Like neighbouring Jiangsu towns, Changshu has its canals and white-walled buildings with grey roof tiles, but what the others can’t offer is both a lake and a mountain in the heart of the city. The lake, Shanghu, is similar in size and appearance to Hangzhou’s West Lake, yet thankfully comes with far fewer tourists, while the tea plantation-covered Yushan mountain beside it offers great views and a peaceful temple at its peak.
After arriving at the Changshu long distance bus station, it’s just a 5km cab ride to the Shanghu Scenic Area (Open 8am-4.10pm daily, entry 60RMB), a marshy nature reserve where you can ride Chinese gondolas (15RMB) through the bamboo-lined waterways and the ‘water top forest’, where tall pine trees shoot up straight from the water.
The area is also home to a crane sanctuary and you can check out their nests as you’re poled past the banks. Once you’ve explored Shanghu, take a five-minute cab or ten-minute pedicab (10RMB) to the northeast side of the lake and eat lunch at the Kingrace Hotel (73 Ximen Dajie, near Shuyuan Lu, 0512 5218 8888). As well as having a Chinese restaurant on the second floor that does a great roast duck, the hotel is well-positioned at the foot of Yushan, the 263m-high mountain that looms over the city.
Tea Plantations on Yushan Mountain, Changshu - James Lo
The road up the mountain is paved and unexciting, so pay 5RMB for a bus to the top instead. The upper part of the tree-covered mountain (entry 15RMB) affords views back over the lake and the surrounding area, and hosts the charming, tumeric-coloured Xingfu Temple (10RMB), which centres on a large Magnolia tree that hangs its limbs over a koi pond.
Tea plantations snake their way through the neighbouring forest, which you can follow back down the mountain before catching a cab back to the bus station.
Buses to Changshu depart from the Shanghai South Long Distance Bus Station every 30 minutes from 6.34am to 6.44pm. The trip takes around 90 minutes and costs 40RMB (last bus from Changshu 4pm).