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Escape to tranquility of old world China
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If getting caught up in the holiday frenzy of crowds and queues is not exactly your idea of a great getaway, there are plenty of destinations closer to Shanghai that offer a respite from hectic city life, writes Tabitha Ang.

In the past, Labor Day was celebrated with parades and rallies to commemorate the heroic achievements of workers and farmers worldwide.

Today, it is a heroic achievement to avoid the traveling masses or emerge unscathed from the jostling with holiday crowds at airports, railway or bus stations in Shanghai.

For many expats, their experiences at major tourist spots can often end in disappointment. Not because of the places but because they pick the wrong times to go.

Still, there is no need to compromise the desire to travel during the upcoming three-day holiday. There are many lesser-known treasures in neighboring cities that offer a respite from city life that do not involve long, expensive flights or, of course, crowds.

Moving from "modern" China to one of the few remaining pockets of "old" China requires just a single step in Tongli, in Jiangsu Province, one of the canal towns in the Yangtze River Delta just two and a half hours from Shanghai.

This ancient town is best explored on foot to experience the interlocking canals, humpbacked bridges, traditional Ming- (1368-1644) and Qing-Dynasty (1644-1911) architecture and lakes - even if you get lost.

While Tongli throngs with Chinese tourists in the main streets and on the most romantic bridges, step down an alley or into damp lanes serving the clusters of houses, and you enter a quiet, shaded world seemingly left behind by history and oblivious to the curiosity of visitors.

Windows and doors are left wide open, cooking smells waft from grimy, hole-in-the-wall kitchens, ladies' knickers hang from makeshift lines. Even the gondoliers on the waterways prefer dozing in their boats under the willows to actively plying for customers.

If walking tires you out, you can rouse the gondoliers to take you for a leisurely 30-minute boat ride along the canals through town for 60 yuan (US$8.57) to catch a number of attractions.

Visits to old homes, the temple on a small island in nearby Xiaodian Lake and the China Sex Culture Museum are a must.

The museum is located in what used to be a girls' school during the Qing Dynasty and features more than 4,000 items of erotica that serve as chronological evidence of the many different phases of China's sexual history over the past 5,000 years.

Someone once described Tongli as a place when the volume has deliberately been turned down. Despite growing tourist numbers, the architecture and tranquility of the canal town has remained intact, in stark contrast to the noisy neon brashness of other tourist hotspots.

Whether you walk or take a boat ride through this exquisite pocket of living history, the sound of bird songs will be a particularly divine experience.

For the more adventurous, a boat (180 yuan) departs regularly from the town's entrance to take people to Zhouzhuang, the largest and most famous of the canal towns. Other watertowns include Wuzhen in Zhejiang Province, Zhujiajiao in Shanghai's suburban Qingpu District, and Xitang, 110 kilometers southwest of Shanghai.

Tongli watertown

Opening hours: 7:45am-5:30pm

Admission: 80 yuan

Website: www.china-tongli.com

Popular trips out of Shanghai

Outlet shopping

Shopping at the Shanghai Outlets in Zhaoxiang town of Qingpu District is a refreshing change to city shopping with more than 240 discount stores.

Opening hours: 10am-9pm

Address: 2888 Huqingping Highway, Qingpu District

Tel: 5975-6060

Romantic country walks

Stroll through forests of lush green bamboo or frolic on the soft green grass beside the lake at Shanghai Sculpture Park on Sheshan Hill. Opening hours: 7:30am-5:30pm (East hill), 7:30am-4:30pm (West hill), 8am-6pm (Sculpture Park)

Address: Tanongkou Sheshan, Songjiang District

Admission: 30 yuan (Forest Park), 80 yuan (Sculpture Park)

Real eye-opener

China Sex Culture Museum in the peaceful countryside of Tongli, Jiangsu Province, was originally on Nanjing Road E before eventually finding a home in Tongli.

Opening hours: 7:45am-5:30pm

Admission: 20 yuan (over 18 years old only)

Website: www.chinasexmuseum.com

Other canal towns

The Shanghai Sightseeing Bus Center (Shanghai Stadium, Gate 5, 666 Tianyaoqiao Rd) provides daily tourist buses to nearby Shanghai attractions.


Location: Qingpu District

Admission: 50 yuan

Website: http://lyw.sh.gov.gov.cn/en/scenic_spot/zhujiajiao.aspx


Location: Jiashan City, Zhejiang Province, just outside Shanghai

Admission: 30 yuan

Website: www.xitang.com.cn


Location: Jiangsu Province

Admission: 45 yuan

Website: www.zhouzhuang.net


Location: northern Zhejiang Province, not far from the border of Jiangsu Province

Admission: 60 yuan

Website: www.wuzhen.com.cn

(Shanghai Daily April 25, 2008)

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