One of the best alternative places to visit in China: Xitang
Having lived in Hangzhou, China for a year, I felt like I should make the most of the opportunity and consider some more places to visit in China. I decided to take some trips to some towns and villages nearby – some which aren’t as widely visited by foreign tourists. I heard about a “town upon the water” and felt compelled to see this for myself. Welcome to Xitang.
Xitang is an incredibly old town said to find its roots around 771-476 BC! It was only a couple of hours drive from my home in Hangzhou and the perfect weekend stay in the traditional and still relatively unchanged town. My expectations were not high but the hotel came with a Windows PC and huge double bed.
I think my work colleagues gave me the largest room out of sheer politeness (not that I would have minded a smaller room!)
We arrived quite late at night. The atmosphere was lively (in a good way) and it just oozed friendliness and it felt as though you were encouraged to have fun and enjoy everything the town had to offer. It wasn’t overrun with artificial lighting, allowing yourself to get lost in the town’s flavour and air of tradition; for a brief few days, you forget the world outside and are sucked into the hubbub of Xitang.
Food was our next step and we enjoyed a feast of frogs legs, white bait and mounds of Chinese finger-foods after which we had a slow walk around the local area and then settled on a cosy bar. Despite being all too aware of our early start in the morning, we thought it would be a great idea to play “Liar’s Dice” with the loser taking a shot of Tequila each time – as you can imagine, this soon became a long night and we all left nursing our heads and feeling apprehensive about the early-rise.
Good Morning Xitang
Xitang was transformed by the time we woke up – albeit a little later than we initially planned to. The previously partially-filled town was now heaving with visitors which seemed set to burst with the tiny, narrow streets throughout.
There are in fact 9 rivers which slice through Xitang all of which add to its’ charm. Despite the growing number of tourists, the town has done its’ best to cling to tradition. Of course, there are the ubiquitous souvenir shops selling all number of cheap hand-made goods but my confidence was restored when, glancing down from one of the many bridges, I noticed an old Chinese fisherman working side-by-side with his Cormorants collecting fish. For starters, I was really interested in watching this as I had only ever seen this practice before on the TV but secondly, it was fantastic to find that a town which could easily become overrun and lose its’ heritage had managed to cling on to some old traditions.
From every angle to town looked amazing. I walked all day and I spent the whole mesmerised with the beauty at every turn. I sat at the river’s edge and ate my breakfast Congee, saying nothing, but just enjoying the quiet-corner I had found allowing myself to absorb the scenery and vibe from the otherwise sleepy town – just watching a resident painting by the water was a joy.
The central areas were filled to the brim yet you could turn one corner and have the world to yourself.
I’d be foolish not to talk about some of the shops around town. Some people will of course object to tourism “ruining” previously untouched and traditional places but the residents were nothing but happy to see you. They were thrilled when you enter their shops and speak to them, the smiles and their inclination to help you in any way possible shone through. An old married couple serving hot soups, tiny shops selling hand-made toys and a shop plastered in hand-written post-it notes from visitors all over the world really made each store worth entering.
This town was never even on my radar before I moved to Hangzhou and I love the fact that the first time I heard about it was the day before I arrived there – it certainly isn’t one of the most common places to visit in China, especially for foreign tourists. It had so much charm and character and despite it being so busy at times, it still managed to retain a privacy and opportunities for time to stand still momentarily.
We walked ourselves into the ground that day and clambered aboard the bus gratefully when we had finished. Most of us fell asleep on the drive back hoping to recover in time for Monday morning where reality would be back in full-flow.
A beautiful small town in Jiashan County, Xitang was an amazing aside from normal life and surely one of the nicer alternative places to visit in China.