One Fine Adventure: Wuxi, China
Taking bus 1 from Shanghai Railway Station is easily the best way to get to Turtle. The bus is 2 RMB from the station to the terminus stop at the entrance to Turtle Head. From here you can either take a long walk around the free portions of northwest portion of the peninsula and you can also pay to enter one of the many pay-to-visit parks. Near the entrance you can find several maps that show the layout of the area, but all of the maps will be in Chinese.
I would suggest having a walk along the lakeside road and getting a view of Taihu lake and the Wuxi skyline before paying to enter any of the parks. If you walk along the lake toward the northern edge of the island you will be able to pay a driver, one time fee, to take you further into the peninsula to various parks.
I needed to get the hell out of the city. After five months in Wuxi I could not spend another day looking at cement slab high rises, pollution cursed skies and steam billowing from grates in cracked sidewalks. My friend could tell that I was feeling like a shut-in and suggested that a trip to Turtle Head Island was a common cure for city dwellers in Wuxi. When I started yelling at Chinese drivers for honking at absolutely nothing I finally relented and found myself waiting for the number 1 bus toward Taihu lake.
Turtle-Head Island is a nature preserve within the city limits of Wuxi. Although Wuxi is not one of the largest cities in China it is still a restless metropolitan with citizens in the streets at all hours. A pervading hum of activity only begins to calm well after the sunset and after the chaotic drumbeat of horns subsides the neon lights of KTV bars cast a rainbow hue onto the streets. Chinese cities are not known for their quiet places and I was desperately searching for a quiet place to call my own.
A thirty minute bus ride and two yuan transported me to a quiet, green, and peaceful patch of nature. Finding a bit of silence in a city full of car horns, shouting billboards and people who refuse to use headphones became the main attraction when I first heard about Turtle Head. No more than ten feet from the bus I was wearing an outrageous smile from the complete lack of noise pollution. Unfortunately air pollution flows freely from the city center out toward the lake.
Even in the wooded sanctuary of Turtle Head the pollution of early spring blanketed the sky with an endless grey backdrop. The smell of pollution decreased the natural splendor. Spend enough time in China and the standard deviations from Western normalcy blend into the background noise of everyday China. I could not outrun the pollution, but I was able to change my perspective and see a very different part of China without spending hours on a regional train or hunkering down in my apartment in fear of what is a fact of life in these cities.
My walk along the lake was pleasant. Limited traffic passes by peacefully on the small and well manicured road that actually blends into the island really well. A small picturesque lake runs along the road to the right of the garden entrance. Views from the road make for fantastic picture opportunities. The lake, lotus gardens, a walkway leading to a solitary island, woods and the hills in the background can all be taken in from this vantage point, and these views are free. Further down from the lake visitors were picnicking with air filter masks and others posed for pictures with the early cherry blossoms. I was lucky enough to come on one of the first days for the cherry blossoms. Later someone would tell me that I was fortunate to have made it to the trees before the crowds descended on the area.
Following the road further along the edge of the lake I found another entrance into more gardens that makeup the north and west portions of Turtle Head. This is where my journey, and the free sites, ended. Cars are waiting to take you through the gardens for about 200 RMB ($35) and if you brought your newly acquired Chinese bargaining skills I am certain that the price would drop. At the entrance vendors sell assorted fried foods, preserved snacks and water. I turned around and enjoyed a very slow walk back to the bus stop.
Turtle Head has a full day of activities for anyone with cash and time to spend. For me the area is hideout that is deceivingly close to Wuxi’s city center. An afternoon recharge station for city living expats and locals alike with a view of the skyline across Taihu to remind you that home is only 45 minutes away.