If you find yourself in the Jiangsu province of China or in Shanghai then a visit to Suzhou is a must. This is a canal town that has become popular with tourists yet still seems to retain a traditional feel. A number of places of interest can be visited here or it’s a great place to just sit/stroll and watch the world go by.
Getting to Suzhou
We found Suzhou to be easily accessed by rail getting the Nanjing to Shanghai train as it passed through our hometown of Wuxi. However, Suzhou is served by two railway stations allowing it to connect with a number of locations across China. Once you arrive at either railway station you can follow the signs for the metro. At the time of writing Suzhou only has two lines but is soon to open several more. We recommend heading to Lindun Lu, taking exit 3 and once in front of the station heading right until you come to Pingjiang Lu from which most points of interest are signposted.
This street is a great point from which to start your tour of Suzhou. It runs along one of the traditional canals of Suzhou with several named bridges allowing you to cross the water to the side streets which jut out from the main thoroughfare. There are also a number of points of interest that are signposted with distance markers along this main passage way. However, there is so much to see on this street that you may not make it to your originally intended destination! Original housing and traditional crafts are juxtaposed next to modern cafés and chic boutiques. The street is also home to a YHA hostel if you’re looking to stay in the hustle and bustle on a budget.
This was my greatest find along Pingjiang Lu and worth a mention all of its own. We didn’t even have a drink here so what’s all the fuss about? Well, from the moment I entered I knew that this was the place for me. Although labelled as a cafe it also served as a shop. It had a sign outside saying ‘postcards’ which is what had drawn me in. An avid postcard collector (one from every place I have been to since I began my collection back in 2012), I had found on my previous visit to China back in 2013 that they rarely had postcards at tourist attractions and when they did it was often the case that you had to buy a pack of 10, 20 or more! Here was a place that sold individual postcards of the area, neighbouring areas and a multitude of other designs. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even buy one at the time as I felt that a rushed purchase would not do justice to the place. Luckily, we are heading back to Suzhou (as there is so much to see) and I have already reserved a slot in this visit to make the most of the cafe and peruse the postcards.
Humble Administrator’s Garden
This is highlighted as the number one place to visit in Suzhou so how could we resist? What’s more the best time to visit is supposedly between March and April when the flowers come into bloom. So on the last weekend in March we planned our visit and we were not disappointed. March was still classed as off-peak (tell that to the number of tourists pouring through the entrance even in the early afternoon when we showed up) and so slightly cheaper at only ¥70 (with the peak price costing ¥90). Although the ticket has a printed map on the reverse this was of little help to us being in only Chinese characters. However, if you go over to the audio guide stand (on the left hand side after you have purchased tickets at the south entrance) and ask for a map they will provide you with a great free fold-out map that comes in English as well as Chinese. This also has a map of Suzhou on the reverse pointing out other sites that may be of interest. We would also recommend purchasing drinks across the road before entering as the prices are a lot steeper inside (you are part of a captive audience after all!)
It’s difficult to say how long you will need there but we spent at least two and a half hours in the late afternoon – leaving as it was approaching closing time. There were a number of other tourists who had arrived much earlier, seen everything they wanted and were spending the end of their visit sitting on the grass or on one of the many benches enjoying the final rays of sunshine. The gardens themselves surround several lakes and are home to a number of Halls and Pavilions with peculiar names such as: The Hall of 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks; The ‘With Whom Shall I Sit’ Pavilion and The Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion. At 5.2-hectares this is a garden for every one (even those not normally taken with plants) and as the largest of the gardens in Suzhou – a must see!
We loved Suzhou so much we’ll be going back before leaving Jiangsu so keep reading our posts to find out what else we end up exploring. If you’ve been to Suzhou or anywhere nearby you think we’d like then we’d love to hear from you.