Before departing from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang, in a summer weekend day, I checked the page on Wikitravel, which reads "On holidays and weekends the old town will be so packed that it is difficult to move around". I shall say I had been warned but still I could not figure out what was coming ... Now I can, and I can tell you that it literally means "packed to the extent that it is difficult to move around".
If you are not familiar with the behavior of a Chinese crowd, a visit to Zhuozhuang in a weekend day is a good training. I got trained in Shanghai metro and it was not anything new to me. Irrespective of personal space and body contact, you get pushed here and there and you need to be carefully not to be thrown into the canals.
My experience with Zhouzhuang is limited to this occurrence but a friend of mine, who is familiar with the place, confirms me it is crowded like this every weekend and holiday.
Anyone who visits Zhouzhuang Watertown requires to pay a fee to enter in. This is a single entry fee and if you're part of a tour group then your guide will take care of the arrangements. If you're given free time while in the ancient watertown be carefully not to walk outside the designated perimeters or else you'll have to pay to get back in!
For those who can not read chinese signs, this is a bit tricky because technically the perimeter ends with a small sign that apparently tells you are leaving the designated area and if you come back in you need to pay an entrance fee. Usually there is a security person who stands near the end of the perimeter but it's hard to tell since there are security people everywhere. Also the area beyond the perimeter is virtually the same as the area inside.
Even if you are staying inside the watertown and have your hotel key on you, the security guards will initially ask you to pay money to get back inside the 'town area'. This makes very little sense but you must persist . It helps if you have someone in your group who speaks chinese and can argue on your behalf .
The entrance ticket to the old town is supposed to be valid for the date when u bought ONLY. Because I was not aware of that, I reached Zhouzhuang only in the late afternoon (around 3pm) as I thought I could continue on the next morning. I couldn't care less and on the next day, I still used my old ticket praying that they would not check, and they really didn't! I still think this is a very stupid rule. Maybe they use it to trick tourist.
When we first stepped into the town, we were approached by a local guide who kept pestering us for a guided tour around the town. I felt that I could navigate through without any problems (with the map I'd bought and I can understand chinese), so I rejected her. She was very persistent, but I felt very irritated and annoyed. After following us for few hundred metres (even after I rejected n times), she finally gave up and left for other tourists. What a nuisance!
We met a woman that day around where this picture was taken. The woman was crying because she couldn't find her son. We understood it was very easy to get lost away from your friends in such crowds. So please if you will be already into such crowds, do take good care of your children. If such things happen, call 110 for the police to get help.
Please don't go there during public holiday.. That was what I did. I went there very early, arriving at 7am - no many people then, but when it was 10am, look at the pic. See?!! I was almost squeezed into a piece of paper.