It doesn’t matter what time of the year that you travel to China in; you will always see amazing things on your China tour. However, if your China vacation, should fall in the autumn and your China trip includes Beijing; you might want to consider doing some of these activities.
Get Out of Beijing and Head to the Hills
Fragrant Hills is a lovely park that lies about 25 kilometers outside of the city of Beijing. It’s a popular vacation destination in China and no matter what time of year you visit the country; it’s very much worth a trip to see. The big advantage of visiting in autumn is to see China turn red. All the leaves on the trees begin to change color and become a fantastic shade of burning russet. They provide a wonderful contrast as you travel round the pagodas, lakes, etc. of the park itself. It’s China at its loveliest.
Get Some Exercise
If your take your China tour in the summer; it’s too hot to do anything strenuous. In the winter; Beijing’s pretty cold and you need too many layers to travel about doing outdoor exercise. So it’s best to visit China in the autumn if you want your vacation to involved doing something physical. We like the Touchstone Climbing Wall over in the Ritan Park. It’s an incredibly challenging climb but, unusually for China, there’s plenty of safety equipment available and instructors to ensure that you have fun without breaking any bones. If that’s not your cup of tea – head out of the city and try some nature hiking; the weather’s perfect for it.
One of the joys of China’s food culture is that it depends on fresh, seasonal produce. It’s only recently that refrigeration and freezing have become economic for the masses and they still don’t really trust those functions too much. Take a walk down the hutongs (the ancient laneways of Beijing) or through any market or shopping area and you’ll encounter a host of street food vendors making the most of the autumnal produce.
Baked (well, technically roasted in a steel drum of coal) sweet potatoes are a huge hit at this time of the year – they cost next to nothing and make for a warming, filling snack. Hot chestnuts are also popular and while it’s not quite Christmas (so there’s no obligation to sing Nat King Cole) they are absolutely delicious.
Go to The Football
Are you missing the excitement of the World Cup? Recreate it in miniature and go and see a local soccer team in action. Football is starting to become a serious sport in China and soccer is evolving on similar lines to the United States. The technical skill isn’t quite there yet but matches are raucous and entertaining. The local fans are proud to support their squad and will be only too pleased to welcome you to the supporters section of the ground. It’s a great day out for the whole family.
After a long hard day's tour of the sights in Shanghai, China – you'll want to kick off your shoes and perhaps relax with a drink. China's not always the best place to travel to for bars but Shanghai is an exception to that rule. If your China vacation is coming to Shanghai then you might want to take a trip to any of these (they're among China's best bars):
Drunk Uncle (Changhua Lu)
You take a trip to China and where do you want to drink? If the answer to that question wasn't; “A Japanese bar!” we understand. Yet, Drunk Uncle is a Japanese Bar and it is quite brilliant. They're not patriotic about their beer and they serve imported brews from across the globe. The music on the jukebox is always very Western friendly and most importantly of all – it looks and feels like a Japanese place would in Japan. It's a great place to spend an evening on your China vacation.
Constellation 4 (Zizhong Lu)
Constellation 4 is also a Japanese bar but it's on the other end of the market. If you like to travel in style – there's no better place in China to have an exquisitely prepared cocktail. You may not be aware of it but the other thing Japan is really good at is whiskey. You certainly won't find a finer selection of Japanese Whiskeys anywhere on your China tour than in Constellation 4.
1515 West (Shangri-La Hotel, Yanan Zhong Lu)
A trip to a hotel bar in China might not sound all that wonderful but the Shangri La's 1515 West is simply incredible. It looks like something lifted straight out of The Untouchables. This is ridiculously classy place and a must see venue on your China vacation. We recommend settling into one of the comfy leather chairs and sipping on the house specialty Old Fashioned.
Burdigala 2 (Jiashan Lu)
When it comes to wine there's no nation with as rich a heritage as France. This superb French-style café wine bar is the best in Shanghai. Ask the staff to walk you through the wine list and pair it with some of their delicious food offerings. Then raise a glass to your surroundings and indulge in some sneaky people watching. This place is strictly for those in the know in Shanghai.
Tattoo Family (And Bar) (Xiangyang Nan Lu)
Drinks in a tattoo parlour? Yes. This was once just a tattoo parlour and if you do decide to get inked – try and do it before you've had a drink – tattooing decisions made under the influence are almost always bad decisions. The bar is great, it has a homely feel to it and their cocktail list is quite unique. And of course it's a tattoo parlour so the music is American and European rock all night long.
Loco (Wulumuqi Nan Lu)
We finish with the Spanish Bar in the French Concession that has become one of the most popular watering holes in Shanghai. Tapas, gin cocktails and atmosphere – you'll find it all here.
October, is one of the best times to travel to Shanghai, China. It’s when China’s second city comes alive with music festivals and whatever your preference you should be able to find it when your tour arrives in the city. China vacations always offer the opportunity to do something new and if your China trip is in October – here are some of the festivals you ought to check out.
Budweiser Storm Music Festival
You travel all the way from America to China but you don’t have to give up completely on your music culture if you don’t want to. This year if your China vacation is in October – you’ll be able to catch bands like Mansun and Busy P rubbing shoulders with loads of local talent. The festival is held at multiple venues around the city and events will be well-publicized online and in the local press. This is the second time the Budweiser Storm Music Festival has been held and it looks like it will become an annual event.
Zhujiajiao Watertown Music Festival
Not everyone wants modern pop music and if you prefer folk and world music – you’ll need to take a trip to China’s Zhujiajiao Watertown this October. Incredibly, given the fact that the festival consists of plenty of international performers as well as a complete tour of the best of China’s native folk scene – the tickets are free! (You can grab them on the festival’s Sina-Weibo homepage).
The JZ Festival 2014
The best-established music festival in Shanghai is back. This is its tenth anniversary so be prepared for some great acts. The line-up hasn’t been confirmed but think jazz, funk and house and you’re unlikely to be disappointed. You will need to buy tickets in advance but this being China you won’t need to book too long before you travel – tickets go on sale a week or two before the festival at the most.
Taihu Midi Folk and World Music Festival
Perhaps the most family-oriented festival of them all the Taihu festival is very much for chilling rather than out and out raving. You will find lots of Chinese folk music on offer here and in general that’s the focus of things. However, rumor has it that one of Beijing’s most popular rock outfits will be headlining to shake things up a bit. The festival is held in a Chinese country garden.
World Music Shanghai
This festival is held all over Shanghai and there’s something for everyone on the line up. The Mongolian throat singers are always very popular – so if you want tickets, book them online and early. Artists from all over the world make the trip to China for this and while they may not be “big names” in the traditional sense – they’re all extremely well established in their home nations.
Shanghai Jazz Week
A very laid back and refined affair the Shanghai Jazz Week showcases an individual jazz performer every night of the week. There are also going to be some daytime acts but there’s no indication of when these performances will be announced yet.
Shanghai, is one of the best destinations on a China tour. If your China vacation leads you there – you’ll be in the world’s most populous city and that means there are plenty of options for things to see on your China trip. Before you travel to China’s second city – here’s a list of 6 things that everyone should do when they visit Shanghai:
The Shanghai Urban Planning Centre
This may not be the first thing that comes to mind for your China tour – after all it sounds a bit dull doesn’t it? However, there’s an incredible scale model of Shanghai that brings people from all over China to see it and you should include it on your trip too. It’s amazingly detailed and something you can’t see anywhere else.
Dongtai Lu Antiques Market
You may never find an antique if you travel out to China’s Dontai Lu Antiques Market but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make space for it in your vacation plans. You will not find a better collection of kitsch Chinese stuff anywhere in China or indeed the world. You want to hone your haggling skills before you go to get the best stuff at the best price.
Wherever you travel in Shanghai you can find access to China’s favourite pastime – the KTV. KTV is short for karaoke television and while English isn’t that common in China (as you’ll see during your trip) there’s always a few English songs on the playlist. Go for the atmosphere and the chance to rub shoulders with happy locals.
Shanghai People’s Park
Sometimes it’s nice to escape the urban and get back in touch with nature. Shanghai’s People’s Park is one of the nicest places to do just that in the city. There are plenty of green spaces to check out in the city but this one is quite lovely. If you keep a careful watch; you may be able to see one of China’s modern matchmaking services taking place in the area. Look out for temporary boards covered in photographs and surrounded by middle-aged and elderly people – they’re all seeking to marry of their sons and daughters. It can be quite entertaining.
Shanghai World Financial Centre
We’re not for one minute expecting you to get excited about banking. The reason to head here is that there’s a quite excellent observation deck at the top with one of the best views of the city. We’d recommend you go early as it can get a little crowded during the middle of the day.
Shanghai Wen Miao
Here’s something that most people won’t ever see in the West – a Confucian Temple. Confucius was China’s original wise man and his sayings and strictly defined social hierarchy underpin everything in the nation today. There’s a delightful garden here filled with Chinese bonsai trees and it’s surprisingly peaceful and calm given its location in the Old Town. There’s an orchestra that occasionally uses the grounds for outdoor rehearsal so keep an ear out for some classical Chinese music too.
Beijing, the capital of China, is beguiling and intriguing in equal measure. It’s often the pinnacle destination of a China tour with its rich history and as the center of a nation emerging as a global power on the world stage. If your China vacation is passing through Beijing you may want to take a little side trip to one of China’s more interesting museums. Here are some museums we think you should consider before you travel to Beijing:
The Ancient Architecture Museum (Dongjing Jie)
The setting for this museum is one of the finest in China. As you’ll see on your tour – it’s a converted and restored Ming Dynasty temple. The grounds are exemplary and perfect for a little vacation stroll following a trip round the exhibits inside. If you’re fascinated by Eastern design or just want to see how architecture evolved in China – this is the place to do it. Like many museums in China the written components haven’t been translated into English but there is an audio tour that can be rented which is in English.
The Bee Museum (Beijing Botanical Gardens)
The Bee Museum is one of our favorite places in China. You don’t travel to the Bee Museum for the museum itself, though it is perhaps the most informative collection of information about honey bees in the world. You take a trip to the Bee Museum so that you can take a tour of the gardens which are among the loveliest in China.
The Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (Qianmen Dong Dajie)
Want to see China in miniature? This is as close as it gets. The focus is mainly on Beijing past and present but there are other parts of China covered occasionally too. Given that architectural models could be as dull as watching paint dry – the museum has gone all out to make the experience fun. It’s full of interactive material based around the latest technologies. It’s actually a great place to take children because of that.
The China Aviation Museum (Changping District)
Where else in the world can you climb aboard the founder of a nation’s personal biplane? Nowhere. In the China Aviation Museum you can see Mao’s personal plane (at a cost of $2 or 10 RMB). This is a wonderful exhibit of old Soviet planes in an aircraft hangar carved into the side of a mountain. Former service men should be warned that some of the exhibits include the names of downed American pilots and perhaps might be better off giving this a miss if it’s likely to cause distress.
China Printing Museum (Xinghua Bei Lu)
The China Printing Museum is very much an effort of love. This is a print enthusiast’s dream rather than a big professional production. It’s endearing for that. If you like to see Mandarin characters in a range of fonts and production types this is the place to do it. It’s probably not the best place for children as there’s not much in the way of interactivity.
You'll choose your China vacation because of the history, culture and experiences that travel in China offers. However, when your China tour reaches Beijing it's quite likely that a shopping trip will become part of your China plans. There are plenty of bargains and interesting purchases to be found in the capital. Let's take a look at two local markets you might want to include in your travel plans:
Maliandao Tea Market (Dongdaqiao Lu)
China is the world's biggest product of tea and it's only natural to want to try and but some during your vacation in China. One of the biggest and best markets in China for tea is the Maliandao Tea Market. Take a trip on Line 1 East on the Metro and get off at Yonganli to find it.
It's a huge sprawling modern market that covers a large space with three floors to explore – so don't rush your purchasing decisions. It's certainly one of the lowest priced places to buy tea during your China tour and you'll want to haggle wherever you travel in the market to get the best price. There is a lot of choice here. Tea is brought from all over China, from each and every province to be sold to discerning buyers. You'll find that many vendors understand this and will be happy to brew a cup or two for a reasonable price (unlike some of the other tourist spots in China where a cup of tea can be incredibly expensive and without warning).
The rarest teas do cost a lot of money but $4 (20 RMB) will secure you a good bag of mid-grade tea to take home from your vacation to share with the folks who couldn't come with you.
Silk Street Market (Gongti Bei Lu)
Silk Street Market is near the Tuanjiehu Station on Line 10 of the metro. As the name suggests one of the major products of the market is silk and if you explore the 3rd floor you'll find more silk than you could have believed. If you want a dress or a shirt made – there are tailors available to measure and fit you and there are several that offer a quick turnaround time so that you can be certain that you'll be able to take your purchase home with you. There's also a lot of modern art, counterfeit art, and fake clothing in the rest of the building. It's easy to get lost in Silk Street Market for hours. Once again, you should haggle vigorously to get the best bargains. It's perfectly reasonable to expect to pay around 30-50% of the opening offer from a vendor. Just keep the haggling good natured and be prepared to walk away if you can't get a price that suits you.
If you go a little further up inside you'll find a whole floor of accessories; watch out for the pearls – they're excellent and excellent value for money too. Bracelets and necklaces can be bespoke and turned around quickly – so if you've always wanted to design your own jewelry this is your chance.
Beijing's the capital city of China. Even the mention of the name makes people want to book a vacation in China and tour this exotic location. There are plenty of good reasons for making a trip to Beijing part of your China travel itinerary including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Another good reason to go is that Beijing has some of the best night life in China. Now, you may not always want to be outside when you have a drink but there are some great outdoor bars in Beijing when the mood catches you.
Great Leap Brewing (Xinxhongjie)
Beer can be a touchy subject during a China trip. A lot of the massed produced beers aren’t all that great and after a hard day’s tour of the sights – you want a good beer sometimes. Great Leap Brewing is one of China’s first microbreweries and they’ve pulled together a pleasant outdoor area in Xingzhongjie for you to sample them in. It’s such a popular place that it’s worth booking in advance if you really want an outdoor table; particularly in peak times.
This bar is in one of Beijing’s less explored hutongs (the ancient alley ways that are slowly being destroyed to make way for modern China) and that makes that a great reason to have a glass of wine here during your vacation. If you travel to China in a few years’ time; it may be very difficult to find a hutong worth seeing at all. This is a warm, welcoming place with a very hip feel to it. Prices are reasonable for China but don’t expect a bargain – bottles of wine start at around 300 RMB ($50) and go steeply up from there.
The Big Smoke (Xingfucun Zhong)
Want a taste of home during your China vacation? You could do worse than head to the Big Smoke; it’s a very American-style bar (for people who haven’t actually seen much of America at least). The outdoor area has a very pleasant café style to it and that makes it a good place for a drink during the day. The food is excellent and very reasonably priced considering it’s in the ultimate tourist bar district of Sanlitun. Think the best burgers you can get on a tour of China and you won’t be far wrong.
Fez (Sanlitun Bei)
If you’re looking for something a little more quirky; what could be quirky than a Moroccan themed bar in China? They have a fantastic rooftop outdoor area with touches of North Africa and Arabia aplenty. Their cocktails are famed throughout the city and given that a good cocktail is hard to find somedays in China – that makes this a must do destination if you want to go somewhere to be seen. It’s a good idea to dress up a little for Fez; it’s an upmarket place that attracts an upmarket clientele though this being China – there’s no official dress code. There’s also a nice view of the city from the roof.
Suzhou is one of those incredible China vacation destinations that you will never forget. This charming garden city near Shanghai is a China tour favourite. China travel is never complete without investigating the local food and when your China trip reaches Suzhou – you’ll want to check out some of these local restaurants:
Du Yue Lou Restaurant (Taijian Lane)
The Du Yue Lou restaurant has been favourite in China for over 400 years! It was built during the reign of the Emperor Jiajiang (back in the Ming Dynasty). It’s worth a trip because of the attention paid to local cuisine here. The menu, in rather typical style as you’ll discover on your China vacation, has over 300 dishes and the vast majority originate locally. The “squirrel shaped fish” is a must mainly so you can see what all the fuss is about and we very much like the Du Yue Spring Chicken too.
Xiche Restaurant (Phoenix Street)
Xiche’s also been around for a long time though not quite as long as the Du Yue Lou. It’s very authentically China in terms of the décor and that might make a tour of the menu worthwhile in its own right. The emphasis is once again on local cuisine and the house special fried shrimp are exquisite. We also found that the wait staff here are among the more switched on members of the profession in China and they won’t make you wait for an hour to be served after you travel to the restaurant.
Songhelu Restaurant (Taijian Lane)
The Songhelu claims to have been in situ for approximately 2,000 years. We think this is a show of face to outdo its neighbour the Du Yue Lou and not to be taken factually. If it is true – it will be the oldest restaurant you eat in during your entire China vacation. Whether the age claims are true the food here is excellent. This is something that the Qing Emperor Qianlong thought too whenever he popped in to the Songhelu when he was passing through Suzhou. Go for the sweet and sour fish or perhaps the braised eel.
Beimen Restaurant (Suhui Road)
The Beimen is rather good but it’s for the more adventurous eater; if you go pale at the thought of consuming offal – it’s best you leave this out of your China tour itinerary. The lung and intestine soup is very, very good but it is lung and intestines. They do offer a range of less disturbing dishes but the house special does set the tone for the best food in Beimen.
Guanyu Chi (Shizi Street)
Guanyu Chi is all about home cooking and there’s a certain “living room” feel to the place. It’s incredibly good value too and you’ll eat the cheapest meal in Suzhou if you go. The braised pork belly in soy sauce is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. There’s also a strange special in the form of tofu which has been boiled in a paper bag suspended over an open flame. It tastes good but watching it cook makes you want to hose it down with a fire extinguisher just in case.
If you're not including a Yangtze River Cruise on your China tour itinerary; don't despair when your China trip reaches Shanghai you could always travel a short distance from the city and grab a taste of Yangtze life on your China vacation anyway. Zhenjiang is about a 90 minute trip on the train from Shanghai and it's right next to the Yangtze.
Zhenjiang is a mid-tier Chinese city and would probably never attract any foreign visitors if it wasn't for the fact that Pearl Buck (the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize Winner) was born here. The other main attraction is the Jiaoshan Park a scenic spot which also offers a cute island in the center of the Yangtze River. It's not quite on a par with the majestic scenery offered on a Yangtze River Cruise but it's good enough if you're not seeing that part of China by boat.
Jiaoshan Park's the main reason people come to Zhenjiang; so it will be easy to grab a taxi from the railway station. Entry to the park is reasonably priced at 50 RMB (that's about $10) though it's quite expensive for China as a whole and that does keep visitor volumes down to reasonable numbers except at peak vacation times.
You can have a mini-Yangtze River Cruise by renting a boat from the park offices and then taking a trip round the canal system that surrounds the central island. Once you've spent half an hour enjoying the water – it's time to visit the Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda.
This is part of China's recent history. The hill it resides on was used to defend Shanghai during the Opium Wars. It didn't stop the British from conquering that part of China but fortunately the pagoda is still in working order. It's a nice if not spectacular example of a Chinese pagoda but the real reason for your visit is to drink in the breathtaking views from the hillside. One way offers a superlative river life scene and the other gives a fantastic view over the city of Zhenjiang itself.
If Pearl Buck's your kind of writer then their childhood home is open to visitors. You can find it on Runzhoushan Lu (you might want to ask someone to write that down in Chinese characters before you visit Zhenjiang) and for a mere 5 RMB (around $1) you can take a wander through the home. It's not the most informative of sites but it's always nice to see how someone's environment might turn them into a literary great later on down the line.
Then finish up your visit to Zhenjiang with a wander round the Xijin Ancient Street there's a lot of “walled city” appeal to this city block and the architecture is said to have begun in the Tang Dynasty period. It's way off the beaten path and you are likely to be the only foreigners exploring there. There's also the remnants of the British consulate her which now houses the city's museum.
Shanghai's a must see city on a China tour. It's the world's biggest city (in terms of population) and as you might expect that gives you plenty of variety to experience on your China vacation. Travel in China often focuses on the ancient but we'd encourage you go give the China Art Palace space on your trip itinerary. It's the latest reinvention of the China Pavilion and we think it's worth a go.
Book in Advance
You may want to ask your China tour guide for help with this – the China Art Palace is absolutely free to enjoy but you must have a ticket reserved. The website is not very friendly to non-Chinese speakers so if you are going to make the trip; it's best to get some assistance getting the tickets.
The good news is that travel to the exhibition is very easy indeed; just go to the China Art Palace stop on Line 8 of the Shanghai Metro.
Make it Easy on Yourself
There's a lot of walking to be done in the China Art Palace. The exhibition fills over 150,000 square meters of space. It's mainly modern art with the occasional nod to Chinese classics. You don't want to expend more energy than necessary on your vacation so before you start your tour of the building; take an elevator to the top floor and walk downhill to each of the floors below (rather than walking up from the bottom).
The top floor is dedicated to modern art in Shanghai and you can see the effect that French influences had on China's art scene clearly in the exhibits. There's also an animated scroll painting that was once the top exhibit at the Shanghai World Expo.
Check Out The Best Exhibits
Our favorites include the Shanghai Film Animation Studio which focuses on the animation arts of China from the 1950s up to the 1990s. You may find some of this material a little confusing as the cultural references aren't always obvious but we think that's part of the joy of a vacation; the alien-nature of some ideas makes it that more interesting. There are also some rather odd propaganda posters and drawings on the same floor.
There's also a bunch of touring exhibitions held within the museum and these are drawn from top collections from around the world. If you've ever wanted to visit the London Museum or the Rijksmuseum and have never had the chance; you can enjoy a little slice of their collections in China instead.
Once you go below these exhibits the collection at the China Art Palace is much more hit and miss. The neo-socialist works commemorating the propaganda and hurts of times gone by are interesting but not unmissable. They have the kind of bleak “go China!' style that probably only really works for the locals.
The Chinese Ethnic Art section appears to be somewhat misleading. The majority of works are depictions of ethnic minorities by Han Chinese artists. They're not bad just not what you might be expecting either.
If your China tour is visiting the garden city of Suzhou you may be able to squeeze in a short side trip to Taihu. Taihu's a lovely place and one of the quieter tourist spots in China; that means you don't need to spend your whole China vacation sharing the beauty of China with a million locals (which is nice most of the time but getting a little space can be nice too). You only have to travel a short distance from Suzhou to reach Taihu and it's very much worth it. Here's what you can find in Taihu:
The Guangfu Temple
The Guangfu Temple is as old as the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou and though it's not built on such a grand scale it's very much worth taking a tour of the grounds. It's one of China's working temples and as such you can meet monks who live and work there (unlike at Hanshan Temple). Make sure you visit the Buddha of Mercy; it's a 1,000 year old copper cast of the Buddha. It was brought to the temple during the Song Dynasty. It's not the biggest statue you'll see on your China trip but it's pretty impressive all the same.
Make sure you take the time to travel up the hill behind the temple too. You'll get on the best views in China here – there's an islet on the river that's absolutely lovely and in the opposite direction you can see the whole of Taihu.
Taihu Boat Street
It's said that Taihu has the best seafood in China. It's certainly one of the best places to eat seafood in China during your vacation. Take a trip to Taihu Boat Street and there are 10 floating restaurants to choose from. All the food here is reasonably priced and it's one of the most authentic ways to dine in China. Big tables, lots of dishes, and a generally agreeable hubbub of locals having fun.
Yungfeng Buddhist Temple
This is another working temple and great way to see how religious life in China really works. It's very much off the beaten path and you're likely to be the only tourists visiting it. The monks are very friendly and open with visitors (and if you're lucky they may invite you to play pool with them on the temple's pool table!). It's also a very spiritual place and you'll find it a tranquil and moving experience.
Technically, Chongshan's another town in its own right but it's a short trip from Taihu on foot to get to Chongshan. They specialize in making Buddhas in Chongshan. Each and every factory makes nothing but wooden Buddhas. You'll see more Buddha figures in Chongshan that you can see anywhere else in the world in one place. You can wander round and watch the craftsmen at work; or even rent (you don't buy a Buddha, you “rent” one because it would be disrespectful to sell a Buddha but don't worry you don't have to pay any more rent or return the Buddha that you choose) a Buddha to take home with you.
Your China vacation will provide you with plenty of perfect memories of travel in China. One of the most beautiful places you can include on your China tour is Suzhou a city of immaculate gardens, temples and ancient sites. If you want to get a little more out of your China trip we've put together a list of interesting things to in Suzhou that not every tourist gets to do.
Picnic at Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill is the “number 1” scenic area in Suzhou. A trip to Tiger Hill is near mandatory but if you reach the “leaning tower of Suzhou” (that's China's answer to the leaning tower of Pisa) which is a pagoda that's over a millennium old and tilts at a somewhat drastic angle compared to vertical – you can head to the left and follow the canal the surrounds the park. Keep walking until your reach the waterfall and you'll find yourself in a magical bamboo forest (with almost no crowds) where you can have a lovely picnic (you'll need to take your own food and drink for this). It's the sort of place that everyone wants to see on a tour of China but very few actually do.
Become a Campanologist at Hanshan Temple
A campanologist, in case you didn't know, is someone who rings bells. Hanshan Temple is Suzhou is home to a lot of bells and they were cast at various periods throughout China's history. If you do decide to make Hanshan Temple part of your vacation; please ask before you ring the bells – it's not always appropriate to do so. The sounds a quite lovely and they symbolize communication between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Once, you've done in the temple travel across the park outside and grab a cup of tea in the Hanshan Teahouse and if you're lucky you can also appreciate some of China's famous opera at the same time. There are regular performances here.
Go Green in Panmen
Panmen was originally a Buddhist temple but its popularity meant that the area around it was tended carefully and it's now very close to a park. It's home to several historical sights but the best part of a trip to Panmen is the grounds themselves; they're rich, lush and quite lovely. Look for the exit at the rear of the park through the wall and you can discover an old moat and an arch bridge – this is the China of your dreams.
See Surging Waves Garden
The whole point of visiting Suzhou on your China tour is to see the gardens and given that there are a lot to choose from – it can be hard working out which ones to visit. We like Surging Waves which is one of the biggest gardens in Suzhou and the fish pond there is the nicest of them all. It's not a focal piece for the garden and that means it's much easier to enjoy for the aquatic life.
A China vacation is full of pleasant surprises but there are very few places on a China tour itinerary as pleasant as Tongli. People travel to China from all over the world to enjoy this ancient canal city and it's always worth the trip. This is the China of yesteryear, fast disappearing as the nation rushes to modernize. If you have a vision of how you'd like China's towns to be; Tongli is probably that vision. Once you've spent a day wandering the streets and canals; you'll probably want to grab a bite to eat; here's our guide to the best places to eat in Tongli.
Wadisu Street Snacks
While you're taking a tour of Tongli there will be plenty of restaurants and cafes vying for your attention. However, if you want a snack rather than a sit down meal these little pancakes are perfect. They're also incredibly cheap (a stack will set you back 50 cents or so). You can find vendors nearly everywhere you travel in the city.
There are other options from street vendors if you want something a little more substantial; check out the jiaoze (steamed dumplings – filled with pork and various vegetables) or the xialong bao (steamed soup dumplings – be warned the contents are liquid fire to begin with for these dumplings it's best to let them cool a little before digging in, you don't want to visit one of China's hospitals for third degree burns to the mouth on your trip do you?).
Hengu Futang Genhe Lodge (Shiquan Lu)
If you'd like something more substantial then you might want to try one of China's other delicacies at the Hengu Futang Genhe Lodge. The pork knuckle here is about the best in China. It's served on a bed of greens that makes it a healthier option than it might first appear too. The place itself is part hotel, part restaurant and is pleasantly decorated to add a “China” vibe to the proceedings (rather than the ubiquitous plastic chairs elsewhere in town). This is a great port of call if your vacation takes you to Tongli.
Fuxing Guqin Huigan Teahouse (Pingjiang Lu)
You can't take a tour of China and not spend some time in a teahouse. Given that Tongli is such a wonderful setting, you might want to make your trip to a teahouse here. Better still if you visit the Fuxing Guqin Huigan teahouse you can also take in China's operatic arts as part of the experience. There are performances twice a day in the late afternoon and late evening. It's very much worth paying the $15 minimum cover charge for.
Jenny's (Bar District A-7)
Why not finish up a day in Tongli relaxing over a Chinese beer? Jenny's is a great place to do this and if you're in town on a Saturday night you can catch the fireworks display on the waterfront from Jenny's without having to move or pay an entry fee. Don't forget to take stroll along the water to end the evening.