In addition to its gardens, Suzhou is famed for its gardens and you can book a boat ride on one of them. Though the commentary is all in mandarin, its still an interesting way to see the city from the water and waterside dwellings for which the city is known.
Silk in China goes back millenia and the Silk Museum explains its history, farms, production and uses. There are reproductions, actual garments from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and a room with live silkworms. All together, very interesting. A small admission fee is charged.
The largest and most famous of Suzhous gardens is the Humble Administrators Garden. The chinese name is Zhuozheng Yuan.
The garden's site was initially the residence and garden of Lu Guimeng, a Tang Dynasty scholar. Later in the Yuan Dynasty it became monastery garden for the Dahong Temple. In 1513 CE, Wang Xiancheng an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty appropriated the temple. In 1510, he retired to his native home of Suzhou after a long persecution by the East Imperial Secret Service, and began work on the garden.
Admission is charged.
I visited Luzhi old water town in 2004. During my visit, the town had not fully developed as a tourist attraction yet. We were lucky to see the real Luzhi old town without much of the new development. The beauty of this place because of the small ally streets and canals with ancient old bridges. We could see locals doing their daily activities in the town.
Based on the lonely planet guide, there are several famous bridges:
1) Jinli Bridge
2) Xinglong Bridge
3) Yongan Bridge
I took many pictures of those bridges. At that time, there were no sign board to indicate the names of those bridges. Hope you can figure them out during your visit!!
In Chinese: 甪直 (Lu Zhi)
If you come to Suzhou during Summer, the library would be a great stop to get some air. The library is in a big and modern building on Renmin Road. Like anywhere else in Suzhou, they must have a nice garden, no exception to this library. Suzhou is an ideal place to go to schools because of its beautiful garden and environment.
In Chinese: 苏州图书馆 (Su zhou Tu Shu Guan)
Zhouzhuang is the first ancient water town reconstructed to become a tourist town. It has more tourists than any other water town in Jiangsu especially during weekends. This town is very big with many shops, an opera stage, many small alley streets, many ancient stone bridges. You can spend the whole day wondering around. Several attractions to take note:
1) Fu An Bridge
2) Double Bridge
3) Shen's Hall Residence
4) Zhang's Hall of Residence
5) Chengxu Taoist Temple
6) Quanfu Temple
7) South Lake
In Chinese: 周庄 (Zhou Zhuang)
Tongli Water Town is located eastern shore of Taihu Lake, about 18km from southeast of Suzhou City. I was there in 2004, I could not remember this water town very much. It is very similar to ZhouZhang and Luzhi. This ancient town is very famous with local tourists. During our visit, we could not get many good pictures due to the crowd of Chinese tourists. There are several attractions not to miss:
1) Gengle Tang (耕乐堂) (Geng Le Tang)
2) Pearl Pagoda (珍珠塔) (Zhen Zhu Ta)
3) Tuisi Garden (退思园) (Tui Si Yuan)
4) Chinese Sex Cultural Museum (中华性文化博物馆) (Zhong Hua Xing Wen Hua Bo Wu Guan)
In Chinese: 同里 (Tong Li)
Operating Hours: 7:30am-5:30pm.
Admission: Y80, excluding Chinese Sex Cultural Museum.
Other than its canals and bridges, it has its famous Baoshen Temple with a ginkgo tree in a open field.
You can walk around small alley streets to see locals doing daily activities.
In Chinese: 甪直 (Lu Zhi)
I visited Beisi Pagoda in 2004. I could remember this pagoda because it is a tall building that can view the city of Suzhou. This nine stories pagoda was built by bricks for the base and the walls. The eaves and banisters encircling the structure are made of wood. This pagoda was originally built as early as 1700 years ago. It had gone through several dynasties, and was rebuilt during Ming Dynasty.
Opening Hours: 7:45am-5:30pm.
In Chinese: 北寺塔 (Bei Si Ta)
Bangyans Residence was the former residence of Feng Guifen. He was a bangyan (top candidate in the imperial), the No. 2 candidate in the highest imperial examinations in the 20th year (1840) of Emperor Daoguang of Qing Dynasty. I really enjoyed looking at those brick round and square brick entrances. It was really classic in typical Chinese Qing Dynasty residences. You can see those in Chinese movie too.
In Chinese: 榜眼府第 (Ban Yan Fu Di)
After I visited Yans Garden and Hongyin Mountain Villa, this garden become less attractive to me. It is much smaller with similar Ming Dynasty garden. It was a the residence of a rich man in Mudu during Qing Dynasty, Cai Shaoyu.
In Chinese: 古松园 (Gu Song Yuan)
Honyin Mountain Villa still has the Ming Dynasty influence of its garden. Later it become famous during Qing Dynasty as Emperor Qianlong frequent visited this Villa during his visit to the south. Other than to know the rich history of this villa, I am more interested to enjoy the quiet moment in this beautiful Ming garden. The trees, fish pond, the ancient walkway really brought me back to the ancient history of Ming. I also enjoyed the stage performance by the local at the center stage.
In Chinese: 虹饮山房 (Hong Yin Shan Fang)
The first attraction from the town main entrance is "Yans Garden". This was Mr. Yan Jiagan 's residence. The residence's garden was influenced by Ming dynasty. This four season garden has an unique uneven layout as comparing to other gardens in Suzhou. The ancient doors, lamps, and halls with traditional furniture are some of the displays from the the entrance. Then, you will proceed to visit the garden with steps, walking bridge, yards with fish pond, and circle shape door.
very Impressive garden.
In Chinese: 严家花园 (Yan Jia Hua Yuan)
Mudu ancient town is about 45-minutes city bus ride from downtown Suzhou. The town has been reconstructed as a tourist town with several attractions, food outlets, and shops. The charm of this town is the remnant of the old residences or villas with their beautiful gardens.
1) Yans Garden
2) Hongyin Mountain Villa
3) Ancient Pine Garden
4) Bangyans Residence
Admission: Y60/ person to enter all four attractions above.
If you don't wish to enter the attractions, I believe you can visit the town for free. You can have small crabs snack, ride the boat on river, and take photos with tradition Chinese costume.
In Chinese: 木读景区 (Mu Du Jing Qu)
The Master of the Nets garden was first constructed in 1140 AD by the Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1279) government official Shi Zhengzhi.
Among all the gardens in Suzhou, the Master of the Nets Garden is considered the most "balanced" in terms of its use of water, rocks, plants, and timber. The Master of the Nets Garden or Wangshi Yuan is among the finest gardens in China. Recognized with nine other Suzhou gardens as United Nations World Heritage sites, it demonstrates Chinese garden designers’ adept skills for synthesizing art, nature, and architecture to create unique metaphysical masterpieces.
It was well-worth the 20yuan admission fee.