When visiting the town of Suzhou in Jiangsu, China, you’ll quickly understand its nickname as The Venice of the East. Canals, gardens and the architecture of the Old Town make this place feel oddly romantic. Sure you can’t hop on a gondola and listen to a serenade, but you could just hop on a small boat and listen to the lady rowing your boat sing instead.
In February I had the chance to get a glimpse of Suzhou and its surroundings. I left wanting more. The Chinese have an old saying about this town: 上有天堂下有苏杭 “In Heaven there is paradise, below there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.” and soon you’ll realise that they weren’t lying.
So what is it that makes Suzhou so loved by foreign tourists but also by the locals who admire this town?
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou:
With over 50 gardens still existing in the town of Suzhou, you sure have some visiting to do in town! But why visit them and what makes them so special?
Those classical gardens date back to the 6th Century and are the work of talented Garden masters. Following a certain pattern in a very limited space (since they had to fit to the space available in someone’s home), those gardens have to represent a smaller version of our natural world, with a poetry that would probably remind you of the old Chinese paintings.
People might have mainly heard of Japanese Gardens, but it’s good to know that those were influenced by the Chinese. And while the Chinese Gardens were always supposed to be a representation of nature, the Japanese Garden did develop their own style, maybe due to the Shinto influence, maybe simply because of cultural differences.
If you had to pick only a few gardens in Suzhou we’d recommend the famous Administrator’s Garden, the Couple’s Garden Retreat and the Net Master’s Garden that are all great masterpieces.
The Canals in town and nearby:
Step in Suzhou and that’s when the nickname of “Venice of the East” will start to make sense. The town is clearly built around waterways and you’ll surely easily find canals during your walk. It’s easy to hop on a boat and if you don’t like that so much you could just stroll near the canals and enjoy the view.
While we do recommend a small boat trip, you don’t have to take it in Suzhou itself. Luckily enough this architecture full of canals can be found in the surrounding towns and Luzhi is a perfect example of it.
While touristy (but when a place is touristy there is usually a reason why!), it’s a nice day trip to take. Pay a small fee to hop on a local boat while a lovely woman in blue will row on the small canals singing a fairly (high-pitch) nice local song to you. Sure I do love a serenade but that’s a bit more original than the boat rower in Venice! And surely much more colourful.
In Luzhi people love to take their picture wearing costumes of different Chinese dynasties , give in to it or just take a few photos of this very Chinese activity (honestly, I think I’ve never seen something more successful than those shops, if I had to open something in China that would be it!).
The Food in Suzhou:
If there is something I enjoy everywhere in China it’s the food but there’s a difference with the one in Suzhou: it’s not just good, it’s insanely cute!
People around town are inventive and like to get their steamed buns a perfect look. A little piggy for a pork bun, a flower if it’s filled with lotus, the design isn’t only artistic, it’s also practical.
But if you’re a bit tired of the local food, then this town being big (and pretty famous for the expat community) you’ll surely find anything you are looking for, fast food or just foreign food.
The Museums in town:
One more thing Suzhou is loved for: its museums. If you love classical art and history then you’ve got your day filled already!
The Suzhou Museum not only holds an amazing collection of calligraphy and ancient Chinese paintings but is also a great architectural innovation. Adding a modern twist to the more traditional surrounding buildings, you might want to peak in just to see that.
And if you’re not so much into classical art then you could go and visit the Museum of Ancient Chinese Sexual Culture located in Tongli. One of the first museum about sex in China, there are over 2.000 pieces there and it sure makes for a fun day out! Sadly, as I was travelling with my mother, I decided to skip on the awkward silence and skipped that museum but next time…
It’s easy to love Suzhou. Not only is it convenient to get to (take a bullet train from Shanghai and you’ll be there in less than half an hour) but it’s both modern and ancient. Perfect for tourists and for expats, this town made it to my list of places I wouldn’t mind living in or going back to. So if you are visiting Shanghai for a few days, spare one or two and head to Suzhou!
Where is Suzhou?
Suzhou is located in the province of Jiangsu and is near Shanghai, a quick train ride should easily get you there!
Have you ever visited Suzhou? Fancy discovering this town? Tell us what you think in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!
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