Suzhou 苏州 Travel Guide
Suzhou is perhaps the most famous of the water towns that dot Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces surrounding Shanghai. Suzhou is all serene canals and classical Chinese gardens only 30 minutes by high speed train from downtown Shanghai. The old city is now surrounded by an increasingly ambitious new Suzhou but it’s office and apartment towers are still a world away from ancient Suzhou which is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the East.
Best Months to Visit Suzhou
Best Reason to Visit Suzhou
Suzhou has traditionally been one of China’s most affluent areas due to it being the centre of the Silk Trade and still is one of the top places in the world for silk production.
China tours flock to Suzhou for its gardens and the canals that run all through the city. It is these canals that have led to Suzhou being dubbed “The Venice of the East”.
The gardens here are the starting point for all the Zen Gardens that spread out across the East, possibly most famously in Kyoto, Japan, however to truly understand them you must first look to Suzhou. This is where the idea that gardens could be an art form and an expression of spirituality began.
All this can be found in a bullet train journey of 45 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and, although the New Town in Suzhou has encroached a little onto the old, boundaries have been put in place to ensure it is protected.
Top Attractions in Suzhou
Taking a boat trip along the canals here is a must, unless you are visiting some of the other water towns that surround Suzhou. Boat journeys are relatively short but your gondolier will tend to be one of Suzhou’s older generation that have their own ways and traditions that are close to extinction and you may be treated to one of their songs if you are lucky!
Despite its title of “The Venice of the East”, the main reason most people visit here is for Suzhou’s gardens and there are lots of them. The “must see” garden is the Humble Administrator’s Garden. This 16th Century garden was built to be totally in tune with nature and your guide will be able to explain the complexities of this in greater detail to you but you are sure to hear that the black and white building style here was the blank canvas that the gardens were to be portrayed upon. All in all this is a fascinating place to visit.
Weather Averages for Suzhou
Our Top Suzhou Travel Tip
Like Hangzhou, this is a place of immense cultural significance in Chinese history but is not visited en masse by tourists from the West. We believe that this is because a lack of understanding of it’s cultural significance to, not only the Chinese, but all the Far East. Like Hangzhou as well it can be visited in a day from Shanghai, not only by bullet train but also as a day tour by car. This, for us, if you have the time is a must see slice of Chinese culture.
We always look to avoid factories when in China, these add ons to group tours etc are invariably an annoying attempt to sell you souvenirs you don’t want, however taking in the old silk factory tour here can be worthwhile as they still produce silk there in the traditional manner, although I’d be doubtful if the silk they sell in the gift shop comes from that part of the factory!
Hand Picked Suzhou Hotels
Our recommendation is the Garden Hotel on Daichengqiao Road, rather unsurprisingly there are several hotels with Garden in the name in Suzhou! The Scholar’s Hotel is also another lovely option full of historical atmosphere.
It is set in beautiful grounds and is within easy reach of all the places you are going to want to see.The rooms are extremely spacious and are quiet. The staff are kind and attentive and will make your stay feel 5-star, reaching the standard that it is set at.
It is unlikely that if you do decide to stay in Suzhou for a night, which isn’t always necessary with the proximity to Shanghai, that this is the one hotel, aside from the big chains such as the Shangri la, that is worth splashing out on.
By Phil Stanley & Headseast – TCTC Destination Expert.