Tucked away in a jungle of skyscrapers and brand new malls resides a small, humble tourist attraction. Qibao is the smallest ancient water town in Shanghai and yet the most popular. This is mainly due to it’s proximity to the heart of the city. It is only a speck on the map, but once inside you are utterly engulfed by the small town’s sights, sounds and smells.
The town’s architecture is reminiscent of a time long forgotten by the blissfully ignorant worker bee, slaving away hastily to earn its keep. The buildings, although seemingly restored numerous times, were the first that we had laid eyes on, since coming to China, that resembled what we had imagined. Pointed rooftops, skillfully engraved walls and intriguing water fountains lay scattered throughout the town. Connected by narrow, crowded streets and traditional bridges that span across the main waterway. Separated by the countless gift shops that litter the area, selling everything from kid’s toys to expensive jewellery. Looking down the canal from the bridge you can see countless staircases leading down to the water. These stairs served a monumental purpose in the town’s economic prosperity hundreds of years ago. Today, they are practically unused, except as a peaceful spot to sit and enjoy your lunch.
We even stumbled upon a rather beautiful Catholic Church that borders the town on its southern limits. The church was in service, so we decided not to intrude and only photographed the courtyard. Considering the troubled history of Christianity in China, it was quite intriguing to find this lonely church on the borders of an ancient Chinese water town. Not just that, but the church was having a service on a Wednesday afternoon. Then again, witnessing a rather peculiar happening in Shanghai is like having your morning coffee. It becomes part of your routine. You come to expect nothing less.
As far as food and drink are concerned, there is an abundance of small restaurants and cafes offering anything and everything that your heart may desire. From Chinese street food to more western restaurants serving imported beef and beer. We were rather unimaginative, grabbing a snack at Burger King as we got out of the metro. Not knowing that such culinary riches awaited us just further down the road.
Although Qibao is by no means the greatest illustration of ancient Chinese culture and architecture, it is definitely an excellent place to start your journey of cultural enrichment. It is a thousand year old town that has been preserved in the middle of an ever changing, ever growing metropolis. The town takes you back into history while still enclosing modern Chinese culture. At the end of it all, Qibao is a worthwhile place to visit for anyone finding themselves in Shanghai and wanting to educate themselves on the history and culture of the people of China.
How do I get there?
Qibao is no more than a hop, skip and a jump from the city centre. It can easily be reached by employing the effectiveness of the city’s metro system. The Qibao Metro stop is located on line 9, about 30-40 minutes from Jing’an Temple. Once you’re there, take exit 2 and head east. Follow Caobao Road until you reach Minzhu Road. Turn right and follow this road until you reach a T-junction. Turn left onto Qingnian Road. Walking down this road you should find Qibao on your right-hand side. Emphasising “should”, as my horrible directions might land you somewhere in the middle of the Mongolian desert. If that is indeed the case, please use these links to locate Qibao using either Google Maps or Baidu Maps. Quick tip: When asking for directions remember that Qibao is pronounced “chi-bao”.