Legend has it that when Wuxi was first discovered thousands of years ago, it was a land rich in tin. Fittingly, it was first named Youxi, which means ‘to have tin’. Over time, however, its tin resources were depleted, prompting people to rename it Wuxi — ‘to not have tin’.
Today, the city I was born and raised in may not be blessed with tin, but it is certainly well endowed with natural beauty, culture and history. To say that Wuxi is a scenic city would be quite an understatement. It hugs the coastline of Lake Tai, the third largest freshwater lake in China, and is surrounded by imposing mountain peaks. While enjoying nature’s embrace, Wuxi also delights in modernity. Dubbed ‘Little Shanghai’, it is a key economic centre in the region with a lively city centre.
As a Marketing Executive with the new Ascott Central Wuxi, I am excited to share my city’s charm with guests through the Ascott Lifestyle programme. Launched globally in April 2015, Ascott Lifestyle offers customised itineraries to help guests experience what each city has to offer.
An Ascott Lifestyle experience comprises thoughtfully curated experiences by Ascott’s Residence Managers, Ascott Hosts and its service staff according to the interests, attitudes and lifestyles of its guests. If I had the chance to design a two-day itinerary for a first-timer to Wuxi, this would be my take...
Day 1: Breakfast with the locals
Ascott Central Wuxi’s convenient location means that there are plenty of dining options in and around the area. I highly recommend taking a five-minute stroll to Xi Sheng Yuan, a restaurant that the locals — and visitors in the know — flock to. If you ask me, Xi Sheng Yuan’s authentic Wuxi style Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings) and Kai Yang Hun Tun ( wontons in soup) count among the best in the city!
Head to Turtle Head Park
After a hearty local breakfast, take a 30-minute drive to Turtle Head Park. This is actually a small island on Lake Tai. Part of the peninsula juts out the way a turtle’s head extends from its shell, giving it its name.
Turtle Head Park makes the most of the natural scenery of Lake Tai, delivering breathtaking views from every angle. All year round, the park offers a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, with landscaped gardens, pavilions and ponds welcoming you at every turn. I particularly enjoy it in March, when cherry blossoms are in season and the weather is cool and breezy. A leisurely two-hour stay here would be sufficient to take in the sights.
Travel through time at Huishan & Nanchang
The afternoon is best spent in the old town of Huishan, which seems to have been frozen in time. Seated at the foot of Huishan Mountain, the town offers the last remaining glimpse into Wuxi of the past. It is essentially an outdoor museum — its streets are lined with historical relics and many of the ancestral halls that you will pass, have been designated as national conservation sites.
Pop into one of the restaurants for a traditional lunch before you start exploring the town. As you wander through the area, you are bound to encounter Huishan clay figurines. Known as one of Wuxi’s top specialities, these figurines are made from black mud that is found one metre underground, at the foot of the northeastern slope of Huishan Mountain.
There is good reason for the craftsmen’s insistence on this particular type of mud. Huishan black mud is said to be especially soft, fine and smooth, and has the malleability needed to be teased and shaped into intricate figurines. In 2006, the Chinese government named the Huishan clay figurine an item of national intangible cultural heritage.
Your visit to Huishan would not be complete without a hike up the town’s hill. Reaching the top is like stepping into a traditional Chinese painting with clusters of ancient houses and small meandering alleys. It’s definitely worth a photo, or 10!
Day 2: Daytrip to Mount Lingshan
Mount Lingshan, or Lingshan Wonderland, is easily the most famous attraction in Wuxi. I have saved it for the second day of our itinerary because it is an hour’s drive away from Ascott Central Wuxi and deserves a full day of your attention.
The entire 74-acre site is dedicated to Buddhism. It is home to the world’s tallest Buddhist bronze statue, the Grand Buddha, which looks upon mankind from a towering height of 88 metres. If you’re inclined to approach the Grand Buddha, you’ll first need to conquer 108 troubles and 108 wishes — in the form of stairs. This is the ‘Ascending Cloud Avenue’, a 216-step flight of stairs set on seven platforms that correspond to the seven-storey stupa , or Buddhist shrine.
There is plenty more to explore in Mount Lingshan although my personal favourite, aside from the Grand Buddha, is the Nine Dragons Bathing Sakyamuni.
As its name suggests, Nine Dragons Bathing Sakyamuni is modelled after the story of Buddha, who is said to have been born with the ability to walk and talk. As he took seven steps in each of the four directions, lotuses blossomed under his feet and nine dragons appeared in the sky to bathe him in water. When you arrive at Nine Dragons Bathing Sakyamuni, you’ll encounter a giant bronze lotus sitting patiently in a round pool, its petals closed.
As the music ‘Birth of Buddha’ plays, the lotus slowly ‘blossoms’ and an imposing statue of Sakyamuni rises from its centre. It is bathed in water from the nine fabled dragons before the music fades and the lotus closes. Then, eight phoenixes, which guard the pool, will spout fresh water. If you see people reaching out to drink this, don’t be too alarmed. Some believe that doing so will bring blessings.
Mount Lingshan is a truly intriguing place but those unfamiliar with Buddhism may not be able to fully appreciate it. If you are visiting it as part of an Ascott Lifestyle experience, your Ascott Host would be pleased to arrange for a knowledgeable guide to accompany you.
I hope my attempt at this two-day ‘best of Wuxi’ itinerary has piqued your interest in our beautiful city. My colleagues and I at Ascott Central Wuxi hope to have the opportunity to serve you soon!
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