Located near Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou, Wuzhen is quaint little water town easily accessible by bus. As a now rather touristy historical village, there are plenty of interesting little museums and workshops to visit, all surrounded by the beautiful small canals running through the town.
To promote local craftsmanship and traditional skills, there are several small workshops around the village – including printing, dyeing, wine distilling, blacksmithery, shoe-making and silk-making. We were welcomed to wander around the workshops and admire the various products on sale, and apparently for a small fee some other students were able to take part in the activities themselves.
Shops and Markets
All along the main street, there are plenty of small shops selling the typical tourist tat. However, there are also a few older stores where visitors can see more traditional wares on sale – including a pharmacy and floating fruit market.
For around 30 RMB/ person, you can take a traditional boat trip along the narrow canals from one end of the main street to the other. Having been on similar boat trips before, I decided not to splash out again – but if this is your first time visiting a traditional water town I’d highly recommend it!
Around the town, there are a couple of rather unusual museums. These include one on the traditional practice of foot-binding and another on traditional bed designs, sitting aside more typical museums on local folk culture, weddings, wood carving and coins over the ages. Personally, I found the museums all rather small and uninformative, but since they are included in the entrance fee for the ticket it’s worth popping in to one or two for a brief look.
Probably the most famous building in Wuzhen, the Former Residence of Mao Dun – a famous revolutionist and writer of the 19th century. Although his house has been significantly extended and renovated over the years, it is still a must-see historical sight in the town. The residence contains exhibitions on his life and work, traditionally furnished rooms, and a small museum.
Another ancient residence is the Fanglu Pavilion, a traditional teahouse formerly belonging to the tea scholar Lu Tong. It is a lovely place to relax and enjoy views of the river.
Unsurprisingly, Wuzhen is most famous for fish dishes, which can be eaten in any restaurant around the town. However, visitors can also buy a variety of local snacks at small market stalls or shops – including gelatinous rice balls and gusao cake (sweet bean paste filled pastries). Personally I wasn’t a fan of either, but instead tucked into some delicious steamed shrimp!
There are frequent performances of traditional shadow plays, opera and martial arts throughout the day, generally held on floating platforms on the river. In particular, Wuzhen is famous for acrobatic bamboo pole climbing, and at the Eastern end of the town you can watch 15 minute displays at 10:30 and 14:30. Unfortunately we only had a short amount of time in the village so didn’t manage to watch any performances in full – but just caught the occasional glimpses of kung fu artists on boats dressed in brightly coloured traditional outfits.
Although all these attractions make Wuzhen a great place for tourists, I actually enjoyed even more getting off the main street and down some of the side-alleys. After a few dead-ends, eventually I worked my way to the next street parallel to the high street, again with a lovely river but a much more peaceful atmosphere with no other people around. Here, Wuzhen still had that quaint water town charm it is so famous for, whereas on the main streets I was just too overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people to enjoy the village.