Wuzhen is one of China’s ancient water towns, where waterways thread their way through the flagstone streets and alleys. Wuzhen in North Zhejiang Province, is a 45 minute bus ride away from Hangzhou East Bus Station.
The waterways of Wuzhen are kept topped up with water by the adjacent Hangzhou to Beijing Grand Canal, which is still used to supply the dry north with water from the wet south and local goods transport. It was a major transport artery in times gone by, which led to the rise to prosperity of water towns like Wuzhen.
Dong Zha (the East Sector) is basically one waterway, about 400 meters long sandwiched between two streets of original Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) houses. The street on the entrance side has souvenir shops and restaurants and the street on the far side has various museums exhibiting beds, clothes, blue flower printed fabric, etc. There are various exhibitions showing the old way of life in this water town. In the peak season the streets are thronged with Chinese tourists (few foreigners) and the waterway is busy with single-oar skiffs carrying up to six passengers up and down the waterway. Despite being given over to tourism Dong Zha is still inhabited by the original residents who go about their lives among the tourists.
The author found Xi Zha (the West Sector of Wuzhen) a much better experience than that of Dong Zha, and believes most non-Chinese visitors will find Dong Zha interesting, but Xi Zha positively charming. Xi Zha is less crowded, quieter (during the day) and is more spacious. There is a marsh with a firefly aviary and wooden water-drawing system, and a sizable pagoda at one end by the Beijing Hangzhou Grand Canal. It is similar in layout to Dong Zha with a main waterway and streets either side, but larger at 1000 meters long, with a good number of side alleys, bridges, ancient docks and secondary waterways, which makes it a fascinating place to stroll around.
Xi Zha has been rebuilt and renovated in the original style (it is still being constructed (August 2009) in the western corner), with many charming architectural features: colonnades, small bridges, balconies, piers, wooden windows and doors, and gray stone walls and paving. Xi Zha has few local residents and is instead given over to accommodation for visitors. There are three main accommodation providers. The largest and cheapest is Min Su (Wuzhen Guest House), with antique style wooden furnishings and all the modern conveniences including internet access and satellite TV.
To enter Xi Zha visitors need to take a short single-oar ferry ride across a man-made lake. The streets of Xi Zha are lined with guest houses, restaurants, bars and souvenir and arts and crafts shops. Xi Zha has a similar feel to West Street of Yangshuo (the backpackers mecca and highly-developed tourist town in Guilin, South China), but it is less crowded and hasn’t really been discovered yet. Xi Zha has the potential to become East China’s Xi Jie (West Street).
The karaoke and bars at both ends of the waterway are noisy during the evening, though still little frequented, but the middle of Xi Zha is peaceful. Xi Zha is beautifully lit at night, subtly highlighting various architectural features and the bridges. There is a silent flow of skiffs making night cruises on the main waterway. Xi Zha is well-constructed, tastefully decorated and well-kept. The streets are immaculately clean and even the eaves of the buildings are given a dusting in the mornings. Xi Zha is pleasing to the eye and draws one in - into a forgotten time in China when waterways were used like road and rail, and life was simpler. This resort combines new and old really well.
Mao Dun is a revered writer in modern China, best known for the novel Midnight. His former home is located in the middle part of Guan Qian Street, where he lived his happy childhood. The home is a traditional Chinese style house built during the Qing Dynasty.
Xiuzhen Guan is a Taoist temple which was built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It is one of three famous Taoist temples on the south bank of the Yangtze River.
The stage was built in 1749. In ancient times, farmers around the town came by boat to watch plays. While the play was going on, the spectators would be in boats floating on the waterway.
A 1000-meter long roofed corridor runs along the bank of the river, which is one of the key architectural features of water towns south of the Yangtze.
The architectural style is from the Qing Dynasty and reflects the traditional lifestyle of the people.
A ginkgo tree over 1000 years old has witnessed the town's history since the Song Dynasty. Formerly located in the courtyard of General Wu Temple along the river's south bank, its trunk takes three men with their arms outstretched to circle it.
Wuzhen is a good place to treat your mouth well. Big restaurants and small street stalls offer a great variety of local flavors. In some old restaurants such as Jiujiang Lou and Shanyang Guan visitors can try the famous local dish Steamed Pork Slices with Glutinous Rice Flour Wrapped in Lotus Leaves. Travelers can also choose to dine at one of the locals' homes, provided they speak some Chinese. The food is simple, but dining informally at a Chinese family's home may provide a quite interesting experience.
Being a newly opened tourist destination, good quality accommodation is not hard to come by in Wuzhen. To meet the great lodging demand especially in peak season, many hotels and inns have been built in recent years. Many are at the “budget” level (like home stay), but there are also some star-rated hotels and boutique hotels. Hotels are in tight demand in peak travel season, so it is suggested that you place your booking in advance.
Most hotels are located at Xizha (west sector scenic area). There the commercial atmosphere is not as strong as Dongzha (east sector scenic area), and the local daily traditions are still preserved. Search and book Wuzhen Hotels.
The budget level hotels are like home stay. The rooms either face the river or the street. All of these hotels are managed by the scenic spot, and guests cannot contact the hotel owners beforehand. The managing desk is located opposite to Yusheng Restaurant, where there is a computer for you to search for budget-level hotel information. The following hotels we recommend all have platforms by the river, which provides excellent venue for evening dinner and sightseeing: Wen Gu Hotel at No. 17 (it has the largest viewing platform), Fu An Hotel at No. 22 (all the beds are 1.2 meters wide), hotels at No. 45 and No. 49, and Ju Xian Hotel at No. 50. As long as there are vacant rooms, guests usually can appoint a specific hotel at the managing desk.
Note that the star-rated hotels in Wuzhen do not necessarily mean that they are four or five star hotels. It means they are up to evant star rating standards. We recommend two such hotels.
Tong An Hotel
Tong An Hotel is the largest hotel at Xizha, with full facilities and various room types. Some standard rooms face Yuanbao Lake. The suites were built along the river with antique and elegant decoration. The 6 suites 405-410 are the most impressive because all the suites have a small balcony on the ground floor by the river.
Zhaoming Hotel is a newly opened hotel with tranquil atmosphere and verdant trees. There is only one room type – standard room, with the two beds of each room separated by wood-carved windows.
There are three boutique hotels (or club hotels) at Xizha, which are Shinetown, Splendid Clubhouse and Healtown. The rooms are mostly king-bedded. Splendid Clubhouse is the most luxurious among the three. Shinetown featured courtyards. Healtown is the lowest priced among the three.
On weekends or some major festivals, there are special buses departing from Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium at 8:00 am or Shanghai Stadium at 7:50 and 8:45 am for Wuzhen. Shanghai West Bus Station also has buses to Wuzhen.
There are regular buses running from Hangzhou East Bus Station to Wuzhen. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
Rickshaws and taxis provide transportation between tourist centers and the bus station in Wuzhen. There is a free bus from the entrance of Xi Zha (Wuzhen West) to Wuzhen Bus station. However, the distance between East Wuzhen and West Wuzhen is only one kilometer, so distances are also very walkable.