Although the city offers countless opportunities to hang out and spend your leisure time, a particularly nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life and get an idea of ancient China is dawdling about one of the lovely water towns surrounding Shanghai's area. I would recommend that your foreign currency conversion is taken care of before you travel to small cities in China as you might find it difficult to change your money here.
It literally took my friends and I only 45 minutes to step back in time. Despite the unavoidable touristy aspects that I believe nowadays are everywhere, the town strongly reminded what could have looked when Chinese people were the least thinking they were going to become one of the first world powers.
The vicinity of the sea and the HuangPu river crossing the region gave origin to the rise of many little towns right on the water. Like in Venice, cars are not allowed in and houses are perched on the banks of the waterways.
All along the riversides traditional shops and restaurants line up ready to serve the continuous flow of tourists, both foreigners and natives. Being outside of the city, the atmosphere is naturally chilled out, people are the least worried about their clothes or looking good in general, and despite the cold temperature, the day went by very pleasantly.
Being in the Chinese version of "Venice", could I miss a tour on board of the Chinese version of the "gondola"? Of course not. And good for us that we made it: our "gondolier" brought us to the very intimate corners of the town, no tourists around, laundry hanging out of the windows and on the narrow alleys, and old houses overlooking the calm waterway.
This is not the only water town around Shanghai, and it's not even the most popular. In fact, among the next villages I will visit there certainly are Suzhou and Zhouzhuang, in the hope they will be able to fulfill my constant quest for nice spots for taking photos.