Lake Tai or Taihu Lake (literally “Grand Lake”) is situated to the south of the Yangtze Delta plain, on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Covering a surface area of 2,420 square kilometers, it is the largest lake in East China’s coastal areas, and the third largest freshwater lake in China, after Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake.
Lake Tai faces Suzhou in the east, connects to Yixing in the west and borders Huzhou in the south and Wuxi in the north. Many years ago, areas around Lake Tai sunk and became a basin as a result of crustal movement, and then the lake has been formed as water in the basin accumulated. Inhabited by humans six or seven thousand years ago, Taihu Lake basin is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese ancient civilization. The ancient state of Gouwu was established in this region at the end of Shang Dynasty and became a powerful state acclaimed as the “best place on the Wu Plain”. Since the Tang and Song dynasties, the Taihu Lake basin has always been one of the richest areas known as the “land of rice and fish” in China.
Lake Tai is linked to the renowned Grand Canal and is the origin of a number of rivers, including Suzhou Creek. The shoreline of the lake is 405 kilometers long, and the average depth of the lake is just 2 meters. Surrounded by 72 various peaks, the lake has 48 islets, large or small. Although Taihu Lake stretches across Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, the best part of the scenery lies in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.
Yuantouzhu (or “Turtle Head Isle” in English), a peninsula lying on the northwestern shore of Lake Tai, is the most attractive spot in Taihu scenic area. It was given its name from a massive rock that reaches into the lake, which looks like a floating turtle raising its head out of the water. Yuantouzhu is popular for its exquisite hills, a vast expanse of water, the colorful flowers in spring and the bright moon in autumn. Standing in the Hanxu Pavilion built on the peninsula, you can have a magnificent view of the blue sky and water merging at the horizon.
From Yuantouzhu, you can hop on a boat to the Sanshan Islands (Three Hills Island), which composed of three small hills, hence the name. With enchanting scenery and a beautiful environment, it is one of the Chinese National Wetland Parks. The excavation of the ancient cultural ruins of Sanshan Islands proves that human beings lived in East Hill (also called Dongting East Hill) in 10,000 to 20,000 B.C.
Another famous site of Lake Tai is Lihu Lake, also known as Five Li Lake. Lihu Lake is an inner lake formed by Lake Tai after it stretches into Wuxi. It got its name because Fan Li, a high-ranking official of the State of Yue, and Xi Shi, a famous beauty in ancient China, lived here in seclusion 2,500 years ago. On the northern bank of Lihu Lake is the Liyuan Garden, named after Lihu Lake.
Situated to the south of the Lake Tai is the West Hill (also known as Dongting West Hill). It is the largest island on Lake Tai as well as the largest one on China’s freshwater lakes, covering 79.8 square kilometers of trees, floral shrubs and relics from Wuyue culture. The limestone hill is full of caves and grotesque rocks due to long time erosion. The exquisite Taihu Lake rocks have added a unique flavor to the landscape of the island. The main peak of the West Hill, Piaomiao Peak, is 336.6 meters above sea level, coming out on top of the 72 peaks on Lake Tai.
The Mount Dengwei in Guangfu Town, also known as Mount Guangfu or Xiang Xue Hai, is a peninsula on the lake, and has always been the best place to appreciate plum blossoms in South China. Every year in February when white plum blossoms are in full bloom, Mount Dengwei becomes a sea of plum blossoms, hence the name “Xiang Xue Hai (Sea of Fragrant Snow)”. Both Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty visited Mount Dengwei and left behind many poems about plum blossoms, making this place even more famous.
One of the best places to view Lake Tai is Xihui Park in the west of Wuxi. By climbing the summit of Dragon Light Pagoda (Longguang Pagoda) inside the park, you will get a bird’s view of the city and the lake. And the best location to view the sunset on the lake is on the Turtle Head Isle.
Taihu Lake Fishing Festival, started in 2005, is held in middle or late August annually. Most fish boats on Taihu Lake gather at the wharf in Yugang Village of Guangfu Town, forming the “No. 1 Fishing Wharf on inland lakes of China”. In the fishing seasons, hundreds of boats set sail from the wharf, presenting a magnificent scene.
Taihu Lake also produces well-known “Taihu stone“, a kind of limestone characterized by delicate and slender shapes, proper distributed stone density and interconnected rock cracks and holes. Taihu stones are often prized as the best decorating material for traditional Chinese gardens.