When I went to China in August, I made it a point to visit as many places as I can outside of the major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Xitang is a water town about an hour away from Shanghai, it became very famous because Mission Impossible III was filmed there! It’s also one of the more popular towns to visit due to its beautiful scenery, amazing food, vibrant nightlife, and its close proximity to Shanghai. Although Xitang is still very popular among Chinese local tourists, I did not see many foreigners when I was there. I don’t know if it’s because there isn’t enough information on this place, but I think this is definitely worth an overnight day trip if you are already in Shanghai.
What Is A Water Town?
If you have been to Venice then you know what a water town is! These towns are ancient and built on complex canal system. Due to geographical reasons, the Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai area have numerous water towns and therefore are called Venice of the East. Unfortunately they have all become extremely touristy and are not as authentic as one would like to see. But even with all the tourists and crowds, they are still cool to visit especially if you are not from China.
When To Go
Xitang is open all year round, but is the most popular in the spring because of flowers booming and the cooler weather. In the summer it’s scorching hot with high of 40C (104F). It occasionally snows in the winter, which is a sight not to be missed.
The town does not “close” but there are several attractions (museums, houses, etc) that are open between 8am to 5pm if you are interested in visiting. However, I wasn’t really interested to pay to see houses and courtyards with the crowd during the day, so I skipped all that.
Night time is actually the best time to walk around Xitang because of all the lights and lanterns. If time allows, it’s best to spend one night in Xitang and stay in a room on the water. Due to its proximity to some of the major cities, this town gets really crowded on the weekends and during Chinese national holidays. So if you are planning to visit during the weekend, make sure to book bus tickets and hotel rooms early to avoid disappointments.
How To Get To Xitang From Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou
By Bus: This is perhaps the best and easiest option to get to Xitang from major cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. There are direct buses to Xitang departing from various bus stations.
- Shanghai Long-Distance Passenger Transport South Station (长途客运南站): Accessible by Subway line 1 & 3. You can buy the tickets when arriving at the station, but it’s probably better to buy it online beforehand from www.etripchina.com. The departure time from Shanghai South Bus Station are: 6:45, 7:13, 7:43, 7:57, 8:17, 8:47, 9:27, 9:55, 10:27, 10:57, 11:23, 11:57, 12:23, 12:43, 13:43, 14:07, 15:09, 16:19. The bus ticket price is around 36 RMB one way and they will assign you a seat number on the bus. The ride takes around 1 hour. When you arrive in Xitang, the bus station is about 10 minute walk from one of the entrances into the historical center. Or you can have your hotel pick you up from the bus station.
- Shanghai Long Distance Bus Station (长途汽车客运总站): Accessible by Subway line 1, 3, 4. The departure time to Xitang are: 7:20, 8:00, 8:40, 10:10, 10:50, 12:00, 13:00, 14:10, 15:00
- There are a couple of other bus stations, but the bus to Xitang do not department as frequent, so it’s probably better to go with the two stations I listed above
- If you are coming to Xitang from Hangzhou, the bus costs between 38-42 RMB and takes 2 hours:
- Passenger Transport Central Station: 06:55, 07:45, 08:05, 09:00, 09:50, 10:05, 10:55, 11:45, 12:05, 13:10, 13:50, 14:10, 15:25, 16:05, 16:50, 18:15
- East Railway Highway Bus Station: 09:20, 11:30, 14:00, 16:00
- From Suzhou it costs around 37 RMB and takes 1.5 hour:
- Passenger Transport Station on the North Square of Suzhou Railway Station: 07:20, 08:55, 09:55, 11:00, 13:00, 14:15, 16:00, 17:30
- South Bus Station: 07:50, 09:20, 10:20, 11:25, 13:25, 14:45, 16:25, 17:55
By Car: If you have a car/ driver, then this may be the most convenient option for you. It’s about 1 hour and 10 min by car on G60 (沪昆高速) from Shanghai. Since you cannot use Google Maps in China, Baidu Map may be the best option for navigation.
By Train: Not the best way to get there as you will need to switch to bus/taxi after you get off the train.
- The high speed train leaves from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station (虹桥火车站)(accessible by Subway Line 10). Take the high speed train to Jiashan County South Station (嘉善南站). Once you get out of the train station, look for bus K222 to (西塘景区). The bus should cost about 2 RMB. See timetable below for the K222 bus from Jiashan South Station to Xitang (every 40 min, takes about half hour to get to Xitang)
1、Jiashan South Station to Xitang，7:30am to 9:30pm:
07：30，07：55，08：20，08：55，09：20，09：50，10：05，11：00，11：20，12：00，12：25，12：55，13：30，14：00，14：25，14：50，15：10，15：55，16：20，16：40，17：00，17：30，17：55，18：10，18：25，18：50，19：25，20：15，20：45，21：30，2、Xitang to Jiashan South Station，8:15am to 9:30pm:
- Or if you take the regular train to Jiashan Station (嘉善站) (this is a different station from Jiashan South Station), find Bus K210 to Xitang Station (西塘汽车站). The journey takes about 25 minutes. The last bus is around 5:30pm, after that you will need to get a taxi.
Note that there are always cars waiting outside of these train stations to take tourists to Xitang. They are not legal taxis, but rather people who use their personal car (or van) to make money. They generally get a few people to fill the car before they leave. It may sounds shady but it’s a very common practice in China.
Entrance Fee (And How To Avoid It)
As with any Chinese tourist attraction, this town is a “scenic area” so it caters almost exclusively to tourists. There are several entrance to get into the scenic area, but there are people there selling/ checking tickets. Ticket cost 100 RMB officially but they can be bought online from ctrip.com for 55RMB. Unfortunately the web page for this particular ticket on ctrip is only in Chinese. The ticket includes entrance to several “sights” in Xitang. These sites include museums, gardens, and some famous houses. I personally did not bother with any of them since I only really cared about food and walking around.
If you are staying in a hotel in Xitang, your hotel can generally get you 50% off if you ask the hotel reception desk.
Since most of the “attractions” in Xitang opens from 8am to 5pm, if you get to Xitang before 8 or after 4:30pm in the afternoon then you don’t need to pay for tickets. I got to Xitang myself around 5pm and didn’t pay a dime to get in. I also think night time is the most beautiful with all the lights and lanterns everywhere.
Where to Stay in Xitang
You can stay both inside the scenic area or right outside. It’s generally a little cheaper to stay outside and more expensive to stay in a room by the river with balcony inside the scenic area.
Rooms By The River
These are the most popular (and touristy) accommodation. They generally cost between 100-300RMB a night depending on the season and how nice the hotel is. You may also want to consider the one with wooden beds like the one in the photos below. They are supposedly the most traditional type of bed you can get versus a more modern interior.
I stayed at this hotel, but you can find a lot more on www.booking.com or www.ctrip.com
Court Yard/ Themed Hotels
There are a lot of newer hotels in Xitang that are still nice and spacious but are not by the river. If you don’t care about the river view then these are good choices and are cheaper as well.
- Xitang Zunwen Hall Boutique Hotel is a nice one with different themed rooms and very close to the river.
- Xitang Lan Ting Yi Yuan Themed Hotel is also really nice with different themed rooms.
If you are on a tight budget, there are also hostels in Xitang that offer dorm rooms for a cheaper price. I found this one while looking for accommodation, but you can find more on hostelbooker or booking.com.
What To Do
Xitang is not a big town but there are plenty to do from morning to night.
- Visit tourist sites: there are about 11 official tourist sites in the Xitang historical area. If you buy a ticket then these scenic spots should be included in the ticket price. Some of the main attractions are:
- Houses: these are houses that used to belong to either famous people or rich families that are now open to tourists
- Museums: there are a few museums that show historical crafts, wine museum, etc.
- Bridges: since it’s a water town, there are plenty of different bridges that are nice to take photos of [Free of charge]
- Corridors: Xitang is known for covered corridors by the water, so make sure to walk around these [Free of charge]
- Explore Bar Street at night: Xitang has a famous street called Bar Street (Jiubajie) that, as you may have guessed, has a lot of bars and clubs. It’s probably the loudest and most happening place in Xitang at night. I have to say it’s quite interesting to have a club in the middle of an ancient town.
- Take a boat on the canal: I wish I had a chance to do this as this looks something totally romantic and peaceful. You will have to pay separately for the boat ride and can do this both during the day and at night.
- Enjoy the sunset: Xitang is pretty at any time of the day but there is something to be said about its sunset
- Explore the streets at night: I went on a lantern hunt at night and was not disappointed!
Where & What To Eat
Xitang is known for some really local and delicious food in the region.
- Street Food: This is big in Xitang. When you walk around at night you will see all the street vendors selling all sorts of things. A few noteworthy things to eat include stinky tofu, mao tofu (similar to stinky tofu but has white thin hair on the tofu), tofu flower (silken tofu in bowl), glutinous rice dumplings, Maltose Candy (maiyatang), yellow cake, yellow rice wine, wonton, etc.
- Restaurants: while doing my research, I came across a few restaurants that are known for their local dishes, which include salt & pepper pumpkin, steamed fish, stir fry whelk with sauce.
- Laopinfang (老品芳): One of the most popular restaurants in Xitang. Address: 西塘古镇北栅街39号 [Just copy and paste the address in your Baidu Map].
- Qizhanglou (七张桌精品餐馆): 西塘风景区北栅街11号
- Xitang Mengli Shuixiang (西塘梦里水乡农家菜): 西塘镇北栅街17号
- Xitang YulouChun (西塘玉楼春饭店): 西塘古镇景区内烟雨长廊塔湾街
- If you have a chance to visit Shanghai, this town is not to be missed. People there are friendly and you can always ask younger people to help you get around! If you have never been to China and are interested to visit, don’t miss my post on how to plan your first trip to China.