Wuzhen – Quintessential China Water Town Spoilt by Commericalism

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 I heard about Wuzhen last year and was engaged by the photos – corridors along the river, houses built above the water, willows, pagodas, brick streets… I visited the place this year, during the May Day Golden week. My goodness. The whole place was swamped with people. You actually moved inch by inch and all around you were just people and people. A sea of people. I was completely drowned.

Adding to this, is the commercialisation of the town. A town is supposed to be a public place where the residents and all others go in and out as they like.  But due to commericialisation resulted from the fame the town has gained in the past couple of years, gates have been put in place to make the central part of the town a “theme park” and you have to buy tickets (costing about 70 Yuan) to visit this part of the town, the old part. Some local residents still live in the area, whose lives are constantly under close scrutiny of throngs of visitors. The wood houses are only one or two stories high, and you see everything inside the house through the window, passing by.

I think I would not want to live here – but they don’t have a choice, do they?

A variety of shops and restaurants are lined along the street and river, selling sourveniers and food, catering to tourists’ needs and curiosities.

What can you feel in such a touristic place and ambience? Saddly, all over China, scenic spots, once they gain fame, are relentlessly turned into the current Wuzhen-style tourist attraction, leaving at the end, no attraction at all.

Zhouzhuang is another ancient water town in southern China. It gained a fame earlier than Wuzhen, and therefore was turned into a tourist trap years earlier. That is sad.

Anyway, if you still want to go and see Wuzhen, go to the Yello Dragon Tourist Center from where there is a bus tour to wuzhen every day for about 120 yuan.

How to Get to Hangzhou

Here’s a summary of the transport for you to use to reach the city. Hangzhou can easily be reached by plane and train.

From Tokyo

Air China International, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines International all run direct flights between Tokyo and Shanghai.

From Osaka

Air China International and Japan Airlines International run mostly indirect flights between Osaka and Hangzhou, with the latter operating direct flight to Osaka from Hangzhou, needing 3 hours only to cover the journey.

From Seoul

Air China International operates direct flight between Hangzhou and Seoul, capital of Korea. The flight time is 2 hours.

From Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a key hub of aviation. Many countries/regions have direct/indirect flights to Hong Kong, from where there is direct flight to Hangzhou every day. The Hong Kong-Hangzhou journey lasts about 2 hours.  The extra advantage of flying from Hong Kong is that you can easily and quickly get a China visa at the many offices of China Travel Service across the territory, saving you the time of getting one at your home country.

To be on the cheap, you can consider going to Shengzhen, Hong Kong’s neighboring city in China, and flying to Hangzhou from there. Shenzhen airport can be conveniently reached from Hong Kong by train or ferry, taking about 2 hours. Hong Kong’s KCRC company operates Hong Kong-Shanghai through train on alternate days. The journey is about 26 hours and there are different sleepers for you to choose: hard sleeper, soft sleeper and deluxe soft sleeper. Once you are in Shanghai, it is easy and quick to reach Hangzhou (please see below).

From Shanghai

Shanghai is the biggest city in China with many direct/indirect flights from all over the world. Once you are in Shanghai, it is only 2 hours’ drive on expressway to reach Hangzhou. Shuttle buses are available every 90 minutes from Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Hangzhou’s city center Wu Lin Men, costing RMB85.

There are also shuttle buses every 90 minutes from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Hangzou Dragon Sports Center, costing RMB100. So if you fly to Shanghai, it is very easy for you to reach Hangzhou. Here’s the schedule of the shuttle bus:

Pudong–>Dragon Sports Center:10:30, 12:00, 13:30, 15:30, 17:30, 19:00

Pudong–>Wu-lin-Men: 8:40, 10:10, 11:40, 13:10, 14:40, 1610, 17:50

If you are already in Shanghai, you can take bus or train. Buses depart every hour from Shanghai Long-distance Bus Station to Hangzhou Long-distance Bus Station. The ticket costs about 60 Yuan. Trains are available every hour between the two cities and the ticket costs about 50 Yuan. Express train takes 2 hours and normal train takes 3 hours.

From Beijing

Given the capital status of Beijing, flight connection to Beijing is excellent. Once you are in Beijing, you can connect a flight to Hangzhou, which takes about 2 hours.

You can also consider taking the train from Beijing to Hangzhou. The fastest train between the two cities takes about 13 hours, departing at 18:53, arriving at 8:23 the following morning.

Hangzhou Airport and Train Station

Hangzhou’s international airport, bright and spacious, is situated 27km of the town. A public bus costing RMB20 operates to the center of town from the airport.

The train station has recently been renovated and is a huge but efficient place. It takes about 10 minutes from the center of town to the station, and costs approximately RMB20-30 by taxi.

Pipa orchard near Hangzhou

The month of May is the time Pipa fruit ripens in southern China. I joined a local tour to Tangxi near Hangzhou (about one-hour bus) to pick pipa. You don’t ususally see pipa in the West, and it seems to me that not many people in the east know it either. I was glad that I had chance to taste it.

What is the taste like? If it is a good one, pipa is pretty sweet and tastes fresh and good, but it means that your hands are all sticky from the sweet afterward.

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