The pulse of Shanghai is electrifying, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the cosmopolitan city with an easy weekend getaway for a different type of Chinese experience. Here are five nearby destinations that offer a variety of options to get out and experience other parts of China.
Xitang Ancient Water Town
Tucked into the region of China known as the “Venice of the East,” Xitang is one of the so-called water towns, built around a complex series of canals. The region is filled with thousands of years of history — Xitang dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period of 770 BC to 476 BC, and the Warring States Period of 476 BC to 221 BC — even today, locals and visitors get around by hand-controlled boats.
Xitang is a bit rare among water towns, in that it does have langpeng, or covered corridors, so that it’s possible to walk along the canals, and admire the arching bridges (of which there’s 104!) and historic buildings of this charming town.
Of course, you can’t help but slow down here, and experience a sense of peace away from the bustle of Shanghai, as you watch fishing boats gently glide past and soak in the traditions and history.
Unwind in the tranquility of Chongming Island. (Photo: Getty Images)
Formed by sediment deposit from the Yangtze River, Chongming is a continuously growing island and the second-largest island in mainland China. Originally two separate shoals, nowadays it is home to a plethora of natural flora and fauna, as well as protected wetlands and nature reserves.
Two of the more popular are Xisha Wetland Park, which houses the Dongtan Migratory Bird Reserve (best visited June through September) and Dongping National Forest Park, the largest manmade forest in East China, which boasts activities like paintball, horseback riding, rafting and even a driving range.
To relax and explore, check into the Sheraton Shanghai Chongming Hotel, which not only offers calming pool and spa services after a long day out, but also bicycle rentals for those who want to get out and see more.
A mere 30-minute train ride away, this “smaller,” canal-riddled city will give visitors a glimpse into a more traditional-style Chinese village, with all the amenities one could desire.
From riding a rickshaw through the streets to taking a motorboat down the Ancient Canal, there are plenty of ways to see the local sites of the city.
Not to be missed are at least one of the traditional Chinese gardens known as the Suzhou Great Four Gardens (all of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites). They include: the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden, the Garden of the Master of the Nets, and the Lion Forest Garden.
For those with a little more time, take a side trip from Suzhou to one of the nearby water towns: Zhouzhuang, Tongli and Nanxun, all of which can be explored in less than a day.
Escape into China’s Bamboo Sea, part of Anji county, home to the largest variety of bamboo in China and also the backdrop for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
First settled in the 1800s by missionaries looking to escape humid Shanghai summers, Moganshan has hosted all manner of Chinese travelers. Nowadays, it provides city dwellers with an easy escape for hiking, swimming in local water reserves and other adventurous activities.
Accessible by private car or a train and taxi from Shanghai, this natural playground is most popular during summer months, when everything from horseback riding to holistic retreats are in full swing. A trip to Discovery Adventures Moganshan Park will put outdoor skills to the test, with an adventure training program that includes challenge courses, zip lines, adventure trekking and even hot air balloon rides.
Cruising in or out of the city? Baoshan district is situated in the north of Shanghai, right along the Huangpu River, and although recognized as an industrial sector, it’s also home to the Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal.
For those itching to get their fill of green space, there are also parks aplenty, most notably the Wusongkou Paotaiwan Forest Marsh Park, which has woodland walkways, ponds and even a shoreline boardwalk.
Visitors looking for a landing point will find the Delta Hotels Shanghai Baoshan the perfect place to unwind after (or before) setting sail.