There is an ancient water town called Xitang, half an hour by train from Shanghai. This water village became famous when Tom Cruise shot Mission Impossible III here. It would be wise to watch the movie first to make your strolling exciting. I haven’t watched it yet, to be honest. However, someone told me that you can see the town towards the end of the movie. It shouldn’t be hard to identify it.
The water village is not really that big. But it’s worth enough to satisfy your curiosity about what was life like centuries ago. I recommend that you stroll the village before the ticket booth opens. Go into narrow lanes and see what you can find at the end of it. Prepare to be surprised by what you can see in a traditional courtyard house. I saw a chicken, an old woman washing her clothes and a kid playing with his grandfather. It might not be a spectacular find, but what do you expect in an ancient village? The simplicity of life is a refreshing sight for those of us who are used to the hustle and bustle of the city.
Take your time in the village. Sit on one of the benches by the canals. Observe life as it passes you. If your budget allows you, take the boat tour. The beauty of the ancient houses as your boat traverses the canal will absolutely charm you. How romantic will it be if you are with your lover, eh?! It may not be the Grand Canal in Venice, but the experience would be closer to that.
I found a cheap hostel just outside the ancient village – Xitang Hotel. It’s only a minute or two to the entrance. It is clean and though the staff can’t speak English, they have a very reliable translator app. There are also shops and restaurants in the surrounding area. You can book it via Booking, TripAdvisor or Expedia.
Remember that while most hotels in China have free access to wifi, I recommend that you install your own VPN to access your social media accounts. And yes, there’s no Google here, too. If you have Gmail and other Google products, you have to have a VPN to access them.
Buying train tickets at the train station anywhere in China can be confusing for those who don’t speak the language. What I always do is book via TRIP because it’s the most convenient, and they don’t really charge that much for a service fee. The money you’d spend going to the train station might be the same for the service fee. And you wasted no time joining the long queue there. However, on the day of your trip, make sure to be at the station at least an hour and a half. Go directly to the window booth where they issue the real tickets. You have to show the reservation number/s. Train attendants usually allow passengers to check-in between 20 minutes before the scheduled departure.