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Two Days in Xitang, China

xitang china lanterns

with Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8

Xitang, China, is one of many ancient, scenic water towns not far from Shanghai, and makes for a nice little photography trip; ideally on days when it isn’t overrun by tourists.

This means, if at all possible, don’t go on a weekend.

And absolutely don’t go on a Chinese public holiday.

I would also advise, due to how small the old town is, that you won’t need more than two days there.

A one night, two day trip is what I did and it seemed about right: not too short that I wanted to stay longer, and not too long that I got bored.

Xitang China photography

When planning my trip, I was considering which lens to take for my photographs and found myself in a bit of a quandary. Imagining that I’d be taking a lot of scenic shots, a wider lens would’ve made sense.

My problem was that I’ve been neglecting my Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 recently and wanted to shoot more with it, with being able to add more images taken with it to this very website a major factor in that.

After literally minutes of deliberation, and against what may have seemed logical, I decided to go with it.

I liked the idea of giving myself a bit more of a challenge.

Xitang is the kind of place where if you search for images, most of them are going to be the same sort of thing: scenic shots of the traditional Chinese houses and the river that runs past them.

xitang boat - Copy (Copy)

There’s nothing wrong with taking these kind of pictures, of course.

The beauty found in these houses and the waterway is Xitang’s main attraction, after all. A fair few of my pictures are of the river and houses too.

With a place as photogenic as Xitang, it’s almost impossible to not take familiar looking pictures, but I did try (as I always do) to mix up my set a bit with something else.

I’ll come to those later. I guess these first few are what you’d expect to see from a visit to Xitang, China, or indeed a visit to a photography blog post from Xitang.

local chinese boatman in xitang

xitang water town china

xitang man

xitang water town china

xitang bridge

boats at xitang water town china

Xitang China tourists

I visited Xitang midweek between Christmas and New Year, which ticked the two boxes of not a weekend and not a Chinese holiday, so the town wasn’t overly busy with tourists.

Of course, this being China, there are always going to be crowds wherever you go.

I’ve mentioned it before but, as far as photography goes, I like this.

Be it the visitors themselves or the vendors, shops, and cafes that serve them, tourist activity lets you take a more interesting series of shots.

Shots that aren’t just the scenery; in Xitang, that means not just the traditional houses and river.

chinese tourists at xitang water town

chinese tour group in xitang

chinese street vendor selling flowers

local chinese street food

cafe in xitang water town china

chinese souvenirs for sale in xitang

chinese graffiti in xitang

Life in Xitang, China

Photographing human activity in places like Xitang, China isn’t confined to just the tourists, however.

Xitang isn’t a theme park, and people do still live there as they probably have for generations.

This means that capturing the essence of the place requires a little exploration away from the waterfront facades.

Walking down alleyways away from the river, it wasn’t hard to get away from the tourists and find this everyday life going on; a lot of it in run down buildings that they probably wouldn’t want too many tourists to actually see anyway.

Faded lanterns, laundry, and chess. Chinese staples if ever there were any.

xitang house

xitang wires

xitang local people

playing chinese chess in the street

xitang chess player

xitang washing - Copy (Copy)

laundry drying by the river in xitang china

Mission accomplished in Xitang, China?

Of course, no post about Xitang, China would be complete without a mention of Tom Cruise.


Scenes from Mission Impossible III were shot here, and this has led to a boom in the town’s popularity among tourists.

It might also have played a part in the exorbitant price of a ticket you should buy to actually get into the old town.

I say should because there is a way in without having to pay; a (very) winding alley that takes you from a main road outside and straight onto West Street in the old town.

I’m not sure I could point it out on a map, but if you were to ask at your hostel front desk, they might tell you where it is.

You could also try to spot some locals using it and follow them.

There is a trade-off to going in that way though, as your ticket would cover entrance to the few museums and noteworthy old buildings in the town.

Without one, you can’t go in them.

xitang fish

Despite the horrible overcast skies making some of them look a bit washed out, I’m pleased with the photographs I got in and of Xitang, China.

You’re never going to revolutionise how the town is presented with scenic pictures alone, but looking for the smaller details will always go a long way to helping people who have never been to a place understand it a little more.

I hope I succeeded with that here – let me know if I did in the comments below.

garbage left in xitang china


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One of many scenic water towns near Shanghai, Xitang makes for a great little photography trip. Shot over two days with a classic Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8, these are the pictures I came back. Come check them out.


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