China 13: A day beside the canals of Suzhou
With promises of oldness and canals we were looking forward to Suzhou.
We left the train and found the taxi rank. Our driver couldn’t understand the print-out of our hotel address and map but must’ve got the general gist as we set off. In hindsight it would have been better to source that info directly from the hotel website rather than relying on the booking site confirmation. But anyhoo…
He let us out in the general area of the hotel and we had some fun and games finding it. Once there though we were happy with the choice – really nice digs and cheap (less than NZ$70 from memory).
With only one day here we didn’t waste time getting back out and into it.
Suzhou is directly west of Shanghai and has origins dating back 2,500 years. In the modest amount of reading I did prior to the trip, I formed a perception that it was a small and picturesque city. However, with over 10 million residents it’s a tad bigger than I thought.
A focus of our wanderings was the old area in and around the canals which were built into the city by virtue of its location in the Yangtze River Delta. Suzhou is referred to as China’s version of Venice and fittingly there were canal boat rides on offer (which we saw but didn’t partake of).
We meandered slowly through the old shopping streets, adopting the familiar habit of looking over our shoulders for scooters. With silk being an historically important trade for Suzhou, it seemed only fair that I buy a silk scarf, and the cute wee shops offered up a few other bits and pieces too.
Some of the streets are now several hundred years old and Suzhou Street in Beijing’s Summer Palace, which we visited a couple of days before, was modelled on one of them. This was a popular area for wedding photos too going by the couples we saw out with their small photographic entourages.
There is much hype about Suzhou’s gardens and we felt compelled to investigate, buying our way into the curiously-named Humble Administrator’s Garden. While yes it was an extensive and exquisitely designed garden, the density of its spaces felt a bit claustrophobic; that coupled with (naturally) a lot of other visitors made it not the most relaxing green experience for me.
We paid a quick visit to the Suzhou Museum and I think I spent more time in its well-appointed gift shop than doing normal museum stuff. It’s an impressive modern facility and highly regarded but weariness was creeping in.
Enough enthusiasm was mustered later to venture back out for dinner. Over the course of the day it was interesting to see how old Suzhou is juxtaposed with its modern self and shop names such as Tasty, Manual Tart, Magic Fingers and Trendy Man Jeans. Sadly for Mike the latter was closed.
Suzhou was a pleasant stay and one day there felt sufficient. After a lazy start in the morning we returned to the train station for the final hop in our domestic travels: Shanghai.