Zhouzhuang Water Village, Kunshan

This is the oldest and most well known water village in China. Located in Jiangsu province and in the county of Kunshan, it is often called the Venice of China due to its numerous canals. It can be visited in a day trip from Suzhou or Shanghai.  If you have never seen a Chinese ancient water village before this would be a good introduction. Zhouzhuang has a history of more than 900 years old with many houses built during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

I visited Zhouzhuang in 2008 during a visit to Shanghai. The easiest way is to travel by car. We hired a taxi for a day and paid RMB500 or slightly more (rates probably have increased a lot by now). For this price, the driver will drive you from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang (roughly 1.5hr trip), wait for you until evening and drive you back. If there are 4 persons in your group, this is the most economical way. You can bargain the price with the taxi driver, so good luck on getting a good price.

The front gate of Zhouzhuang.
The front gate of Zhouzhuang.

Don’t expect anything really ancient or ruins. This is a fully functioning village with people living in it. The surroundings and infrastructure has been upgraded and modernized but still trying to maintain the architectural and cultural aspects of the village. Because of this, the whole place has been commercialized and tourism is the major source of income for the villagers.

The village is surrounded by canals with willow trees along the sides. Definitely, the classical type of Chinese scenery.
The village is surrounded by canals with willow trees along the sides. Definitely, the classical type of Chinese scenery.

Due to it’s proximity to the major cities like Suzhou and Shanghai, tourists are aplenty. Most of the tourists are the Chinese themselves and it can get very crowded especially during weekends and national holidays. The entrance fee is RMB100 and you need to buy a ticket to enter the village.

One of the main canals with shops and restaurants on both sides.
One of the main canals with shops and restaurants on both sides.
There are several stone bridges crossing the canals. They are from ancient times and remain until this day.
There are several stone bridges crossing the canals. They are from ancient times and remain until this day.
Just like in Venice, you can take a boat ride for a fee.
Just like in Venice, you can take a boat ride for RMB40 a person, or you can take the whole boat for RMB100. Each boat sits up to 6 persons.
A slow boat ride is just nice to enjoy the village scenes without jostling with the tourist crowds.
A slow boat ride is just nice to enjoy the village scenes without jostling with the tourist crowds.
A more quiet section of the village.
A more quiet section of the village.
We ate at this restaurant. The food is not fantastic, but then there are not that many choices for food here.
We ate at this restaurant that overlooks the canal. The food is not fantastic, but then there are not that many choices for food here.
Amongst the buildings, you have many shops selling Chinese snacks, home brewed rice wine, souvenirs and handicrafts.
Amongst the buildings, you have many shops selling Chinese snacks, home brewed rice wine, souvenirs and handicrafts.
A photo without the crowds.
A photo without the crowds. I guess this would be how Zhouzhuang looked like in ancient times.
There are some street markets where local farmers sell their vegetables and food stuffs.
There are some street markets where local farmers sell their vegetables and food stuffs, alongside with other vendors selling souvenirs.
The local delicacy - pigs' trotters. Vacuum packed for take away.
The local delicacy – braised pigs’ trotters. Vacuum packed for take away.

If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s advisable to get there early as most of the tourists that come in by busloads usually come after 10am. Without the crowds, Zhouzhuang would definitely look like what it did hundreds of years ago.

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