On our final day in Suzhou, we day-tripped to Zhouzhuang, a small town about 40 km southeast of Suzhou. Zhouzhuang calls itself the first water town of China and the old town is full of traditional old buildings fronting on to picturesque canals. Like Venice, the old town is a pedestrian-only area full of narrow winding streets and graceful bridges, and the canals are filled with gondola-like boats and Chinese gondoliers.
Zhouzhuang is a huge tourist attraction to the Chinese who come here to shop, take gondola rides, tour the ancient buildings and eat the local cuisine which heavily favours seafood, smoked ham hocks (or "hooves" as referred to on menus) and the local "Yellow Peeper" frogs. We actually sat down at one restaurant which had an extensive English menu and could not come up with one dish that we wanted to order!
One of the pitfalls of travelling is that we routinely lose track of what day of the week it is and as such, ended up in Zhouzhuang on a Saturday. It looked a bit like the Richmond Costco on a Saturday afternoon -- in other words, it was wall-to-wall people! Crossing the bridges was hazardous because of all of the people trying to take pictures of their companions draped decorously across the stonework. Touring the fabulous 500 year old houses was an exercise in pushing and shoving as the flag-and-bullhorn tour groups wedged their way into the courtyards. A ride on the gondola down the canals was a welcome respite from the crowds; our gondolier -- a middle-aged Chinese woman -- took a tea break and sat with us to sing some traditional folk songs while a friend took the oar.
It was an interesting, chaotic and jumbled day. I wonder what it would have been like on a Tuesday??????????