Hi- we have one day allotted to tour a water town, we will be staying in Shanghai and would like to take one day to tour a watertown- please recommend which watertown and of you can a guide or tour as well. Thank you!
Jill - I will recommend visiting the city of Zhujiajiao. I visited this city a few years ago and fell in love with it. It is considered the Amsterdam of the Far East with all its canals. Some other great water towns on the list are near shanghai. They are Suzhou and lake district of Hangzhou, 45 minutes from Shanghai.
We went to Suzhou and it was beautiful. It has lovely canals, beautiful and intricate old gardens (the Yu garden was my favorite), temples, a floating market, and it has at least one remaining ancient water gate (maybe more, we only saw one). It was one of my favorite places on my trip to China.
I also recommend Zhujiajiao- i visited Suzhou and also Hangzhou. Hangzhou is great but a little further. Zhujiajiao is perfect. Also less of a tourist trap.
We went to Suzhou on our first trip to Shanghai and wish we had skipped it. From our canal boat tour, we saw garbage and slop pails being emptied into the waterways. A trip to Hangzhou on a later China trip was a total delight, beautiful city.
We went to Suzhou on a day trip from Shanghai three years ago with some colleagues from work (non of us was Chinese). We arranged a taxi from our hotel and toured it on our own. That worked well for us given we didn't necessarily want to spend a full day. Overall, like Suki, I had mixed feelings about this place. I enjoyed touring some of the gardens and seeing my first wishing tree, it is a very crowded and not the best smelling place. If you go, go in the morning when it is not as busy and then leave to go back early in the afternoon to Shanghai. That way you will see Suzhou at its best.
We made our decision on the fame of the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou, a UNESCO WHS. Even though we were with a guide, we had to walk a very long alley with, er ... ... recycling niches (!) ... along the way. So the approach to the WHS was not exactly glamorous. I don't think you have the luxury of turning up your nose (or not squeezing your nose shut) on those issues while in today's China!
I have no doubt that the other choices mentioned may have larger and perhaps more prettily situated sights. We happen to prioritize UNESCO destinations.