If you're a Chinese film buff, you may have already seen a bit of Tongli (Tónglǐ, 同里)—it's a popular spot for shooting historical scenes. Some 18 km (11mi) to the southeast of Suzhou and 80 km (50 mi) west of Shanghai, Tongli is one of the best preserved of Jiangsu Province's old Yangtze River Delta water towns, featuring an assortment of Ming and Qing Dynasty houses situated amidst a network of canals spanned by 49 classic Chinese bridges.
Charming scenes abound: willows reflect in waters plied by sampans. Whitewashed walls and black-tiled roofs with graceful upturned eaves shelter elderly couples lingering over tea. Temples and gardens emerge from the mist or glow in the sun, adorned with wood carvings of figures from classical Chinese literature and folklore. Tongli is understandably popular with tour groups, so if you'd like to take in the scenery with a minimum of fellow tourists crowding the picture, come on a weekday or in the off season.
An RMB 100 fee gets you into the old town and most of Tongli's attractions, including the UNESCO heritage site garden, Garden of Retreat and Reflection (Tuisi Yuan), the Ming-era Gengle Hall, Luoxing Islet (Luóxīng Zhōu, 罗星洲) and its temples, as well as other notable attractions. Admission to the Chinese Sex Museum is an additional RMB 20. An easy day trip from Shanghai or Suzhou, Tongli also makes for a pleasant overnight destination—the town empties of tour groups in the evening, making for peaceful strolls and pretty views of lights reflecting off the surface of the canals, and there are a number of charming guest houses offering affordable Tongli accommodations.