fangluge Restaurant, Shadow Play, Hanlin Mansion, Xiuzhen Taoist Temple, Ancient Stage, Mao Dun Residence, Yu Liuliang Coin House, Woodcarving House, Blue Print Dye House, Gongsheng Rice Wine House, Wuzhen Folk Culture Museum, Jiangnan Antique Bed Museum, Traditional Workshops, Xiangshan Pharmacy, Boat Kongfu Shows, and Fengyuan Double Bridge.
Attractions in West Gate: There is a wide range of attractions, including: Andufang Port, Herb-dyeing Shop, Zhaoming Institute, Yudu Bridge, 3-inch Golden Lotus Museum, Old Post Office, Water Stage, Story-telling House, Hengyitang Pharmacy, Zhu Mansion, Jinyin Folk Culture Museum, Bridge in a Bridge (Tongji and Renji Bridge), White Lotus Tower Temple, Wenchang Temple, Guandi Temple, Water Theater, Shitian Square, Yida Silk Workshop, Wujin Brocade Workshop, General Wu’s Temple, Xiushui Covered Street, Dingsheng Bridge, Lingshui Garden, and Mao Dun Memorial Hall.
Tower in White Lotus Temple
There is a description of the town as “one taoist temple, two towers, nine temples and thirteen monasteries”. The White Lotus Tower Temple is one of these, and no matter where you take a photo at West Gate, the Tower is the best backdrop. It was built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), and is still the tallest building in town. From one side of it, you can see the Grand Canal, and from the other, the small bridges and streams of Wuzhen.
The Chinese blue cloth from here is known worldwide. It was established between the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368), originally at the South Gate, then moved to the current location during Guangxu reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It produces both blue cloth and related products.
Bridge in a Bridge
West Gate has the Tongji Bridge running in a south-north direction, and the Renji Bridge running in an east-west direction, at a right to each other, so, no matter where you stand, you can see the other bridge clearly. From the south bank, you can see the reflection of the two bridge openings in the form of a circle that floats in and out of sight, giving Wuzhen a certain charm.
Free WIFI at tourist spots
To suit the mood of the World Internet Conference, the town developed an information and communications network, which has been tested and improved. Zhao Boquan, a deputy head of technical support for the conference, explains that the improvement to the network included two 10-GB and five 1-GB cables wired into the region so that all tourist attractions are covered with WIFI and there is 100-MB broadband everywhere, and “we hope that, in addition to enjoying the beauty of Jiangnan water town, our guests can also enjoy mobile network convenience”.
In future, visitors will be able to connect to WIFI at any time via mobile phone or look for entertainment, whether they are resting beneath a tree next to the white-wall and tiled buildings, or enjoying some snacks in a cosy eatery, or lingering at the small bridges and looking at the water. Even more exciting, the WIFI coverage will be maintained for both local people, and for World Internet Conference participants.
Mobile payment in Wuzhen
In other places, if you find yourself without your wallet, or credit or debit cards, you might not be able to get very far. But, in Wuzhen, you can use your mobile phone to pay for your hotel stay, a meal or even just a lollipop through the convenience of the Internet. Also, in recent days, shops along West Gate St, Nvhong St, and Tongan St have been hanging out a tiny blue sign that indicates the shop supports Alipay. And, on streets where inns are found, people have found that it is common for visitors to ask about the price of a room or make a reservation by scanning the two-dimensional code and mobile payments are leading the way. The local management have explained that the Wuzhen tourist business has gone online and, in future, visitors will be able to pay for everything with their mobile phone. There will also be free WIFI, and card and ticket services that allow visitors to travel around Wuzhen without a wallet at all.