Wuzhen (烏鎮) is a quaint, historic town situated about an hour’s drive (80 kilometres) from Hangzhou. It lies within the triangle of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, which are the three largest cities in central-east China and are the most-popular places to check out, given that each point is no more than a two-hour’s drive from each another. That said, Wuzhen makes for an ideal day trip from Hangzhou, and it’s a great town to discover the smaller, civilian life away from the big cities.
The town is famous for its picturesque canals, which has historically been nicknamed as the “Venice of the East” (a title also shared with Suzhou, its larger cousin). However, it has also been interestingly nicknamed the “Internet Town,” for it’s the headquarters of the World Internet Conference (WIC) that has annually taken place since 2014. The conference discusses the country’s cyber issues and policy, and overall, it really is a fascinating contrast of Wuzhen’s two nicknames– one being culturally-historical and the other modern-tech. All the same, the town embraces them!
My family and I only one night in Wuzhen, but it was a solid amount of time to explore two museums, enjoy a few local dishes, and stroll the tranquil canals– although the town wasn’t tranquil with the many tourists milling about! In fact, it’s reputed that over seven million visitors come every year, and as a result, the small town gets inundated with bodies that can be easily overwhelming. Not the best way to experience a quaint area, but you do what you have to do to make your visit worthwhile…
We had just spent an intense two days hiking in Huangshan when we headed to Wuzhen. It took over three hours to get there, and we soon enough reached the waterfront town. After parking the car and paying admission into the quarters, we began our visit that very same day.
It’s important to note that, despite being a small town of 60,000 inhabitants, Wuzhen is still divided into two notable tourist sectors (East and West Area), as well as six districts within: workshop, culture, dwelling, food and beverage, shops, and life/customs. The East Area is tourist-packed, with most of the museums, food, and shops located there, whereas the West Area is a lot more tranquil, with less visitors and more of where the inhabitants reside– the latter is especially great for a quiet stroll along the canals, to get away from the bustle on the other side of town.
We began our visit with our first of two museums we would check out while in Wuzhen. It was at the Beizha (“North”) Silk Factory, where we toured the still-operating mill as we witnessed and learned about the art of silk manufacturing, which is interestingly called “sericulture.” We saw the silkworms being harvested to produce silk cocoons, which are then boiled and extracted to create the actual fabric to be spun and produced into items like clothes, pillows, even tapestries.
It was fascinating to examine the hard work put into making a single strand (which requires up to eight cocoons), let alone over 5000 cocoons to make just one kilogram’s worth of silk. But despite the labor, it yields an extremely-resilient fabric: it might appear thin and fragile, but in fact can be stretched as far as you can go without breakage. In addition, its texture is light and breathable, which makes it the ideal choice for making clothes to withstand the oftentimes unbearable summer heat in China. That said, there are plenty of advantages to silk, whether it’s for durable or convenience.
We had an early dinner of sorts following our visit of the Beizha Silk Factory. It was at a two-story restaurant by the waterfront, where we enjoyed a few plates of local, Wuzhen cuisine. Much of the food is centered on fish and rice, although there’s the occasional red meat for a cold winter’s day. The meal was enjoyable, and I admit that I’d gotten a bit too carried away with how good everything was, but I do not regret having a lovely dinner in Wuzhen, especially by the waterfront.
Just before heading to our hotel for the night, we checked out one of the “Bridge within a Bridge.” There are two of these bridges in Wuzhen, and the curve of their structures are meant to evoke a full moon, as the water is supposed to reflect the bottom half of the arch. It was already fairly dark when we arrived at the bridge, so we weren’t able to see the reflection clearly, but it was still a beautiful view. It was a great way to end our first day in Wuzhen, before we would see more the following day…
It was an early rise the next day as my family and I decided to take a brief stroll along the canals near our hotel, before the tour that day. The scenery of the water, bridges, and narrow walkways were all serene, and it was a refreshing view of Wuzhen before it would be overwhelmed with tourists later in the day.
Later, we met up with our guide to begin the second half of our tour. This time, we headed to our second museum, which was about the history of Chinese foot binding. Up until 1949, foot binding had been a notable tradition, especially among girls as young as five years old. They were subjected to intense, painful rituals of bandaging, as means of preventing their feet from growing– as a result, these girls grew up unable to walk. Having small feet was considered a sign of wealth and beauty in traditional Chinese culture, and it was shocking for me to peer at the museum’s exhibition of slippers and shoes as small as an infants, when in fact they were meant for adult women.
Following our visit of the museum, we concluded our time in Wuzhen and got ready to head to our next destination in China. Although our time in the small, canal town was brief, I thought it was incredibly picturesque, and I really appreciated just how beautiful it was at every turn along the way. Should you have the time to make a day trip from Hangzhou, I would highly encourage it!
The final installment of my trip to China will come soon. Stay tuned!