Places

The Venice of China| Xitang, China

Around August of last year, the entire family flew back to Yiwu for a cousin’s wedding. A couple weeks later, we kicked off a summer of adventure starting in Xitang, an ancient water town located in the province of Zhejiang. This scenic town is often praised for keeping much of its original style intact. (Just to give you an idea of how long its been around, mentions of the town date all the way back to at least 771 BC.)

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sunrise

You may recognize the beautiful and incredibly old town of Xitang from an unlikely source- Mission Impossible III, where the final chase scene was filmed.

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one of the many random signs

There was a huge parking lot on the outskirts of town where visitors deposited their cars for the duration of their stay. The owner of the hotel we were staying at picked us up from the gates (100 RMB to enter the village) and dropped us off for a good night’s sleep. We woke up early the next morning just in time to see the residents of Xitang along their morning routines. I highly recommend doing this as the narrow streets are packed by tourists by noon (and well into the evenings).

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an artist sketching before the crowds of tourists wake up
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one of the many beautiful and well-preserved bridges

The banks of Xitang are stacked with countless restaurants, shops, and the occasional oddity. Even though it was still early, the employees stand outside armed with menus trying to usher potential customers in with promises of the most delicious breakfast in town.

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In the morning, the tranquil waters reflected the buildings and a sense of peace. The boats drifted by while people and animals slowly fill up the streets. There are about nine different rivers intersecting throughout the town.

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cat napping in a bookstore
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the most narrow alley in the town (80 cm/31 inches)

Although you can view Xitang’s reflections in its full glory during the day, the night scene is where the vendors pull out all the stops. On every corner you can find different types of street food sizzling and old courtyards turned into bars and karaoke venues.

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xitang night

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xitang night 2

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ice cream xitang
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comically large ice cream cones

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You can also pop in one of the many mini spas for a quick “doctor fish” treatment which ran for about 10 RMB (about $1.50 USD) per half hour. It takes a few minutes to get used to the tickling feeling of these fish eating the dead skin off your feet (or hands and arms if you’re feeling brave).

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Tips for Xitang:

1. Get up early to beat the tourist rush, then explore the lesser-travelled areas of the town in the afternoon.

It is worth waking up at the crack of dawn, as Xitang consistently attracts large crowds of visitors (it is quite close to Shanghai). When the crowd does begin to descend in the late morning, you can explore the various alleys and temples.

2. Don’t go into the first restaurant that pulls you aside.

Many vendors will grab you and wave their menus promising the cheapest, yummiest food in town, but it doesn’t hurt to walk around some more to explore your options. You might like another place’s food better-  and for a better price.

3. Save your energy and stomach for late night snacking. 

Even though you’ll be hungry after a day of walking, the late night street food options are endless and the portions are small enough that you can try a little of everything- but not if you ate a huge dinner beforehand!

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