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If you're a Chinese film buff, you may have already seen a bit of Tongli (Tónglǐ, 同里)—it's a popular spot for shooting historical scenes. Some 18 km (11mi) to the southeast of Suzhou and 80 km (50 mi) west of Shanghai, Tongli is one of the best preserved of Jiangsu Province's old Yangtze River Delta water towns, featuring an assortment of Ming and Qing Dynasty houses situated amidst a network of canals spanned by 49 classic Chinese bridges.

Charming scenes abound: willows reflect in waters plied by sampans. Whitewashed walls and black-tiled roofs with graceful upturned eaves shelter elderly couples lingering over tea. Temples and gardens emerge from the mist or glow in the sun, adorned with wood carvings of figures from classical Chinese literature and folklore. Tongli is understandably popular with tour groups, so if you'd like to take in the scenery with a minimum of fellow tourists crowding the picture, come on a weekday or in the off season.

An RMB 100 fee gets you into the old town and most of Tongli's attractions, including the UNESCO heritage site garden, Garden of Retreat and Reflection (Tuisi Yuan), the Ming-era Gengle Hall, Luoxing Islet (Luóxīng Zhōu, 罗星洲) and its temples, as well as other notable attractions. Admission to the Chinese Sex Museum is an additional RMB 20. An easy day trip from Shanghai or Suzhou, Tongli also makes for a pleasant overnight destination—the town empties of tour groups in the evening, making for peaceful strolls and pretty views of lights reflecting off the surface of the canals, and there are a number of charming guest houses offering affordable Tongli accommodations.

Jiangsu guide | Tongli attractions | Tongli flights (Shanghai)
Tongli hotels | Tongli on the China Travel Blog


Consisting of seven islets separated by 15 canals situated near Tai Hu (Tai Lake), Tongli, established in the Song Dynasty, has a history of over 1,000 years—fortunately, a relatively calm one, leaving us with excellent examples of classical Chinese architecture. Most of the historical buildings date from the late Ming and Qing dynasties. The town was opened to foreign visitors in 1986 and since then has accommodated itself well to the tourist trade.


Spring and fall are the best times to visit Tongli, with moderate rains and temperatures making for pleasant outdoor weather. April and May see high temperatures in the mid-teens and 20sºC (60s-70sºF) and moderate precipitation. September is nice and October is brilliant, with little rain and highs ranging from 15-24ºC (70-84ºF). Summers are hot and muggy, with August highs reaching well into the 30sºC (90sºF), and winters chilly and damp, with lows occasionally dipping below freezing. If you're lucky, you can catch the town after a fresh snowfall—the dark waters of the canals and branches of the willows stand out against the snow, adding charm to an already quaint and beautiful scene.

Jiangsu guide | Tongli attractions | Tongli flights (Shanghai)
Tongli hotels | Tongli on the China Travel Blog