We went there and upon arrival saw a small stall on the platform of the train station, near the exit.
It was a tourist booth and they provided day trips.
So, we decided to take one -- given that it was one of those that offered a range of sights for a fee.
Bundling onto a small, used van, we chugged along the vehicled clogged streets -- it was Saturday, and the first day of the Qing Ming Festival -- not the best day to be in Suzhou.
So we went to our first stop -- a historic house visit.
Not too bad... luckily my managable Chinese meant I could understand most of what the guide was saying about the place.
It was like being in one of the houses you get to watch in period drama serials written by famous novelist Qiong Yao... ;)
I was intrigued.
How many servants would they need to run the household? How much money would it incur a month?!
This family was indeed very rich, given the opulence and scale of their home...
Although Suzhou is supposedly famous for its canals it is the town of Tongli that should be a must-see if you are interesting is getting a glimpse of what a Ming area water town must have looked like. Tongli was really quite pleasant surprise for me. I had been in China for a month and rarely got to see much of its historical past condensed into a reasonably walkable area as I did in Tongli (another example is Pingyao).
The town dates from the Song Dynasty however most of the buildings that you visit are from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The town is actually a cluster of seven islands connected by supposedly 49 bridges some as old as 700 years. Because it has so many historical monuments and few modern buildings, the town is frequently used by Chinese cinema for historical dramas. It has recently been discovered by the tourists world and full of bus groups during my visit.
Tongli is located 18km southeast of Suzhou and is basically a suburb. Unlike much of Suzhou, it has not been torn down to make way for progress. What also surprised me about the town is that there was quite a bit to see around the town other than the old canals themselves. There are several interesting old halls and gardens that rival those in Suzhou. There is also the famous sex museum that will raise a few eyebrows. It took me a day to see everything that Tongli had to offer.
Large convulated rocks with holes and curves are used in many Suzhou gardens.
These fascinating rocks of varying heights and shapes were found naturally along rivers or lakes and brought many hundred li (Chinese miles) into the door step and gardens of the rich and wealthy.
Many may appear to look like different animals if one has enough imagination.
One of the roofs of the Suzhou gardens has a shape of the flowing body of a dragon.
Many of the roof tops have different figures of mystical animals. The details of some are amazing.
Do not forget to zoom your camera on the roof top while wandering through the gardens below.
While most of the farmlands along the highway have been replaced by factories and apartment buildings, if you take the train, you can still seen the green farmlands that have been cultivated over the centuries.
Wonder how long before even these last few green patches of farms disappear too from Suzhou areas.
Favorite thing: Suzhou has been dubbed as Venice of the East. But as many canals have been filled up and replaced by roads, there are only a few moats and navigable canals left. So take as many photos as you can before they all disappeared soon.
While cycling in Suzhou, I was impressed that there are grooves alongs the steps of the bridges to help a bicyclist to push their bicycles over the hump of the bridge.
Not sure if it is common throughout China but left an indelible impression.
The cost of admission of gardens and the accumulated cost has gone up astronomically. So you may just want to go the two or three most famous ones if you are a first timer or spend more time at the less tourist busy smaller gardens if have been to Suzhou before.
So a little planning using the map will help. Here is a map I found.
Beautiful ladies (well-knowned)
Fondest memory: Along the famous Suzhou china town (Guan Jian Street), there's lots of tri-cycle drivers
asking tourist whether they wanna go Suzhou's famous Beauty Street (”ü?—ŠX).
They will say " Its FREE, just go have a look, if you dont like i can send you back here right a way".
Then he brings you to a streets full of karaokes, night clubs....lots of beauties waiting outside to welcome customers.
I tell the driver I just want a good massage, he then replied its very cheap....about RMB50
Before i step in the shop, i asked again to confirm how much i have to pay, they repeated RMB50 only.
At the end of the day, i ended up paying RMB2000 !
The cost include, room charge, girl charge, waitress charge, manager charge, girl's living cost
charge, and 1 bottle of OX (i drank tea, but the girl drank 1cup only).
So guys, beware of Suzhou next time u visit. Make sure the shop signboard written the word
'Massage' then only its really a massage center.
in general try and avoid tour groups if possible. they rush you around when the gardens are best enjoyed without annoying tour guides and they speaker phones,
suzhou is very small and can almost be walked (or taxi, esp from railway line). bus is esp convenient and cheap (1yuan per ride) and it really helps if you buy a good map (railway station for 4 yuan) (yes they have english ones) with the bus routes on it. it helps if you speak chinese but is not essential.
the attractions are well signed in english but can be a little off the track (ie in an alley off the main road) so just ask someone or explore a little.
Favorite thing: 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.
Favorite thing: From late June to early July, it's time to watch the blossom of water lily. Combined with Chinese garden art, it is really a soul washing experience. In Chinese, waterlily is famous for its "not polluted even from dirty land, not bewitching even from clean spring". Waterlily is one of many kinds of plants ancient Chinese used to liken the personality an ideal person should have.
There's a famouse temple called Han Shan Temple in Suzhou, it should thanx to a poem which has a sentence: The guest in a boat heard the bell ring from the Hangshan Temple which is located outside of Suzhou City in the mid night.
Fondest memory: This is a rebuilt one.=)
Favorite thing: Suzhou is on the side of the Tai Hu which has three bridges to cross over and a very popular holiday destination for many.
Favorite thing: Unlike foreigners always bring their pet dog when out for a leisure walk, Chinese always bring their birds aside. This kind of bird, after special training, can imitate people talking.