If you’re tried of the bright lights of Shanghai or Suzhou, you should definitely head to Tongli. It’s one the region’s ‘canal towns’. Just a short bus ride from either city. Make sure you don’t pay a cab to drive you from the bus station to the old town…just turn right. We, on the other hand, got off the bus looking very confused about which way to go, there was no map or sign! The cabbies noticed our look of distress and offered us a ride to the old town for 10 Yuan, which wasn’t so bad since we shared with a Spanish traveler we met at the Suzhou station. All was fine until we left the old town and tired to get a cab back to the bus station, because the ride on the first cab seemed pretty long and we were tired, not wanting to walk. This cabbie looked confused, pointed behind us, but the language barrier caused him to pull a u-turn, and boom, we’re at the bus station! It was right there! The first cabbie just drove us all around the city before dropping us off at the old town. The second cabbie was nice enough to shoo us out of the cab without paying the 8 Yuan start of trip fee. It was really just something to laugh about, since this was the only scam we got in China, and only 5 yuan the worse, it wasn’t so bad!
But back to why you should visit Tongli.
A local on the not-so-pristine canals
People actually live here! They all looked a little worse for wear. Little shack houses, canal-washed laundry hanging out right beside the meat hung to dry. Plus it’s full of historic homes, gardens and art. I really enjoy the old residences of government officials or army personnel. They’re full of open buildings, winding hallways and random gardens. Lots of rooms for receiving company and meditating by the pools. I can only imagine how their lives must have been. Very full of ceremony (and cold, due to the lack of walls/doors!).
1001 Buddhas! (I'm the one) in the Shanghai Museum
Ni hao! (that’s hello in Mandarin, FYI)
So really loving Shanghai so far. Yesterday was a bit rough finding our way to the couch surfers. We managed to get here 5 hours after our flight landed. Note to travelers: double check the address with your couch surfer. One digit wrong and you can drive around for hours! Luckily the cabbies here are amazing! Plus more than one random person on the street saw our confused looks and gave us a hand, either translating, telling the cabbie where to take us, or letting us use their cell phones. Thank you people of Shanghai.
So if you ever come to Shanghai, the people here are really quite helpful. But, cars don’t actually yield to pedestrians, walking sign or not! We’ve gotten the hang of it pretty quickly, it’s almost an art form, and would be beautiful except for the constant horns. Our hosts have told us there’s basically no crime either. It is pretty smelly, but there’s people cleaning the streets everywhere so at least it looks clean (whether it is or not, well that’s another topic).
Also, when traveling with a lot of luggage like we are, make sure you have wheels on your luggage. Lesson learned the hard way. Will be buying wheely luggage before I leave Shanghai. Don’t make my mistake! Your arms will thank you.
And my final note, couch surfers are awesome. Ours have been so helpful and really a delight to hang out with. Give them a try on your next trip!
Looking to travel? About to book at hotel room? STOP. Are you aware of couch surfing?
I’ve been a couch surfer since May. My roommate and I hosted people from all over the world! Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, California and Oregon. And they were all lovely.
How it works: You create a profile on couchsurfing.com, giving details about you, your views on life, interests, and much much more. If you’re looking for couch, you just search the area you’re going to and you get a list of surfers. You read the profiles, look at references left by other surfers and email them asking if you can stay there.
It’s a great way to travel on a budget, get great local advise, and meet some really great people. There’s also a lot more you can do with the couch surfing network. There are regular get-togethers of couch surfers in your area, common interest groups, you can search for travel companions and just meet great people.
There’s definitely a degree of trust required. There are processes on the site to verify people are who they say they are and you can see what others have said about them. Give it a try! It’s been very rewarding experience for me as a host and I’m about to get my first experiense as a surfer when I travel to China. I’ll let you know how it goes!