Take your time when you are visitng suzhou
One can hardly get the taste of Suzhou if he is in haste. You should set aside some time to sit in the tea house of a small (not so croweded) garden such as Ou Yuan Garden,Yi Pu Garden; to explore the tiny streets of the old city such as (Kong Fu Si xiang -- close to No.10 middle school -- it would be fun to visit the school as well since the school has the famous "TaiHu" stone as I mentioned before). Until you do these, you wouldn't get the true feeling of Suzhou.
SUZHOU: The water villages
Westerners called them "Venices of the Orient" although if you would think it another way, I would like to think Venice as the "Zhou Zhuang of the West" instead.
Suzhou and Hangzhou are famous spots close by to Shanghai and they make popular day trips. The many waterways and rivers have, in eras gone by, given rise to numerous "water villages" in this part of the world, and whatever that have not been torn down, today is preserved and packaged for the world to enjoy. I make not pretences, these spots are inherently commercial. Really, if there is no money and profits behind keeping these structures around, they wouldn't be here today. As a local friend remarked why must the locals suffer low hygienic conditions and horrid sanitary facilities of the past just so, people like myself, can come and see old world charms if there is no money to help the locals improve their living conditions?
Then said, despite the crushing bus loads of tourists every day, there is still charm left in these villages. One couldn't help be quite smitten by the atmosphere of it all. This is THE Orient that you see in postcards. I couldn't help standing by one of numerous picturesque bridges but imagine how life would have been hundred years ago in these villages. There is some electric about these places that capture your heart.
Zhou Zhuang, claiming to be China's No.1 water village, is certainly a must-see, even though if it means sharing it with thousands others. Sultry waterways cradle traditional looking Chinese style pagodas, petite arches of bridges and preserved shops trying their best to look traditional. I am quite amazed to report that there are real families staying in these villages, in homes hidden from the main pathways via winding side alleys. These families bake traditional pastries, sew souvenirs and braised pig trotters (which Suzhou is famous for) that every stall and shop seems to sell. And if these charms do not knock you off your feet, take a river-taxi, wind down willow-lined waterways while listening to the soft and melodious crooning of the lady steering the boat and you really couldn't help be smittened by it all.
Shan Tang is another water village, while not quite in the league of Zhou Zhuang, carries the advantage that it is slightly off the beaten path and thus you needn't share it with the rest of the world. It is more subdued but in exchange, no less commercial.
Above there is Heaven, below there is Suzhou
"Well reserved black and white"
People used to say "Above there is a Heaven, below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou." To me, it is only half right.. you know, for Hangzhou.. Suzhou is rather bland and lukewarm. However, some people like it a lot...
If you are leaving for Suzhou from Shanghai, it's only 30 minutes by fast train. However it's totally different scene and cuisine there. My last trip to Suzhou was more than 10 years ago.. all left in my mind were similar ancient residence with dark hall and the fake hills in the gardens... turned out it's not much difference from now. The old city is well-reserved/built in it's very own black roof n white wall style. Nice to see..