The many Venices of the East

The many Venices of the East
PHOTO: Shutterstock.com

Southeastern China hosts various Venices.

The waterlogged region is a patchwork of canal-laced settlements that each claim to be "the Venice of the East".

Perhaps the only way in which they exaggerate is by boasting exclusivity.

They all fit the bill.

They're places of reflection.

Visitors can contemplate the slower pace of traditional life while gazing into the mirrored images of the settlements that dance atop the waterways' ripples.

Before announcing six-day visa-free travel for foreigners transiting through China via the Yangtze River Delta starting last Saturday, the China National Tourism Administration recommended an equal number of ancient water towns.

The new rules afford time to coast, rather than rush, through these traditional communities.

Here are six water towns in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Zhouzhuang

Jiangsu's Zhouzhuang, built in 1086, claims to be the country's oldest water town.

Keeping pace with its historical feel, no motorized transport is allowed on roads or canals. Cobblestone streets are traversed by foot and rickshaw, while singing gondoliers sail beneath 14 bridges that frame the reflections cast in the water's surface.

Tongli

Tongli is flanked by five lakes that feed canals crowned by over 40 bridges.

The town flanking Jiangsu's Suzhou city, first settled in 1271, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts the Chinese Sex Museum.

The museum that moved here from Shanghai displays 1,200 artifacts dating as far back as 2000 BC. It's where ancient meets ooh-la-la.

Wuzhen

This old city in Zhejiang has the very contemporary distinction of not only having recently hosted the World Internet Conference but also, consequentially, being entirely linked to free WiFi.

In other words, you can surf the Web aboard a watercraft circumventing the 1,300-year-old settlement. That literally frees you up to post online about the experiences you'd actually enjoy if not too busy posting about them.

(Kidding. Kind of.)

Its boats also host martial arts performances. (Also worth posting.)

And it provides plenty of social media-worthy selfie backdrops with shadow puppets, Huagu Opera performances and bamboo-pole climbing.

Nanxun

Nanxun still nurtures ancient mulberry trees that feed silkworms that, in turn, feed the Zhejiang town's silk trade.

In keeping with the proclivity for European analogies, its Changhushen Channel is nicknamed the "Oriental Rhine".

Nanxun's Little Lotus Garden bobs with blooms that pop from the still waters.

Xitang

About 100 bridges dating to the two past dynasties span the waterways of Zhejiang's Xitang. Buildings between also hail from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Its tranquillity belies the fact that action-thriller Mission Impossible III shot scenes here.

Roofed corridors protect people from the precipitation that frequently soaks the streets.

Paper lanterns folded into the shapes of flowers and stars reflect from ripples at night, dancing to boatmen's songs.

Zhujiajiao

Willows frame waterways in this 1,700-year-old, fan-shaped settlement outside Shanghai.

Roughly 10,000 Ming and Qing buildings line streets connected by 36 bridges.

The local saying goes: "If you haven't seen Zhujiajiao's bridges, you haven't seen Zhujiajiao."

Fair enough.

But the same can be said of many nearby water towns.

Perhaps you could say that if you haven't seen at least one of the various Venices of the East, you haven't seen the Yangtze River Delta.

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