It is a hint of the old China. Visitors usually take one or two days to relax in the laid-back atmosphere. A mix of traders and locals are still living and working there. It is less commercialized and crowded than some other famous water towns.
Explore the Highlights
There are 7 highlights of Tongli that are highly recommended by China Travel as follows.
1. Gondola Ride
Never miss to take a gondola in Tongli Water Town. It is the best experience. Boat time is about 20 minutes. Water is the major way of transport in Tongli.
2. Tuisi Garden
Tongli is home to Tuisi Garden, aka ‘Retreat and Reflection Garden’ (‘Retreat Garden’ for short), which can be favorably compared to the famous gardens of nearby Suzhou. It was built in 1885–1887 during the Qing Dynasty.
The highly compact garden has two parts:
The western section is a private dwelling, consisting of an inner and an outer house, which in turn comprises a reception hall, a tea hall and a sedan hall.
The eastern section is the more public area of the garden, including ponds with boats, bridges that span the narrower parts of the pool, waterside pavilions (the most famous of which is Water Fragrance Pavilion), verandas, rockeries, and tree-lined walkways.
In season, the garden is alive with flowers. A scholar garden was a place not only for contemplation, it was also a place where friends – fellow officials, writers, artists and intellectuals – met to discuss subjects high and low, and where one often drank copiously and generally had a good time.
All in all, ’Retreat Garden’ is a place of beauty and charm. Little surprise, it has been recognized, together with other classical Suzhou gardens, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
3. Three Bridges
There are 49 stone bridges, of a variety of styles, joining 7 islands created by 15 rivers and 5 lakes. Each bridge has a poetic name.
The most unique thing about Tongli is that it is built across a wide stretch at the confluence of three rivers, where there are a number of small islands, all of which are interlinked, and stone arch bridges link the part of the city on the river banks. Because the bridges cross three rivers, they are called Three Bridges: Peace and Tranquility (Taiping) Bridge, Lucky (Jili) Bridge, and Lasting Celebration (Changqing) Bridge.
The Three Bridges are lucky symbols in the eyes of the local residents, who believe that walking over them on weddings or birthdays brings good luck.
4. Lanes and Streets
Many narrow and long lanes can be found in Tongli. There are eight major streets in Tongli Ancient Town, some are partially hidden by trees and some are situated by the river.
5. Jiayin Mansion
It was built in 1922, during the early years of the Republic of China (1912-1949), but it was built in the Ming Dynasty style. Jiayin Mansion faces Chongben Mansion across a waterway. It was built as the residence of a local scholar by the name of Liu Yazi (1887-1958).
Jiayin Mansion is characterized by high, white outer walls and by inner walls clad with wood paneling with exquisite carvings. Above the main doorway is a section of roof with upturned eaves, reminiscent of the style of the Huizhou architecture. A handsome but unimposing garden forms the center of the mansion complex.
6. Chongben Mansion
It was constructed by a wealthy Tongli merchant (Chong Ben) in 1912, has four courtyards and numero/us buildings made of a combination of brick, stone and wood. The interior is adorned by wood paneling with carved scenes from classic Chinese literature, including images of cranes and vases, both considered auspicious, the latter because the word for "vase" in Chinese is the same as the word for "peace". (Many Chinese words and numbers are considered lucky because they are homonyms of other words such as luck, wealth, long life.)
A special feature of Chongben Mansion is that each row of buildings is situated at a slightly higher elevation than the preceding row of buildings (i.e. the rows are "stepped"), which was the owner's way of expressing the hope, if not conviction, that each generation of the Chong family would attain greater success than the previous.
7. Gentle Mansion
It was built during the Ming Dynasty. The enormous complex, including living quarters and garden, was built by a Ming Dynasty official, Zhu Xiang, who styled himself Gengle. Gentle Mansion comprises 52 houses, distributed among 5 courtyards.
The garden naturally contains a pond, a lotus pool, and a rockery made of grotesquely shaped (eroded into strange shapes) stones from the bottom of nearby Lake Tai. Bridges span corners and elongated stretches of the pool. Trees and buildings are strategically placed so as to conceal the complete dimensions of the garden, a factor that gives the illusion of a much larger garden. A 400-year old pine tree also can be found in the garden.
Gentle Mansion has survived the rise and fall of several Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors.
How to Get to Tongli
Railway: Take a train to Suzhou first and then to Tongli.
Below are some cities’ travel hours to Suzhou:
|Note: Bullet trains arrive at Suzhou North Railway Station and normal trains at Suzhou Railway Station.
||every 10 minutes
|Shanghai Bus Station
|Hangzhou North Bus Station
||7:50; 10:40; 13:20
|Nanjing Zhongyangmen Bus Station
||to Suzhou first, then change to Tongli
Taxi: from Suzhou: 100 RMB and 45 minutes one way. But when you want to get back, it is not easy to find a taxi, unless you book one in advance.
Optional Ways to Get to Tongli from Shanghai or Suzhou
Route 1: Shanghai – Tongli
- From Passenger Station at Hutai Road, Shanghai (上海沪太路客运站) to Tongli: The bus departs from 1:30pm every day. The 2.5-hour journey takes about 20 RMB, with no stop.
- Tourist Center at Shanghai Stadium (Recommended): The direct bus at the No. 12 Gate of Shanghai Stadium leaves for Tongli at 8:30am every day. The returning bus from Tongli departs at 4:30pm.
- The North Square of Shanghai Station: There are direct buses run from the North Square of Shanghai Station to Tongli every half an hour.
Route 2: Shanghai – Suzhou – Tongli
1. By Bus: Departures every 15 minutes; journey length: 2 hours.
2. By Train (Recommended): Departures every 20 minutes; journey length: 1 hour by regular train; 30 minutes by express train.
3. There are shuttle buses from the square in front of Suzhou Railway tation to Tongli are available during 6am – 6pm, with a cost of 8 RMB.
4. The tourist buses leave the Bus Passenger Terminal in Wuzhong District of Suzhou for Tongli every half an hour from 7:40am to 6:10pm. The 40-minute journey takes 8 RMB.
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