Places in China: Tongli

A while back a couple of my friends and I went for a one-day trip to Tongli (同里) – a town located in Wujiang District of Suzhou city, Jiangsu Province. It is an old town, supposedly one of the six most famous old towns of Jiangnan.

The name “Jiangnan” denotes areas south of Yangtze River which include southern parts of Jiangsu Province and Anhui Province, and eastern parts of Zhejiang Province. Tongli is one of many historic old towns in Jiangsu and was first built during Song dynasty (960-1279). Throughout history, it served as different administrative units, finally to be incorporated in Suzhou city at the end of 20thcentury.

Also, Suzhou is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Jiangsu and it’s famous for its canals; however, even though you can see some in the center, there are more canals to be admired on the outskirts. Tongli is located around 20 km from the city center. Last year, I also went to another old town of Suzhou known for its canals, called Zhouzhuang (maybe I will describe it in the future). Today I wanted to show you some pictures from our visit to Tongli.

Suzhou lies close to Yangtze River Delta (from the northeast) and Lake Tai (from the west). And in the past, people living in the city used this to their advantage. They dug a network of canals, providing the water for a large area of the city, thus allowing for the development of farming and trade. This is the reason why there are so many canals (and bridges) in Suzhou.

We went there on a Tuesday right before May Day (1st of May is a public holiday in China) and it was a really good decision – there were very few people. I suspect that on a holiday or on a weekend the place would be extremely crowded. To get there, we took a fast train to Suzhou (arriving at Suzhou Railway Station, 苏州站 Suzhou zhan, from Nanjing it takes 1.5 hours) early in the morning.

Then, we took underground (line 4) from the train station to the stop called Tongli (同里站 Tongli zhan) and we walked from there, on the buying some breakfast. To be honest, I don’t like to ride subway for such a long time, it’s kind of boring because the whole time is spent underground and there’s not much to see outside, which is why I prefer buses. Good thing that I was with my friends so we could chat. There is a bus going directly to Tongli from Suzhou North Bus Station (苏州汽车客运北站 Suzhou bei qichezhan) which is right next to Suzhou Railway Station, however it departs only now and then – for example, when we went to ask about it, we would’ve had to wait for one hour – and the same amount of time allowed us to just get to Tongli by subway. Also, the subway is very cheap, only a few RMB.

The price ticket to the area is 100 RMB for a full ticket and 50 RMB for a discounted one.

When we reached Tongli, we just started walking around and admiring the architecture and the canals. The day was quite humid and almost rainy, there wasn’t much sunlight.t’s a classic weather in the Jiangnan area.

There are some snacks characteristic to this area (although I didn’t try them this time): qing tuanzi (青团子), I guess you could call it a kind of dumpling) made of rice flour and Chinese mugwort and with peanuts or sesame paste inside; and wadisu (袜底酥), a type of crispy bread made of wheat flour and fried in pig fat.

During the stay you can find a place to relax, such as a tea shop, or ride a boat on the canal. You can also have a rest in a teashop or a restaurant on the side of canals. Also, in places like that, you can usually see some examples of traditional Chinese architecture and go inside some houses that are well-preserved and open to the public (the same as it was in Wuhu). Some of them were really big and impressive residences. On some buildings, there were plates informing the visitors their age and history. In Tongli, many of the houses were built during the period of the Chinese Republic (1912-1949).

The entrance ticket allows you to visit other places, not only the old town. We had a little bit more time so we went to check out Luoxing Islet – located on Tongli Lake, east of the main area of the old town. You can walk up to the lake bank and ride a ferry to the islet. On the islet, there are some paths to walk on around the islet, a Buddhist temple, and some pavilions.

Location of the islet with respect to the old town area

All in all, I think it was nice to see some of the representative Jiangnan architecture with its canals and walk for a bit away from the hustle and bustle of a big city (again, it probably would have looked completely different on a holiday). If you don’t mind the price of the ticket, then it’s a nice place to visit.

Admission: 100 yuan full ticket, 50 yuan discounted ticket
How to get there: train to Suzhou Railway Station (苏州站), then subway line 4 to Tongli station (同里站)