Zhujiajao, China’s Canal City

Zhujiajao canal boat

In the port talks on the Holland America Westerdam, the speaker mentioned Suzhou and Zhuiajiao as canal cities near Shanghai with old style Chinese architecture that are places worth going to see. We stayed in Shanghai a few days after disembarking and decided to pay a visit to Zhujiajao. It’s probably farther than we’d go on our own at a port stop when there’s limited time to get somewhere and back without getting left behind when the ship leaves port, but for pre or post cruise or if the ship overnights in Shanghai there’s plenty of time. Especially if you’re staying in Shanghai where you’re more likely to already be in town rather than having to add the time to take a shuttle from the cruise terminal into town to the travel time.

one of the temples in the Jangnan ancient city

From our hotel near the Bund we took the subway (line 2 which was green on the subway maps) from Nanjing Street to its second to last stop at Hongalao Railway Station where we changed to line 17 (brown) and rode that line to its second to last stop at Zhujiajao. From the West Nanjing Road stop it’s about an hour and 20 minutes total for both lines. The final stop for line 17 is a place called Oriental Land. The name sounds like a theme park for a place not in an Asian country, but it’s a 21 square mile park in China where people go for everything from rock climbing to aquatic activities, a global village showcasing the architecture of different countries, military exhibits, and more.

shop in the ancient village

Zhujiajao was not what I expected from the port talk on the ship or what some other former passengers we ran into at Yu Garden said. Rather than an actual functioning ancient little town out in the middle of nowhere where people live life in a quiet village along the canals, you exit the train (which is above ground rather than under at that end of the line) into a modern station next to a highway. One of the station exits is for two highways and the other a highway and a road. Not a highway seemed more likely to be the right choice, and that is the exit nearly everyone went to.

Taking a pedicab between the subway and ancient town insures you won’t get lost – and gives a local a chance to earn a little money. This one is at the ancient town.

Following the crowd we turned left when reaching the road next to the station. It ran next to a lake or river with flowers, an old bridge, and some people fishing. About a block from the station the crowd took a right turn, with most walking past the peddycabs offering tours for 150 yuan. We’d have kept going too, but one old guy said he’d take us to the ancient village for 20 yuan. He went straight down the road we’d started out on rather than following the crowd off to the right. After passing a school where some kids were doing some sort of dragon dance with a Chinese dragon of the sort seen in parades he turned to the right on a small narrow street. After a bit that street narrowed into an alleyway and he stopped and pointed to the ticket booth about 20 feet away.

shops along one of the wider streets in the Jangnan ancient town

The Jangnan Ancient Town there is a tourist attraction within a larger city, not an actual town where people live. The old buildings are mostly shops and restaurants now. It’s more of a theme park than a town since you have to pay to get in. It has more than one entrance so the crowd that went down the other street probably came in on the other side.

the boatman stands up going under a bridge, but warns passengers not to because a tall person could hit their head on some of the shorter bridges

Ticket options were for one with just the entry fee, or one that included a boat ride as well as entry to some other attractions. If you get the ticket that includes a boat ride there is only one boat dock that you can take that ride from, and it’s not a obvious one. If you want a boat ride and just buy the entry ticket you can purchase a boat ride separately at a number of much easier to find boat docks scattered throughout the ancient village. The wooden boats are poled down the canal by a boatman similar to the gondolas of Venice, but the style of the boat itself is not the same. These have a roofed area so when sitting in the front of the boat you can’t see the boatman’s head because it is above the roof and you are not.

inside the gates of a temple complex on the extra entries ticket it had a courtyard with things on display surrounded in buildings

there was a pretty elaborate display inside one of the temple buildings

If you plan to spend the day there the ticket with all the extras is good. Besides the boat ride it comes with entry to a couple temples, several art or crafts galleries and exhibitions, a Chinese pharmacy, post office, and a garden. Of course if you want to see all those things you have to find them first. They are scattered about throughout the village. The boat ride costs less with the combined ticket, but is also shorter than one purchased at one of the boat docks.

making intricate handmade giant lollipops

Most of the ancient buildings lining the sometimes quite narrow streets of the ancient village are shops. Some sell jewelry, many of which have not only pearl necklaces, but also tanks of oysters where people can try to find their own pearl. Other shops sell artwork, souvenirs, and the usual sort of trinkets found in the markets of Shanghai. A large number of the market stalls sell food. Roasted nuts and seeds are a popular thing as is meat, seafood, and sweets. There were people making handmade fancy lollipops in animal or zodiac designs there that we did not see in any of the markets we went to in other places.

restaurants with canal-view dining terraces

Besides the street type food in the markets, restaurants are an option and there are plenty to choose from. Dining near a window or on a terrace overlooking the canal is a popular thing to do. While the village has interesting old architecture, it’s not as fancy as what you can see right in Shanghai at Yu Garden (which was once a temple rather than a village) so it’s a long way to go if you are just looking for old buildings and markets. If it’s the boats, canals, and old bridges you want to see then it’s an excellent place to go.

tall covered bridge

There are a lot of bridges throughout the ancient town. Which makes sense since there are also a lot of canals. There are long bridges, short bridges, and even tall covered bridges. Some bridges are made of stone, but not all of them.

there were boat docks all around the ancient village for the rides you buy separately

We saw quite a lot of the town while hunting for the one boat dock with the pre-paid ride. We walked right by it several times without even realizing that was the dock because unless there is a boat sitting there you would never know it’s where they load them.

invisible boat dock

It’s not manned when there’s not a boat there, and just consists of a small structure on the side of the canal, not an actual dock like the ones where you buy the ride separately so it’s not very obvious that is the place to go. Once you find it the ride is fun.

long stone bridge

We didn’t use all the extra entry options on our ticket, but did go into a temple as well as the boat ride. We had lunch at one of the restaurants in the ancient town. The waitress didn’t speak English and we don’t speak any of the Chinese languages so it was pretty much point to a picture and hope for the best. She could answer standard questions that were probably more a memorized thing than an actual understanding, but had no idea what we were trying to ask when we wanted to know what the dumplings were made of – as in type of flour, not what was inside them.

family on a boat ride

Small children in China don’t wear diapers, and when they need to go the parents seem to pretty much just let them go anywhere. We saw one dad hold a little girl over the canal and throw toilet paper into the water when she was done. Then at the restaurant a mother at the next table over grabbed a garbage can for her little boy to pee in right in the middle of where people were eating even though the building next door was a bathroom. So you definitely see some things there you would never see in most countries. This was the only place we saw any of that during our stay in China, but we really didn’t see any small children in the touristy area of Shanghai where we were staying.

passing by another boat in the canal

On the subway on the way back to Shanghai when the train pulled into an empty station out in the boonies near Zhuiajiao a Chinese guy sitting across from us threw his water bottle out the door onto the empty platform when the train doors opened. You would think there would be litter everywhere with behavior like that, but these people think nothing of littering because they have people whose job it is to clean up after them like the little old man with a tiny push cart that we saw picking up garbage on the side of the road in Dalian.

canals of Zhujiajao

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
This entry was posted in China, Day Trips, Holland America, Port Cities, Port City Side Trips, Westerdam and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Zhujiajao, China’s Canal City

  1. Great tour of the area. Those giant lollipops caught my eye – unique and interesting.

  2. Cherryl says:

    Great photos, I love the canal scenes, so quaint✨

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