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Jiangsu province: the top destinations off the beaten path

Jiangsu is famous for the Grand Canal and it’s also known throughout China for its beautiful water towns. Don’t miss this post if you are planning a trip to this province.

wuxi jiangsu

I recently had the chance to join a trip arranged by Ctrip and Visitjiangsu in Jiangsu province in China. This was an absolute first time for me. I’ve spent most of my time in China visiting remote areas such as Yunnan and Guizhou and for this reason, I actually never visited places with a rich cultural Han history dating back to the old dynasties. That’s why I was more than happy to explore this province.

If you are interested in the Han dynasty, don’t miss my guide to Xuzhou and Suqian also in Jiangsu.

Interesting facts about Jiangsu province

things to do and to see in jiangsu

I know that not everyone is familiar with China so these are some fast facts about Jiangsu province:

  • The name Jiangsu 江苏 derives from two city names of the province, Jiangning 江宁 (Nanjing) and Suzhou 苏州.
  • Jiangsu is the most densely populated and agriculturally productive region in China.
  • There are about 74.28 million people living in this province whose size is similar to Iceland (about 1/3 of the size of Italy).
  • During the Nanjing massacre (which occurred over a period of six weeks starting on December 13, 1937) soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants who numbered an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000, and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.
  • It’s capital, Nanjing, was the southern capital of China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and the capital under the Nationalist government (1928–49).
  • Nanjing has been developed into an industrial center, producing petrochemicals, motor vehicles, machinery, and construction materials.
  • Jiangsu province it’s easily accessible since it takes less than two hours by train to get there from Shanghai.

Since Jiangsu has been at the center of Chinese history for a very long time you can imagine that it’s the perfect place to learn more about Chinese culture. Despite the fact that it’s a quite popular attraction, there are several gems that are still untouched by mass tourism. These are some of them. Get there before they become too crowded!

The top destinations off the beaten path in Jiangsu province

These are the main attractions to see if you are planning a visit to this nice and interesting province in China.

Dangkou town (荡口)

dangkou old town

There are several water towns in Jiangsu. The most famous is definitely Suzhou, but the advantage of Dangkou is that is not too crowded, despite being very beautiful. Located just about 20 Km from Wuxi, it’s easily accessible. The canals are wide enough to be explored by boat and it’s the perfect place to relax since there are never too many tourists. Dangkou is not too big so it takes about 3/4 hours to explore it all and is a nice one-day trip to arrange if you are based in Wuxi.

The Qingming bridge and the Grand Canal(清名桥) in Wuxi

qingming bridge

I’m afraid to admit that I’m quite ignorant about Chinese history and I didn’t know anything at all about the Grand Canal. I guessed (from its name) that it was a quite big canal but I didn’t realize that it’s actually the biggest man-made canal in the world! Shame on me. 🙂 Here’s a quick summary from Wikipedia for you:

The Grand Canal, known to the Chinese as the Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal (Jīng-Háng Dà Yùnhé), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest as well as one of the oldest canal or artificial river in the world and a famous tourist destination.[1] Starting at Beijing, it passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang to the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC, but the various sections were first connected during the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD). The Yuan and Ming dynasties significantly rebuilt the canal and altered its route to supply their capital Beijing.
The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi).
Wikipedia

Wikipedia

The Grand Canal passes through Wuxi and it’s especially beautiful to photograph after sunset during the blue hour.

Lake Tai (太湖)

what to do injiangsu

Lake Tai or Lake Taihu (Chinese: 太湖) is a freshwater lake in Wuxi. With an area of 2,250 square kilometers and an average depth of 2 meters, it is the third-largest freshwater lake in China, after Poyang and Dongting. You can walk and relax around this lake and even enjoy the opera onboard one of the boats on the lake.

Huishan ancient town (惠山古镇)

xihui park

The Huishan ancient town is another hidden gem in Jiangsu. It’s a fairly small old town but it’s definitely worth a visit. You’ll see local people relaxing along the small canal, playing cards, or just chatting. It’s not very big (the reserve area of Huishan Ancient Town is about 1.03 square kilometers, stretching 1.7 kilometers from east to west) but it’s perfect if you are tired and you want to rest a bit.

Clay figurines museum in Wuxi (泥人博物馆)

clay museum

If you are interested in Chinese culture this museum it’s worth a visit. You’ll see how ancient and modern artists used clay to create unique Chinese pieces of art. Clay figurines are very common in Chinese culture and I was very happy to see a museum dedicated to this interesting form of art.

Nanjing (南京)

nanjing walls

Nanjing is not the typical modern Chinese city. It was the capital of China for several centuries and as you can expect there are a lot of historical attractions. There are so many things to see and to do that I’ll write a future post talking in detail about Nanjing – Edit: Here’s the post: The 7 Best Tourist Attractions in Nanjing China. For a quick reference some of the main attractions include:

1- the city walls (didn’t know that Nanjing’s walls are the longest in the world: about 33 Km originally and about 21 Km still standing today).
2- Nanjing’s eye (a bridge with interesting architecture) and Nanjing’s twin towers. Worth a visit only if you like modern architecture.
3- the Nanjing Grand Theater. One word: impressive! It’s the biggest opera house in Asia and one of the biggest in the world. The total size is 209,000 square meters (can you imagine that?!) and the floor is covered with Dali marble.
4- Lao Men Dong (老门东) is the old district of Nanjing. People from this district are really proud to be born there. It’s not a big area but it’s a nice place to relax. If you get there look for the library. The interiors are stunning. It’s about 400 years old.
5- Grand Baoen Temple. The museum in this park it’s definitely one of the most eye-catching I have ever seen. The museum has different sections some about ancient China and some modern. The result is impressive.

Qin hu wet land national park (溱湖国家湿地公园) in Taizhou

qinhu

I like spending time in nature and as you can imagine provinces developed like Jiangsu don’t have a lot of wild places. Qin hu wetland is a nice exception. The area is fairly big and you need to take the small ferry to get to the wetland. There are about 100 species of animals in the park, most of whom are birds, but you can also find the Père David’s deer also known as Milu. Interestingly I talked about this species of deer in another article.

Daohe ancient street area (稻河古街区)

dao he

Taizhou is one of those cities that nobody has ever heard of, yet it counts about 5 million people and there are several very interesting attractions. One of them is the Daohe ancient street area. Like for the Grand Canal in Wuxi, the perfect time to get lost in this nice area is late afternoon, just in time to enjoy the sunset and the blue hour. Sadly very few people, including Chinese people, know about Daohe and most probably you’ll be the only tourists there. Yet It was a very nice surprise during my trip.

A night cruise on the Phoenix river aka Fengcheng (凤城河)

Supposedly shaped like a phoenix (you would be surprised to see how many rocks, rivers, mountains, and pretty much everything in China is shaped like Dragons, Phoenixes, Turtles, and other mystical creatures). The highlight of the night cruise is when the boat stops in front of the several pavilions to listen to the performances of the singers who are dressed in costumes. It was actually the first time for me to see something like this.

Final considerations

visit jiangsu

Jiangsu province is a great destination for people that visit China for the first time. A lot of people speak English and the destinations are not too difficult to reach. I know that China is a difficult country to travel to if you don’t speak Chinese but the advantage is that people are generally friendly and ready to help. Granted, language is often a barrier but it’s easily overcome using hand gestures and specific apps that can help you to translate.

If you need to book hotels and trains the best option is Trip.com.

The other recommendation that I often suggest to people traveling to China is to book a tour with a local travel agency. This way you won’t have to worry too much about logistics and language. It’s definitely more expensive than doing all by yourself but it’s also much easier.

These were just some of the things that Jiangsu province has to offer. Have you ever been there? What were your favorite attractions? Let me know with a comment.

If you are planning a trip to China don’t miss my complete travel guide.

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