My handy travel guide and companion
I used to be someone who took pride in being able to find my way around a city by myself. But during a recent trip to Wuxi in Jiangsu province, I was shown the sights by a guide that made me question my stubborn belief in independent travel.
What made my guide so special? Well, it was full of useful tips, knew all the best restaurants, never got lost, and, best of all, I could fit it easily inside my pocket.
Yes, my guide was an app called Aiyowei, an online platform produced by Wuxi that integrates a huge range of features, helping visitors to find their way around the beautiful city on the shores of Taihu Lake.
I have the owner of a convenience store near Wuxi Railway Station to thank for introducing me to Aiyowei. Making a beeline for his store as soon as I got off the train, my eyes were drawn to a beautiful illustrated map of Wuxi depicting the city's 81 cultural sites and 43 scenic spots.
As I stepped out of the store clutching my new map, the owner's gravelly but cheerful voice called after me: "Scan the QR code on the back!" So I did, and was taken to a website to download the app.
The illustrated map of Wuxi features the city's 81 cultural sites and 43 scenic spots. [Photo/provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Once I had installed Aiyowei, I realized that I could scan any site on my paper map and the app would immediately provide me with a huge range of information about the place in question, including routes to get there, travel guides and shopping tips.
I put Aiyowei to the test by selecting the 5A-level scenic spot Turtle Head Isle as my first stop.
Following the app's guide, I took a shuttle bus to the 100-year-old scenic area, where I wandered around Yuanzhuchuntao, one of the most beautiful parts of Turtle Head Isle, with stunning views of Taihu Lake.
Best of all was the Secluded Scenery Area, where the twittering of birds and the fragrance of flowers enhance the wonderful natural landscapes of trees, flowers and grass, creating a special atmosphere.
After taking a sightseeing boat tour at the Turtle Head Isle dock, I tried to find a nearby restaurant on the app.
My new friend once again offered me various options, along with information, customer feedback and photos of each restaurant.
I quickly chose one featuring traditional Huaiyang cuisine and was rewarded with an awe-inspiring meal of local delicacies, especially a dish featuring the famed "Three Whites" of Taihu Lake — the white shrimp, white fish and silver fish.
Gorgeous scenery of Turtle Head Isle during its iconic annual Cherry Blossom Festival in March. [Photo/provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
My two-day trip to Wuxi left me impressed, as I expected, and my smart companion contributed a lot to this along the way. But I was surprised to find that Aiyowei is actually just a small part of Wuxi's digital services for tourists.
I was told that there are multiple online platforms providing comprehensive travel services including apps, websites, WeChat accounts and Weibo feeds.
Probably the best of all is the Wuxi Tourism mobile app, which covers local tourism resources, products and services — attractions, hotels, restaurants, transport, shopping and more.
The city has cooperated with various domestic online travel websites to ensure the app provides quality information for tourists.
The app also features many additional functions, such as hotel reservations, GPS directions, voice activation software and information sharing.
Wuxi’s cloud computing center serves as the central nervous system of all these online platforms, which is responsible for data collection, analysis, exchange and distribution.
In terms of smart tourism, I feel the city is way ahead of much of the rest of China.
As I waited for my train home, big crowds were cramming through the station turnstiles into the sun-drenched city, just like I had two days ago. I think I'll keep my friend on my phone for a while yet.