With its northern banks grazing the southwest edge of Wuxi, China's most fabled body of fresh water is the main attraction in town. Covering over 2,400 sq. km (950 sq. miles) with an average depth of only 2m (7 ft.), the lake is dotted with islands, fishing trawlers, low cargo boats, and small sampans. Often shrouded in mist, Tai Hu is also the source of many fantastically shaped limestone rocks that were submerged for years to achieve the desired effect, and that now decorate many a classical Chinese garden. It is said that the Huizong emperor of the Song dynasty nearly bankrupted the country's treasury in pursuit of increasingly bizarre Tai Hu rocks. For all its fabled status and storied history, however, today's lake, at least the parts accessible to tourists from Wuxi, is a bit of a disappointment, unashamedly geared as it is to the mass tourist trade.
The lake's most popular scenic spot is the peninsula Yuantouzhu (Turtle Head Isle). From the park's entrance, most tourists head straight for the ferry docks at the western edge of the peninsula. You can walk, take the tourist train (¥10 per trip), or ride the elevated tram (¥10 one-way, ¥16 round-trip) to the docks. The area south of the docks has some pleasant trails and is worth exploring if you have the time. A lighthouse marks the westernmost tip of the peninsula.
From the docks, ferries shuttle visitors to San Shan Dao, a hilly island connected by causeways to two flanking islets. The 15-minute boat ride, the highlight of a visit to Tai Hu, is usually refreshing, though you're likely to find yourself on a boat with chattering schoolchildren and loud tourists. The island itself is a tacky, commercialized affair complete with pushy vendors and wretched performing monkeys. All the structures here date from the mid-1980s, when the island was first opened to tourists.