For the in-the-know travelers, Jiangnan’s famous water towns including Wuzhen and Zhouzhuang are too commercial, with rows of identical new stores and being packed with visitors. Fortunately, given China’s sheer size, it is not difficult to find other hidden towns and villages, as beautiful and cultural as Wuzhen, but more authentic and peaceful.
Anchang Town (安昌古镇)
Location: northwest of Heqiao District, Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province, and connected with Xiaoshan District of Hangzhou
Anchang Town was initially built in North Song Dynasty (960 – 1127), but almost destroyed in the years of wars. Later in Ming and Qing Dynasty, it was reconstructed with a layout in the classical Jiangnan water town style. The 1747-meter-long main street was built along the river, and divides the town into two parts, the residential area and the commercial area, which are connected by dozens of small bridges. In the twelfth month of the lunar year, every family will make sausages. Numerous homemade sausages are hung over the windows, corridors and pavilions, resembling rows of heavy curtains.
Gulao Water Town (古劳水乡)
Location: Northwest of Heshan City, Guangdong Province
The laid-back town of Gulao is of wetland ecosystem by covering 9.5-square-kilometer fishponds and parcels of cultivation land. Over the past 600 years, hundreds of rivers and fishponds have stretched and crisscrossed, resembling a huge spiderweb. For those seeking the poetic sentiment, the town looks like a rural landscape painting and an ‘Oriental Venice’. Sculling boat is the most common means of transportation here, and takes people to the separated villages and farmland, passing by century-old banyan trees and ancient bridges.
Chaji Ancient Town (查济古村落)
Location: TaohuaTan Town, Jing Country, Xuancheng City, Anhui Province
A primitive, less-visited Huizhou style old town at the foot of Yellow Mountain, Chaji (Cha Chi) has the largest collection of preserved ancient dwelling houses in China. There are still more than 140 ancient architectures tracing back to Yuan, Ming or Qing Dynasty (1271 – 1912), including over 40 old bridges, 30 ancestral halls and 5 temples and monasteries. Better yet, Chaji is much more peaceful than Hongcun Village or Xidi Village, without tourist crowds, even in peak tourist season.
Pianyan Town (偏岩古镇)
Location: Northeast Beibei District, Chongqing
Built during the reign of Qianlong Emperor (1711 – 1799) in Qing Dynasty, Pianyan was an important commercial town on Ancient Huaying Road. The dwelling houses, long slate-paved streets, markets, tea houses, stilted buildings over Heishui Tan River are wonderful reminders of what Pianyan Town was. Chongqing people enjoy many different ways to have fun in the river: fishing, swimming, and even having dinner and playing mahjong on the water.
Jinxi Old Town (锦溪古镇)
Location: Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province
Jinxi is embraced by lakes, with Shen River running through the town. Legend has that it was the burial place of the most favored wife of Emperor Songxiaozong (1127 – 1194). Its 36 ancient bridges of different designs, quaint courtyards and corridors make the scenery beautiful, serene and charming. Shiyan Bridge (Ten Eyes Bridge) is the most famous and beautiful bridge.
Minghe Ancient Town (鸣鹤古镇)
Location: Southeast Cixi Country, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province
The town has a history of over 1200 years, but most of the buildings were constructed during Ming and Qing Dynasties, including seven ancient bridges. Join the locals to visit the local markets, which appeared in Song Dynasty. You may get lost in time when stepping into the oldest shops.
Fengjian Water Town (逢简水乡)
Location: Xingtan Town, Shunde District, Foshan City, Guangdong Province
Fengjian Water Town has a history going back nearly 2,300 years. Arrange yourself a boat trip to find out a wealth of historical and cultural sites. For foodies, don’t miss the local dishes of Canton Shunde Cuisine, including the ‘fish banquet’. To visit a cultural place like Fengjian Town, you’re suggested to make the trip at a traditional holiday, for instance, the Dragon Boat Festival, to experience the unique happy Chinese festival atmosphere.