China in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman and J.J. Abrams

All around the Shanghai region of China there are numerous canal or water towns. These are towns built around a series of streams, rivers and canals with wonderful bridges spanning them. Of course, if you’re in China for any real length of time, you should probably make a trip to at least one of these formerly quaint and now tourist-overrun villages.

at Xitang

Alyssa, Aaron and Jamie in Xitang, the Chinese canal town where Mission Impossible was filmed. See those bridges in the background? That’s where the movie was filmed.

That’s what I did last Saturday with Aaron, Jamie and Alyssa. I did some research to choose the best village to visit and decided on Xitang, a little town about 80 km southwest of Shanghai. Why did I choose this one? It isn’t listed in Lonely Planet and it isn’t very well known, but the couple of places I found information about it mentioned its photogenic qualities and that part of Mission Impossible 3 was filmed there.

Tom Cruise while filming in Xitang

A picture of Tom Cruise from the filming of MI3 at Xitang.

Yes, I chose which water town to visit based on that fact. Why not? Aaron is a film junkie and most of these little towns look very similar. So, we chose to go to the one where Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman and the amazing J.J. Abrams shot MI3.

Anyway, it is a nice little town with narrow alleys winding between old buildings all lining a series of canals. It has been highly touristized, which may be one reason LP doesn’t mention it, but it is a beautiful place to visit and easy to get to.

Xitang, a Chinese water townstatue in Xitang, a Chinese water townbridges over canals at Xitang

The admission price gets you into a bunch of old buildings including a temple, some gardens in a building called the drunk house and a couple of museums. Along the way there are numerous restaurants, shops and interesting people. You can take a boat ride down the main canal or just meander through the little alleys and over the bridges.

To get there, you take a 20-minute train ride from Shanghai Hongqiao to Jiashan South then a taxi to the village. You could probably get there from Hangzhou and Suzhou as well pretty easily.

going down a canal in Xitang, a water town outside of ShanghaiStinky Tofu

If you’ve ever been to Asia, you may have wandered through a market or past some food stalls and smelled something very rank. You learned that it is simply called stinky tofu in English (basically it’s rotten or fermented tofu that is then fried) and said that you would never put that in your body especially if it tastes as bad as its odor. Every time you walk by a cart with it you cover your nose and get upwind as fast as possible. Well, in Xitang, right across from the bridges seen in MI3, Aaron decided to give it a try. I said he was crazy, but then I had a bite. It’s surprising how it tastes so different from how it stinks. It tastes a bit like fried egg.

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