Wuzhen 乌镇: A Classic Jiangnan Grand Canal Town

Arrival

The rusty old bus from Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province rumbled along the tree shaded road, swerving past frequent potholes and dodging wayward livestock. Rural scenes that hadn’t changed in a millennium flashed by the grime- incrusted windows. We secretly thought that we might be arriving in an undiscovered corner of Zhejiang and were about to enjoy a tourist- free canal town. How naive could we be? And our  wishful thinking of exploring a hidden gem was promptly shattered, when our bus hit a huge, 4 lane highway that cut in front of  our little country road, just as we were arriving in Wuzhen. The highway, built to facilitate the convoys of coaches that shunt tourists up and down from Hangzhou, ends in an enormous car park, from where microphone toting, flag waving tour guides harangue their cattle- like hordes through the main entrance.

The Town

Dating back to the Tang Dynasty, Wuzhen is a perfect example of a traditional Chinese canal town. Moreover, its location on waterways that feed into the Grand Canal takes visitors back to times gone by.  Unfortunately, in some ways, Wuzhen may be too perfect for its own good. The preservation of its architecture, a mixture of Qing and Ming dynasty houses and mansions, is stunning. The time-worn narrow cobbled streets, huge ancient doorways and delicately arched bridges entice exploration. However, the problem with Wuzhen is that it can get swamped; not by water, but by humans. No self-respecting Chinese tour group visiting Hangzhou, of which there are thousands, can leave Wuzhen off its list. What’s more, many Western travel agencies have added the town to their itinerary. Even in mid-week, in the middle of September 2005, it was pretty crowded.

Things to See and Do

Despite being well established on the tourist route, Continue reading “Wuzhen 乌镇: A Classic Jiangnan Grand Canal Town”