Tongli (or Tong Li) is an old but well preserved water town with a history of more than 1,000 years. Located on the eastern shore of Taihu Lake, about 2 hours via bus from Shanghai. The popular section includes forty-nine stone bridges in a variety of styles that join seven islands created by fifteen rivers and five lakes. It’s touristy, but fun.
J. booked combined bus/entrance tickets at a kiosk under Shanghai Stadium for 160RMB($23) each. The ticket was good for round trip bus fare and entrance to all the exhibits at the town. On Sunday, we woke early, walked to the subway and rode two stops to the stadium. Buses were lined up in the parking area on the southwestern side. It was a popular day to travel, and the place was bustling.
Our bus left promptly at 9AM and traveled for two hours outside of town. The scenery quickly changed from megalopolis to canals, farmland, random industry. The area outside of Shanghai was in full bloom with vibrant yellow flowers. Lots of people were fishing from sludgy water. The ride there was quick, and the bus dropped us off on a random street. J. and I were confused as to where to go, so we followed the locals from our bus to the gate of tourist town proper. We had until 4PM to explore. The bus back was leaving from somewhere, hopefully the same place it dropped us off.
The buses waiting at Shanghai Stadium.
Navigating the bus maze to find our ride.
A sea of yellow flowers.
River with fish pens.
Main walkway towards the Tongli entrance gates.
Shoes drying on a phone booth.
One of many stone bridges.
Canal and homes.
Drinks stored inside an old doorway.
Banana stalks in cart.
Three elders on a roof.
Window inside a courtyard.
Decorative woodwork on the second floor of an old courtyard house.
A canal with boats.
Stone fence along the canal.
Large birds tied to a boat for no apparent reason.
Plants in a tray.
Fishing net drying on a roof.
Many layers of brick, paint and plaster.
Clothes drying inside the courtyard of a family home.
Narrow stone lane.
Rusted window bars.
Smelly tofu left on a garbage can.
A mountain in a tray.
Hundreds of thin slices of rock were on display. They were the work of an eccentric collector who grouped them into various themes. They all looked like rocks to me. The panels took up all the rooms of a large courtyard building, though the lighting was like a morgue.
Cherry tree and old tile roofs, a winning combo.
The key to the city.
Blossoms and bridge.
Swarms of koi.
Vibrant blue flowers.
Colorful woman discusses life with old drunkard.
Lady walking along the canal.
Likely, nonfunctional bike.
J. and a lane.
Shoes drying in the sun.
Sheets dangling over the canal.
Ladies washing pots in the water.
Freshly plucked chicken feathers.
Eggs for sale.
A man with a net skims trash from the canal.
Towering walls, narrow path.
The boat dispatchers have two hot jars of tea.
Molasses tasting taffy.
Sunday crowds inside the main gate.
Lady waits for her sugar cane to gnaw on.
The sun sets over the water.
We spent most of the day wandering the canals, sitting on stone benches and watching people. The weather was perfect, though the air was dirty.
Most of the food being sold didn’t look very appetizing: little dry breads, eggs, snails, fish, candy, and the ever popular deep fried tofu with smelly dipping sauce. We spent the day watching pots and pans getting washed in the same canal that fish pooped in, clothes were washed in, people spat and threw garbage into. Before long, a vendor dipped a basket of tofu into the murky water before drying it up. No thanks. Luckily we brought snacks.
We ate our apples and nuts along the canal.
Tongli was crowded but surprisingly quaint. Off the main streets that sold identical souvenirs and food, the town was real. Old ladies sat outside, did laundry, plucked the feathers from chickens. Kids played with balls and bikes. Old men sat around smoking cigarettes over serious card games and dominoes.
I’m not sure what all the Chinese tourists were there for, but for me these little real details were the main attraction.