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Gliding down canals and savoring slow-paced days

THE beautifully preserved and restored watertown of Wuzhen is typical of canal towns in Jiangnan, the region south of the lower reaches of Yangtze River, and it has earned the nation's highest tourism rating.

The entire area - warm, humid, sunny and rich in produce - is a land of plenty, known as the country's "Land of Fish, Rice and Silk" for its fabled foods and industrious silkworms.

Their cocoons were turned into silk that traveled up the Grand Canal to Beijing and clothed China's richest and most noble.

Just one and a half hours' drive from Shanghai, Wuzhen is a charming latticework of waterways within the city limits of Tongxiang in Zhejiang Province.

It lights up at night, with restaurants, clubs, cafes, traditional inns and hotels where you can recover from a night out on the watertown.

Performances of traditional music, dance and demonstrations of folk arts enliven the night.

The 70-square-kilometer town is divided into four sectors by waterways and the Grand Canal runs through it.

Wuzhen is the only ancient watertown on the canal.

Its East Zone and West Zone have been restored. The eastern sector was among the first group of attractions awarded China's highest tourism rating when it opened in 2001.

The cuisine is delicate and rich in a variety of superb fresh vegetables, fish, crustaceans, clams and other water dwellers.

Seven thousand years ago in the New Stone Age, people were living around what is now the protected Tanjiawan archeological site.

The town was established in 872 AD.

Its location on China's arterial Grand Canal, the waterway linking Beijing and Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province, has contributed to its splendid culture and for more than 1,000 years people have maintained their traditional way of life.

The traditional stone architecture is well preserved and can be seen on both sides of a dense network of canals with many bridges. For centuries people have built houses along the waterways and established markets near unique arched bridges.

Streets are still paved in flagstone.

There are imposing stone dwellings with spacious courtyards and verandas on the canals. The scene retains much of the original "ecology" of man in harmony with nature.

The town's major tourist attractions are the East Zone and the West Zone. Reconstruction of the East Zone began in 1999 and the area opened to the public in 2001.

It features many examples of folk culture, including shadow play and the Hundred Beds Museum displaying beds and sleeping chambers typical of the Jiangnan area.

Residents still live peacefully in their restored houses.

The West Zone is comprised of 12 little isles, connected by 72 stone bridges of different styles. A boat is necessary for sightseeing.

After the restored East Zone became popular, reconstruction and preservation of the West Zone began in 2003, costing about 1 billion yuan (US$146.6 million).

Tourists can not only enjoy folk culture but also spend the night in traditional restored inns, or modern hotels, some very luxurious.

Actually, the best time to visit the West Zone is at night. There are strings of colorful lights and lanterns everywhere, reflected in the canals.

There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs, as well as accommodation to suit every budget. Because of the multiple places to spend the night, Wuzhen is considered the "last resting-on-water town in China."


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