If you do a quick image search of “China”, you’ll come up with some pretty spectacular photos of the Great Wall, dreamy pagodas, pretty gardens and some idyllic mountain ranges … and a few shots of these out-of-this-world water towns. Here are a few of our favorites to visit!
Want to see even more of China than just a 2 week trip? Come volunteer with ILP! Here’s a free guide about what life in China is like to give you some more info.
On your trip to China, you’ve got to cram it all in and see a lot. One spot on your bucket list has to be at least one of these dreamy water towns. You’ll see ancient villages, tiled roofs and hanging red lanterns over canals. Hire a boat to take you down the middle of the rivers, or walk the streets and see them from above. They’re definitely a highlight you can’t miss … and since so many of our volunteers wanna do some major shopping in Shanghai (there is also good shopping at the Pearl Market in Beijing), we’ve picked out our favorite water towns that are right next door to Shanghai:
Tongli Water Town
This hidden gem is only a 30 minute drive from Suzhou (which you can easily reach from Shanghai by train). There are tons of little canals to check out— Tongli is actually tiny islets connected by bridges, so you’ll see canals all over. Oh, and 5 lakes surround the whole ancient town.
Zhouzhuang Water Village
Get ready to fall in love with Suzhou. You can travel to this charming Chinese city from Shanghai in just an hour or two, depending on how fast your train is. Zhouzhuang is the most famous ancient water town, and one of the most popular. Be sure to hire a ferry boat to see the town and get up early, early if you want a pretty picture of the quiet and peaceful canals.
You may even get to live in this beautiful city if you volunteer with ILP! They have a program here so many volunteers call Suzhou home for a semester.
Nanxun Ancient Town
Take a couple hours on the train and head over to Nanxun — it’s a total favorite and hidden gem (it’s lots less popular than others on this list, but it’s definitely one of the most picturesque). One thing that makes Nanxun unique is that you’ll see more locals sipping tea, playing Chinese checkers or washing clothes, instead of hordes of tourists.
Zhujiajiao Water Town
Short on time? This water town is less than an hour away from the city center of Shanghai. You’ll see lots of canals, bridges and ancient buildings before heading back to see the sites in Shanghai. Bring your camera, because this place is crazy beautiful.
Hangzhou's City Lake
Hangzhou is a bit different because you won’t see a village built on canals; but there is a gorgeous lake (West Lake) you can rent bikes to ride around and the Qiantang River that runs the outside rim of the city. Beware though; When I was with some other BYU teachers in China, we went to Hangzhou on a Chinese holiday and it was packed — like “thousands of people”, packed ! It definitely would be more enjoyable with less crowds … talk about a popular tourist attraction.
Thinking about being an international volunteer? Or teaching English to the cutie Chinese kiddos? We’ve got tons of schools you can teach at in China — plus, you’ll get vacation time to see these water towns for yourself. Get more info about this country right here: