Tongli Recommended Itinerary
Although Tongli is small, its streets are relatively wide, with dwellings and business establishments alternating with noteworthy cultural and historical sites. Here are three recommended routes for you to follow to obtain a quick overview of the town, after which you can amble around in Tongli 'with no particular place to go', but without fear of losing your orientation, though, in truth, you cannot possibly get lost in Tongli:
A) If you are pressed for time, then this is the route that will let you take in all of the essentials in the shortest amount of time: Retreat Garden, Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture, Chongben Mansion, the Three Bridges, Gengle Mansion, Dingzi River, Mingqing Street, and Shidetang.
B) If you can allot an entire day – but not more – to visiting Tongli, then suggestion B is a good, relaxed alternative:
In the morning – A visit to Retreat Garden, to the Memorial Hall of Wang Shaoao, to the Pearl Pagoda, a trip across the famous Three Bridges (where you can enjoy an Osprey Opera performance), a visit to Chongben Mansion (see the description above), a visit to Jiayin Mansion (see the description above), and finally, a visit to Gengle Mansion (see the description above). You can conveniently take your lunch at a restaurant near Gengle Mansion.
In the afternoon – A shopping visit to Mingqing Street, a river tour (see above), and a trip to Luoxing Islet. Note that if you want to strike a deal with a gondolier to have your lunch
sur la rivière (there are also specific shore sites where the boats can set you on terra firma for your private picnic, then continue the journey by boat), you might want to reverse the order of the afternoon tour, taking the river tour first and combining it with lunch, then do the rest of the afternoon tour in any order that suits you.
C) If you have arrived in Tongli with lots of time for a leisurely, 2-day visit, including an overnight stay at a hotel in Tongli, then you should consider suggestion C:
Day 1 – Retreat Garden (Tuisi Garden), Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture, Shide Hall, Jiayin Mansion, Chuanxin Alley, the Three Bridges, the Former Residence of Chen Qubing (located between Zhangyuan Port ("Zhangyuan Canal") and Songbei Highway), Five-Crane Archway (located next-door to (west of) the Former Residence of Chen Qubing), and Pearl Pagoda.
Day 2 – Luoxing Islet, Dingzi River, Jicheng Pavilion, shopping in Mingqing Street, Lize Girls School, Sanxie Mansion, Gengle Mansion, Morning Mist of Southern Town (one of Tongli's more than 20 natural scenic sites), and Chongben Mansion.
Tongli is richly deserving of its nickname not only as the "Little Venice of the East", but also as an "Open-Air Museum of Ancient Architectures", thanks to its many buildings – including temples and grandiose former residences, replete with scholar gardens, of illustrious personages who lived here – and its bluestone alleys and stone arch bridges constructed during the Ming and Qing Dynasty period, though the town of Tongli actually dates back to the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty.
Although a goodly number of the inhabitants of Tongli are now engaged in serving tourists, the town still maintains its original identity, surrounded by rice paddies (with its mild climate and a stable supply of water, growing rice has been the most natural thing to do in Tongli for more than a millenium). Tongli's fishermen still sail out to the lakes every day with their fishing birds (cormorants) that continue to do what they have always done ever since they were trained by their masters, i.e., they dive to the bottom of the lake and return with – with a bit of luck – a fish.
In addition to its charming water scenes, Tongli is home to Tuisi Garden, aka the Retreat and Reflection Garden (Retreat Garden, for short). » more
Tongli has a gentle, slightly humid climate, with lots of river branches that contain various edible fishes and aquatic plants. » more
There are direct buses from Shanghai and Suzhou to Tongli. At Zhouzhuang, there are small buses going to Tongli which involve a journey of about ½ hour. » more
Chuanxin Alley, archaic yet elegant, is worthy of special mention, its bluestone pathways providing a hint of the city's ancient cultural flavor. » more
Although Tongli is small, its streets are relatively wide, with dwellings and business establishments alternating with noteworthy cultural and historical sites. » more
You can rent a gondola (long boat) w/boatman for a quiet tour on the river– the price is 60 Yuan for a standard, 30 minute ride. » more