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China Travel Guide: Suzhou the Venice of the East

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  • China
  • China Tours
  • Travel to China

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Suzhou is the second major city of Jiangsu Province after Nanjing and located around 100 km northwest of Shanghai and on the shore of the lake Tai which is on the delta of the Yangtze River. It is especially famous for its silk production and for being a major economic centre. Suzhou has over 2,500 years of history and rich cultural heritage. The many canals and traditional gardens (listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997) make it a beautiful city to visit and an important touristic destination. Thanks to its architecture, Suzhou is also called the Venice of the East.

 
Suzhou is one of the most picturesque places you can visit in China, and not just for its scenery, and the night lights, but for the atmosphere that surrounds this city and for the numerous traditional activities that are still preserved today, above all the silk production.
So let's have a look at the 8 best attractions that this city has to offer.
 
1. Gardens
Nine are the major traditional gardens of Suzhou, each one with its own special characteristic. 
The first and most renown is the Humble Administrator's Garden (拙政园 Zhuōzhèng Yuán). It is also the largest and was added to the UNESCO list in 1997. The complex consists of numerous ponds, rocks and finely designed pavilions perfectly arranged to convey a sense of peace.  
 
Another important one is the Lingering Garden (留园 Liú Yuán). The garden is divided into four sections; East, Central, West, and North. The Central area is the oldest part and unique feature of this garden is the 700 m covered walk which connects them.
Follows the Master of the Nets Garden (网师园 Wǎngshī Yuán) famous for its impeccable use of the spaces and proportions. The Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (环秀山庄 Huánxiù Shānzhuāng) with its impressive carved rocks. The Couple's Retreat Garden (耦园 Ŏu Yuán) that had a special residential area at its centre.
 
The others are the Garden of Cultivation (艺圃 Yì Pǔ), the Great Wave Pavilion (沧浪亭 Cāng Làng Tíng), the Lion Grove Garden (狮子林园 Shī Zǐ Lín Yuán) and the Retreat & Reflection Garden (退思园 Tuìsī Yuán). Every single garden with its own unique features is a proper sight to behold and will live a different but long-lasting impression from all the other ones. 
Visiting gardens is definitely the among the most important and suggested activities to do once arrived in Suzhou.
 
2. Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill (虎丘 Hŭqiū), is particularly famous for its natural environment and historic value. The name derives by its shape that is said to recall that of a crouching tiger. A legend says also that in ancient times, a white tiger appeared on the hill to protect the burial site of the Wu king Helu. 
 
Tiger Hill features rocks complex, deep dales, and numerous scenic spots. The most important attractions though are probably the leaning tower called Tiger Hill Pagoda or Yunyang Temple Pagoda and the Sword Pool under which it is said to still be King Helu tomb.
 
3. Old Town, canals and Shopping street  
The old town is characterised by narrow alleys flanked by traditional buildings with white walls and black roofs, and old bridges crossing the numerous canals which in the evening are lighted up by countless red lanterns. The entire area is quite small, making it the ideal place to walk around and discover all the small shops and artisans that will delight you with paintings, handmade red paper traditional images and a wealth of snacks or typical products. The most famous treet for this activity is surely Pingjiang Road.
 
If you are tired, it's possible also to go on a tour of the canals with a ferry, from the major one, to the smaller ones that lead right in the heart of the old town. Another simlar area of interest is Shantang Street. The street 360 metres long and dotted with archways, ancestral temples, guild halls, and numerous shops to buy souvenirs, tea and other typical products. 
4. Near Water Towns  
There are two special Water towns to the south-west of Suzhou and very close to one another: Tongli and Zhouzhuang.
Tongli is a 1100-year-old fishing town, thanks to the numerous lakes and canals around. Despite the numerous tourists, it is still an ideal place to relax and eat snacks outdoor, especially during the good season. 
Zhouzhuang is also one of the best preserved Chinese Water Towns. Here as well is highly suggested to take a ride on a boat to enjoy the view of this traditional town with its beautiful architectures of Ming and Qing Dynasty. Zhouzhuang is also particularly renowned for hosting the residences of different really wealthy people. Above all Shen Wansan, a millionaire businessman that lived here during the early Ming Dynasty whose residence was built aroun 1740.
 
5. Suzhou Museum
This beautiful museum was designed by the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (who passed away recently on May 16th 2019) responsible for the Pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris. The moder part of the museum was built in 2006, complementing the older part built in a traditional residence. The result is a stunning structure perfectly combining modern and old together. The new structure in fact with white walls and black inserts recalls the traditional local architecture.
Within the museum, countless relics and finds from the area are preserved to convey a comprehensive overview of the life and ancient traditions of the city. Paintings, porcelain, textile, and furniture along with everyday objects. 
 
6. Silk Factory
Visiting the Silk Factory is something that cannot be missed when visiting Suzhou. Became particularly famous during the 19th century thanks to its wide variety of fabrics. 
 
Here is possible to observe the entire production process of the silk, from the collection of the cocoons to the final textile product. Some traditional machine that were manually handled  in the past for the same process are also displayed here. Guides will carefully explain all the entire production mechanism from the breeding of the silkworms to the final fabric.
 
 
7. Modern Suzhou
Suzhou as many other major cities in China is a modern, expanding metropoly where traditional and modern coexist. So along with the beautiful places listed above you will aslo find numerous modern Hotels, malls and lively attractions at the Suzhou Industrial Park, located around Jinji Lake. There is plenty of choices for a fun night out ranging from restaurants to bars to different kind of entertainments and even an amusement park.
 
If one does not fancy bustling shops and malls anyway, Jinji Lake is also a good place to just take a walk on the lake shores or go for a relaxing cruise on the ferry.
 
8. Embroidery
Going back to some traditional activity, another locally-developed art form is the embroidery that takes the name from the city itself: Su. Su embroidery is one of the oldest techniques in Chinese history and particularly famous for its variety, beautiful and colourful patterns and of course, for the mastery of its execution.
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Subjects of this embroidery are usually natural scenery and animals as well as high-profile characters of the time. This art form was used mainly to enrich costumes, decorations around the house, shoes, purses and pillows. Patterns were always chosen to express good wishes to the receiver. Many of these pieces are displayed in the Suzhou Embroidery Art Museum that was opened in 1986. 

Suzhou is one of the most important cultural centre in China thanks to its many traditional products and activities that have been kept alive until now. It is one of the most beautiful and satisfying places to visit as it offers a perfect mix of tradition, leisure and fun of any other place.
 

 

 

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