An enormous body of water spanning 2,338 sq km (902 sq mi), Tai Lake (Tài Hú, 太湖) is the third largest freshwater lake in China. Almost circular in shape, it is said to have been created by the impact of a meteorite some 70 million years ago with the resulting sea gradually becoming de-salinated as the Yangtze and Qiantang rivers sealed it off from the coast.
Located in the southernmost reaches of Jiangsu Province, Tai Hu's southern shoreline forms the border with neighboring Zhejiang. The lake is the source of numerous rivers including Suzhou Creek which runs into Shanghai, and also forms part of the Song Dynasty Grand Canal that stretches all the way from Hangzhou to its south, up to Beijing in the north.
Sadly, Tai Lake's waters have been subject to much pollution in recent years, particularly in areas surrounded by the heavy industry that drives much of the local Wuxi economy. However, action is underway to clean things up and local government money has been poured into ecological projects, resorts and leisure developments in the local area.
Easily accessible from both Suzhou and Wuxi, the lake is punctuated by more than 40 islands of various sizes, which, along with numerous pagodas and mist shrouded hillsides, make for plenty of beauty spots to be enjoyed. The most famous of these, Turtle Head Isle, is not an island at all but a long, narrow promontory that juts out into the lake and looks like, you guessed it, the elongated neck of a turtle. The best known of the other islands is Three Hill Island, whose three peaks are each adorned with a Buddha statue.
Tai Hu can also be enjoyed from afar with viewpoints in Wuxi's Xihui Park claimed to offer some of the finest vistas. Another big draw is the Plum Garden. Lying between the lake and the western edges of Wuxi, this orchard of 5,000 plum trees turns a magnificent riot of color in spring.
Despite its proximity to the city, Tai Lake remains an incredibly tranquil and picturesque place to explore. Plenty of boats ply the waters from the tourist hubs of Turtle Head Island, and closer to Suzhou the twin hills of East Hill (Dōng Shān, 东山) and West Hill (Xī Shān, 西山) make for a nice afternoon of biking or hiking among the mandarin groves and tea fields.
A more unusual destination is the Wuxi Film Studios where you can spend an hour or two wandering the sets of some of China's most celebrated period dramas and movies.
The lake is also famed for its fishing and aquatic life (a celebrated status that has remained despite the sketchy water quality) and the "three whites" (Tài Hú Sān Bái, 太湖三白) are a local specialty: Tai Lake white bait, white fish and white shrimp are to be found in many of the restaurants that ply their trade along the water's edge. Tai Lake's eastern waters are also a breeding ground for China's famous hairy crabs. Less well-known for the gloved crustaceans than neighboring Yangcheng Lake, the Chinese mitten crabs from Tai Lake are some of the largest, and tastiest in the region.
Even if you don't make it out to witness Tai Hu's sea-like expanse in person, the chances are you'll come across a rock or two that once called its muddy waters home: its unique limestone rocks, eroded in the water, are prized for their sculpted beauty and have been a key feature of Chinese garden design since the Song Dynasty, their gnarled surfaces thought to represent wisdom and immortality.
Situated between Wuxi's rolling hills and the shores of magnificent Tai Lake (Tai Hu), the Plum Garden (Méi Yuán, 梅园) is a sprawling..
Turtle Head Isle Scenic Area (Yuántóuzhǔ, 鼋头渚) is really a narrow peninsula jutting into Tai Lake, which, if you use your imagination, looks..
Incorporating the two hills Xi Shan (Xī Shān, 锡山) and Hui Shan (Huì Shān, 惠山), Xihui Park (Xīhuì Gōngyuán, 锡惠公园) sits west of town. The..
Almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, the Lingshan Buddha (Língshān Dà Fó, 灵山大佛) stands an impressive 88 m (289 ft) atop a rise..