The annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Wuxi takes place from March 20th until April 20th and welcomes visitors from all over the country. The stars of the show are the 30,000+ cherry trees, some of which were gifts from Japan. The location where the festival is held, known as the Turtle Head Isle Scenic Spot, happens to be an exciting place to visit year-round but it truly comes alive in spring.
We chose to visit at the very beginning of the festival on March 25th. The trip was preceded by a week of intense rainfall so I expected a blooming wonderland and was disappointed to only find a small percentage of flowering trees. The park was full of trees right on the verge of blooming. Their near-bursting buds were almost torturous to look at. We were tempted to spend the night and visit the following day but the crazy crowds ended up changing our minds.
Even though we arrived about an hour after the park opened, it was packed. If you’ve been to China before then I don’t need to tell you about the horrors of crowded Chinese tourist sites. People push, spit and take photos non-stop of literally everything. I had to wait for ages just to take a selfie in front of a blooming tree. I was there less than a minute before a rude man had the audacity to tell me to move!
It got worse on the boat… we had to wait in line to get on the boat, then were shoved and crowded on the boat and I won’t even mention the line coming back from the island. Other than that, the boat-ride was great and free! What we originally thought was an overpriced entry ticket turned out to be completely worth it.
For 150 RMB (about $20) we got entry to the park filled with temples, beautiful scenic spots and a round-trip boat to an island on one of China’s largest lakes. If I hadn’t looked at a map before the trip, I would have assumed that we were on a calm ocean. The water was clear and stretched as far as the eye could see.
Before coming to the Turtle Head Isle, we read up on the place on Trip Advisor. One of the comments mentioned that the place was “a little fake”. On a previous trip to Wuxi we had visited a large film set park, so we knew all about fake Chinese structures. That’s why I can guarantee you that this park’s monuments, temples and beautiful bridges are far from fake. They just weren’t built thousands of years ago, since the park is just 30 years old. “Look at how fake that is” became a running joke.
Maybe the visitors who left that comment didn’t visit the colorful Taoist temple where visitors prayed, monks preformed their duties and guards tutted at us as we tried to sneak photos of the largest wooden statue I have ever seen! Just outside the temple was a typical Buddhist candle-burning station that transported us back to Mount Takao in Japan. It was vibrant and breathtaking and like totally not fake. *smirk*
As the title of this post indicated, the con of the day was the masses of people who kept stepping on me or sticking their phones in my face to take photos. But the pro was definitely the food. Another Trip Advisor reviewer that we ended up mocking on the trip mentioned lack of food in the area. They must have visited during off-season because I have never seen a wider selection of Chinese food, with the exception of Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter.
Vendors selling at least ten different traditional street foods can be found approximately every 500 meters. There is a huge vendor area right near the entrance to the park where they sell literally every type of Chinese street food that you can imagine. Tofu (stinky and regular), roast lamb, sushi, dumplings, hot pot, chicken feet, fried rice – you name it, they had it. All of the prices are mostly around 15 RMB ($2) which is only slightly inflated and completely reasonable for the quality.
There were vendors all over the park, but we were the most impressed with the “food court” on the island. We found the spot by following what sounded like the grunts of men in combat. They turned out to be two guys beating nuts with large wooden hammers to make a delicious crunchy dessert. It was the perfect advertisement that we couldn’t resist. Needless to say, the box we bought to take home never made it off the train.
All in all, it was a fun day: as beautiful and delicious as it was crowded! If I could get a do-over, I’d visit a week or two later when everything is in full bloom. Wuxi is just a short train ride from Shanghai and worth a visit if you have the time to explore. It also happens to be really close to Suzhou’s famous ancient water town, but try not to mention Suzhou while you’re in Wuxi or vice versa – they is some rivalry there. It’s no wonder since both are perfect for a day trip and definitely worth a visit!