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China Travel Guide

Suzhou

 
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China Travel Guide - SuzhouSuzhou is a city on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Lake Taihu in the province of Jiangsu, China. The city is renowned for its beautiful stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens which have contributed to its status as a great tourist attraction. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Suzhou has also been an important centre for China's silk industry and continues to hold that prominent position today. The city is part of the Yangtze River Delta region. The GDP per capita was ¥106,412 (US$15,322) in 2008, ranked 2nd among 659 Chinese cities.

History

Suzhou, the cradle of Wu culture, is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. 2500 years ago in the late Shang Dynasty, local tribes who named themselves "Gou Wu" lived in the area which would become the modern city of Suzhou.

In 514 BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period, King Helu of Wu established "Great City of Helu", the ancient name for Suzhou, as his capital. In 496 BC, Helu was buried in Huqiu.

In 473 BC Wu was defeated by Yue, a kingdom to the east which was soon annexed by the Chu in 306 BC. The golden era of Suzhou ended with this conquest. Remnants of this culture include remainders of a 2,500 year old city wall and the gate through it at Pan Gate.

By the time of the Qin Dynasty, the city was known as Wu County. Xiang Yu staged his historical uprising here in 209 BC, which contributed to the overthrow of Qin.

During the Sui Dynasty - in 589 AD - the city was renamed Suzhou.

When the Grand Canal was completed, Suzhou found itself strategically located on a major trade route. In the course of the history of China, it has been a metropolis of industry and commerce on the south-eastern coast of China.

During the Tang Dynasty (825 AD), the great poet Bai Juyi constructed the Shantang Canal to connect the city with Huqiu for tourists. In 1035 AD, the temple of Confucius was founded by famed poet and writer Fan Zhongyan. It became the venue for imperial civil examinations.China Travel Guide - Suzhou

In February 1130, the advancing Jin army from the north ransacked and massacred the city. This was followed by the Mongol invasion (1275).

In 1356, Suzhou became of the capital of Zhang Shicheng, one of the leaders of the Red Turban Rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty and the self-proclaimed King of Wu. In 1367 Zhang's main rival, Nanjing-based Zhu Yuanzhang took the city after a 10-month siege. Zhu - who was soon to proclaim himself as the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty - demolished the royal city (in the centre of Suzhou's walled city), and imposed crushing taxes on the city's and prefecture's powerful families.

Despite the heavy taxation and the resettlement of some of Suzhou's prominent citizens' to the area of Hongwu's capital, Nanjing, Suzhou soon was prosperous again. When in 1488 the shipwrecked Korean official Choe Bu had a chance to see much of Eastern China - from Zhejiang to Liaoning - on his way home, he described Suzhou in his travel report as exceeding every other city in China he had seen.Many of the famous private gardens were constructed by the gentry of the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, the city was to see another disaster in 1860 when Taiping soldiers advanced on and captured the city. In November 1863 the Ever Victorious Army of Charles Gordon recaptured the city from the Taiping forces.

The next crisis that met the city was the Japanese invasion in 1937. Many gardens were devastated by the end of the war. In the early 1950s, restoration was done on gardens such as Zhuo-Zheng Yuan (Humble Administrator's Garden) and Dong Yuan (East Garden) to bring them back to life.

In 1981, this ancient city was listed by the State Council, the PRC government, as one of four cities (the other three being Beijing, Hangzhou and Guilin) where the protection of historical and cultural heritage as well as natural scenery should ideally be treated with utmost care.

Since then, Suzhou has developed into one of the most prosperous cities in China. In the wake of the rapid economic development, a major demolition and reconstruction program has been carried through in the central parts of the ancient city. Where narrow streets, alleys and canals once existed, multi-lane highways and shopping malls have been constructed. Similar developments have also taken place in Beijing and Hangzhou, where very little classical architecture now remains.

The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. An online tour of the gardens can be seen at the 'World Heritage Tours' website.

Because Suzhou is one of the most prosperous cities in China, its development has a direct correlation with the growth of its satellite cities, most notably Kunshan, Taicang, Mudu, and Zhangjiagang, which together form the greater Suzhou region. Suzhou's jurisdictional areas are home to many high-tech development enterprises.

Suzhou has jurisdiction over (at county level):

* Districts:

  • Canglang District
  • Jinchang District
  • Pingjiang District
  • Suzhou Industrial Park
  • Suzhou High & New Technology Development Zone
  • Xiangcheng District, Suzhou
  • Wuzhong District

*County-level cities:

  • Changshu
  • Taicang
  • Kunshan
  • Wujiang
  • Zhangjiagang

By plane

Suzhou has her own airport, Suzhou Guangfu International Airport (IATA: SZV ICAO: ZSSZ), but it has limited connections - flights only from Guangfu in Guandong Province and Beijing only once every week - so you are most likely to come in through another city.

Through Shanghai
The most common route is via Shanghai — Shanghai Pudong International Airport (IATA: PVG ICAO: ZSPD) for the majority of international flights or Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (IATA: SHA ICAO: ZSSS) with mostly domestic flights, which are 120km and 86km away from Suzhou respectively. Shuttle buses run between Suzhou and the airports daily. The whole journey takes about one hour and forty minutes.

Transfer by private car (with driver) costs approximately ¥600 one way from Pudong airport and takes approximately 2 hours in light traffic. Though, when approaching the bus terminus at PVG you may be offered a one way trip for ¥400. This can be reduced if the driver finds someone to share with you

Through Wuxi
Wuxi is a small city close to Suzhou with an airport that could be an alternative for flights within China. It is smaller, and easier to get around, than Shanghai. There is almost no transportation to/from there but Suzhou taxis will go for about ¥120-160. You can also take a taxi from the Wuxi airport into central Wuxi train station (about ¥50-60), and take a short 25 minute train ride from Wuxi station to Suzhou.

It is said that there are three buses from Wuxi Airport to Suzhou at 10:30 / 12:15 / 14:30 everyday.

Through other cities
Other major cities nearby, Hangzhou and Nanjing, also have international airports. Either is conveniently reached via the new fast trains, or by bus. Air Asia's Hangzhou to Kuala Lumpur flight is usually the cheapest route from central China to Southeast Asia; see Discount airlines in Asia.

By train

China Travel Guide - Suzhou

From Shanghai
Myriad trains leave from Shanghai for Suzhou daily. The cost for a train is: local without air-con ¥13 for an approximately two-hour ride, or ¥26 with air-con for an approximately 20 or 40-minute ride. Make sure to ask for the next earliest arrival time since booking the next new high-speed train often means a 2-hour wait in order to save 20 minutes on the travel time, hence arriving an hour or so later than the slightly slower train.

Trains are sometimes sold out and it would be a good idea to buy tickets ahead of time. There are plenty of travel agencies that sell tickets, especially in Shanghai, although you can also buy tickets at the train station, which has several ticket windows that cater to English speakers.

Trains with with the D prefix are the new high speed trains. T trains are not as fast as D, but still faster and more comfortable than everything else.The first column is the train number, the third is the departure time and the fourth is the arrival time in Suzhou. Buying round-trip tickets would not probably save you any money but would save you a lot of trouble.

From Nanjing
You can also reach Suzhou by high speed (CRH) or normal train from Nanjing. Suzhou trains leave from the main (North) train station, which is on the subway line.

From Hangzhou
Trains run fairly frequently from Hangzhou.

At Suzhou Train Station into town
On arriving at Suzhou train station, visitors will be confronted by a horde of people offering taxi rides and tours, which are a real nuisance. Ignore these and walk straight ahead about 30 meters to the taxi stand. There is often a queue, but it generally moves quickly. Alternately, turn left, walk the length of the station and a bit beyond, then look for an old-style Chinese-looking bridge on your right. Cross it. Then turn left and look for hotels on your right. Or continue straight off the bridge onto Renmin Lu which leads downtown.

By bus

Buses leave regularly from the Shanghai Bus Station adjacent to the railway station for some destination and from the South Bus Station for many buses in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The journey is usually about 2hrs 30mins from Shanghai. Hangzhou is about 2.5 hours by car to/from Suzhou. See Shanghai for more details on additional bus stations. Most services arrive at Suzhou North Bus Station, which is adjacent to the train station.

By boat

The overnight ferries between Hangzhou and Suzhou are no longer running.

Riverboats on the Yangtze stop at Suzhou. See Along the Yangtze river.

Suzhou-Shimonoseki: Shanghai-Shimonoseki Ferry, 083-232-6615 (Japan) or 0512-53186686 (China), thrice weekly service. ¥15,000+.

Get around

Walking
It's possible to walk around the city although many will find the distances between some attractions too large to make walking an option. Ask the concierge at your hotel to write out the name of your destination(s), as well as how to get back. Make sure to add your own notes so you know what the translation is.

Taxis
Suzhou's rattling old silver-and-teal VW Santana taxis are a very reasonably priced way of getting around and are easily available outside of rush hour. Fares start at 10 yuan for 3km and tick up at 2.5 yuan per kilometer, so most trips within the city are cheap. That said, Suzhou's cabbies are infamous for their lack of local knowledge so having an address or phone contact to your destination will save you a lot of hassle. Driving style is best described as aggressive, although serious accidents involving taxis are rare. Be warned of taxi touts near tourist destinations and the train station - always use the taxi queue or flag one down from the street (available taxis have a green light on the front dash).

Bicycles
Another option as Suzhou is arranged in a grid-like pattern; navigation is quite easy and bikes can be hired from several locations. Go east from the train station to the traffic circle, south on Renmin Rd. To get to Renmin Lu, cross the canal on the pedestrian bridge due south of the train station, then make your way east to Renmin Lu, you can't miss it. There are two or more bicycle rental places on the right side. WARNING: traffic requires much more respect and attention than in most Western cities.

Pedicabs
Available on most main streets and always near tourist attractions. Negotiate the price before you get in and don't allow the driver to change it once you arrive at your destination, for example, saying 15 and demanding 50. This is a slow means of travel but it allows you to actually see the city while you go somewhere. Despite what you might expect, pedicabs are often more expensive than taxis- and be warned that 99% of Suzhou pedicab drivers are notorious price-gougers, so bargain hard with these guys. Expect to pay a little more in the summer months since the driver is working hard in the heat to take you there.

Motorcycle Taxis
Found the same places as pedicabs, and come with all of the pedicabs' caveats listed above. Suzhou motorcycle taxis are usually filthy, dangerously driven, and relentlessly uncomfortable (the seats are about 12 cm above the floor) so traumatic to your spine and are not recommended.

Bus
China Travel Guide - Suzhou Suzhou is renowned amongst Chinese people for it's notoriously bad bus system. Famed for long delays, crowded conditions, frequent breakdowns and aggressive drivers for many years, finally the infamous 1970s era front-engined buses with no heating or air-conditioning and cramped metal seats are being replaced by modern, air-conditioned vehicles similar to those in Shanghai, and when the subway system opens in 2011 things will move much more quickly. Despite the constant grumbling of the locals, they are a very cheap way of getting around and you can go anywhere in the city for 1-2 yuan.

Information at the bus stops are only written in Chinese but a good map (available from bookstores, magazine kiosks and street vendors) will show what buses travel on what roads. The vast majority of buses cost 1 yuan, although some newer buses with air-conditioning cost 2 yuan - A/C buses show a blue snowflake-like symbol next to the route number on the front of the bus. The fare is also displayed on a screen above the driver's seat. Exact change is necessary on most routes although some newer buses are fitted with change-machines. The most useful routes are the 'you ke' services, indicated with the Chinese character 'you' (meaning 'to travel') next to the route number, which link major hotels, tourist sights and transport hubs. Note that many routes will stop running quite early - often as early as 8pm so it's wise to have a back-up plan or check the bus schedule. There are no night buses.

Talk

The local Suzhou dialect belongs to the Wu family of Chinese dialects, and is not mutually intelligible with standard Mandarin. As Suzhou is the traditional cradle of Wu culture, the Suzhou dialect is taken to be the standard dialect of Wu Chinese. As such, Suzhou is the place to start for people who want to learn to speak Wu Chinese.

See

Freebies

  • China Travel Guide - SuzhouSoochow (Suzhou) University's Main/Original Campus Take Bus 8 from the Train Station or along North Ren Min Road (south bound) to the end of the line, get off and walk about 300-400 meters to the east. There are also many cheap and good small restaurants westward on Shizi Street (the direction the bus came) that are monitored for their cleanliness by university and health people.
  • Ping Jiang Road A beautiful walk along an ancient road paved with hand-cut stones over a thousand years old and lined with shops maintaining traditional architectural styles. The Kunqu Opera Museum and School & the Pintang Museum are along Ping Jiang Road -- admission is free and you can get a cup of tea for ¥3. Kunqu Opera performances are at 1:30PM on Sundays -- only ¥10 for tea to sit and watch. There are a surprising amount of western style coffee shops with full english menus, internet and English books at the Bookworm Cafe. Relax and get a drink along the river. If you get further north on this road, but south of the museum area, the shops eventually run out and it just becomes a quiet neighborhood again. This may be the best part of all.
  • Baita Road (Bai2 Ta3 Lu4) --> Dong Zhong Shi This isn't a tourist attraction just a street that hasn't been developed. On the east end (Baita Road) there are many trees covering the street. The western part maintains old-style store fronts as they have always been. The east end start at Renmin Road and head east on Baita West Road and the west end is west from Renmin Road. When you cross Lindun Road it becomes Baita East Road; you might want to take a look at the Zoo on the east end. It's only ¥10 and relatively tolerable by Chinese zoo standards.

Temples

  • The North Temple Pagoda
  • The Twin Pagodas
  • The Hanshan Temple
  • The Mysterious Taoist Temple
  • Confucian Temple, (Located in the south west of the old town, near to Canglang Pavilion garden.)
  • Huqiu Tower, Built during the Song dynasty from 959 to 961. Previously a Buddhist temple, the site was burned during the cultural revolution. Some buildings have been reconstructed and the is a 48-meter tall brick pagoda with seven stories and eight sides remains, though now shy of its wooden outer skin. The pagoda one of the few remaining examples of pagodas of this type. It is sometimes called the Leaning Tower Pagoda because it leans to the north by 3.5 degrees. It predates Pisa's leaning tower by over 200 years. Tiger Hill, underneath the Pagoda, is the burial place of He Lu, founder of Suzhou and King of Wu who fell in battle in 496 BCE. The hill dominates the surrounding area, which contains various garden areas and buildings. Two outstanding gardens are the Verdant Mountain Villa (Yongcui Shanzhuang) and the Wan Jing Villa. Tiger Hill is also the former home of architect I. M. Pei, who was born in Suzhou. Look to the left of the main pathway up Tiger hill, about half way up, to find a perfect old Chinese tea house. It's not well advertised and easy to miss but worth finding. Expect to pay ¥20 per person to drink tea here. Tiger Hill is of enormous importance historically and culturally, but much of its significance will likely be lost on foreign visitors. It's a nice place to walk around and explore, though, and parts of it are quite beautiful. English tour guides are available from a office to the left of the main entrance. Tour rates from ¥60-100 are negotiable. Also for those less able to climb the hill, electric carts make the journey for ¥20 per person. Their route almost circumvents the whole park, making it a quick way to see the entire site. Be ready for a terrible gauntlet of souvenir vendors you'll have to go through to get in and out of the main gate to Tiger Hill. It can get pretty intense. Just ignore it and keep walking. Tiger hill is rated as an AAAA site on China's National scale. ¥60.

Waterside townships

China Travel Guide - Suzhou

Classical Gardens

  • The Humble Administrator's Garden , Dongbei Street. (Located in the north east corner of the old city.), ☎ +86 51267537002. 7:30AM-5:30PM. Said to cost a boatload of silver and taken sixteen years to build : Tours through the garden start every 5-10 minutes. Included in the tour is a "Chinese marriage", a look at carved tree roots, followed by a boat ride through the garden canals. If you don't want the tour, you can also just wander around on your own and simply appreciate the place. The creation of striking views- sometimes borrowing features from other nearby gardens or scenic spots- is an important element of Suzhou gardening, and from that aspect this garden is truly a masterpiece. The incredible collection of bonsai trees ('pen cai' or 'pen jing' in Chinese) at the end of the garden furthest from the main entrance is worth a trip all by itself. Do not do the incense burning/fortune telling thing at the end of your guided tour unless you are really curious, or you think your wishes will be granted if you do so, or you simply enjoy being a fleeced tourist. Even on quiet days, this garden is full of people and noisy. Other gardens, below, offer a more relaxing experience. This garden is one of just a few sites listed as AAAAA on China's national tourist ranking system. ¥70, ¥50 off-season.
  • The Garden of the Master of the Nets , (Down a small ally off of Fenghuang Road in the south of the old town.), ☎ +86 512 65293190. Originally created in 1140, and recreated in 1770 by the bureaucrat Song Zongyuan. The enclosed complex of house and garden is one of the smallest, most beautiful, and most perfectly proportioned in Suzhou. Don't let the small size deceive you, this garden has enough to occupy you for half a day or more. On certain evenings there are demonstrations of many traditional performing art. ¥30.
  • The Lingering Garden. One of the largest and most important classical gardens in Suzhou and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
  • Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty. Considered to be among the finest rock and water garden constructions in Suzhou.
  • The Lion Forrest Garden, (Just off Lindun Road, near to the Humble Administrators Garden.). 7:30AM-5:30PM. One of the four great gardens of Suzhou and is admired for the incredible collection of pitted, eroded rocks that were greatly appreciated by classical Chinese scholars. It was originally part of a Buddhist monastery. The gardens are a reminder of the Buddhist story of the lions. The layout of the garden follows many twists and turns. This is another Buddhist metaphor for the path of our lives. It is easy to get quite lost in these winding paths. ¥30.
  • The Surging Wave Pavilion, (Just off Renmin Road on the south side of the old town. Near the Confucian Temple.), ☎ +86 512 65293190. One of the oldest of Suzhou's wonderful collection of private or "scholar's" gardens. More densly forested than other gardens, so ideal for hot days when you want to escape the sun. This garden is best viewed from within its many pavilions, with windows framing different views. ¥20.
  • The Retreat and Reflection Garden. Located at town of TongLi, which is about 30KM away from SuZhou.
  • Small Classical Gardens. Large classical gardens are great to see their majesty while small gardens are quite good for a quick look or relaxing with a cup of tea in relative quiet. Often local folks are seen enjoying their tea and chatting. The small garden is a living part of the local, yet ancient, culture.
  • The Former Residence of Poet and Scholar Yu Yue in the ancient Liuhuafang Block, (Central part of the old city near GuanQian Street. Cross RenMin Road to the southwest corner, go south maybe 100 meters along the west side of RM Rd, turn west at the KFC and you will see it on the north side of the alley.). Make sure to go all the way towards the back inside the garden to see the best part. This tucked away place is a little tough to find but totally worth the effort if you want to find a quiet, unpretentious place visited mainly by locals. ¥1.5, ¥3-7 for entrance and tea..
  • The Garden of Cultivation (YiPu Garden), (In the northwest corner of the old city -- inside the encircling canal. Ask local shop keepers for help since it is in an ancient block with small alleys/streets.). Make sure to go all the way towards the back inside the garden to see the best part. ¥10.
  • Tarrying Garden (Wufeng Xianguan), is located outside Changmen Gate in Suzhou City was established in the Ming Dynasty and many parts of it were rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty. "Wufeng Xianguan" of the garden is also called "Nanmu Hall" in which there are different kinds of rarely seen furnishings made of nanmu. Mandarin Duck Hall is divided into two parts by a meticulously carved partition.There are varieties of doors and windows in other structures. ¥10.
  • The Garden of Pleasure, Very small garden located at the heart of down town area of Suzhou City. Good place to have a cup of green tea and usually visited by lots of local elder people.
  • The Couple's Garden Retreat, (Quietly hidden in the small lane off of Pingjiang Road. Not easy to find it. Alternatively find the gate at the south end of the Zoo's carpark). Built in early 20's century by a couple. Many small garden rooms lead you from view to view. Each window or hall perfectly frames a set of plants, rocks or trees. Every inch of the garden has been carefully thought out. Most of the garden consists of covered walkways, even though it may rain you will be able to enjoy this garden without getting wet. ¥20.

City Gates

Pan Men is 2,500 years old and was first built by the state of Wu in the Warring States Period. It is renowned for its unique structure as a combined water and land gate. The remaining wall is 300 m long and 5 m high. Visiting Pan Men includes access to a large and rather lovely garden with ponds and pavilions (feed the koi for ¥2), a boat ride, the city water and land gate, and an original foot bridge over the grand canal. You can also climb the 2-storey, 53 meter high Auspicious Light Pagoda which was built in 1004 B.C. This however is for an extra fee of ¥12.

Hills

  • The East Hill
  • The West Hill
  • The Flat-top
  • The Heavenly Pond Hill
  • The Commander-in-chief Deng's Hill
  • The Delicate Rock Hill

Walking tours

  • The Garden of Pleasure/ Pleasence/ Joy (Yi Yuan), Yu Yue's Residence (Yu Yue ), Yi Pu Garden, the North Pagoda (Bei
  • Walk form the center of old town, go to east follow Ganjiang east road, then turn left when you go to Lindun road. You will spend one hour and get to Suzhou New Museum. After visit the museum and visit Zhuozheng Garden, you walk follow Baita West Road, then turn right Pingjiang Road, you can visit the Kunqu Opera Museum, Pintan Museum, the two museum tickets are free. After visiting the museum, you can watch a show of Kunqu Opera or Pintan,you can go back to Ganjiang east road. At night, you can go back to the Water Town Youth Hostel in old town.

Riding tours

  • Riding Shantang street and Tiger Hill
    Hire a bike from the water town youth hostel, which is located at the center of Suzhou Old Town, it will cost 25 Yuan for whole day including a bottle of water. Follow Yangyu Lane, riding north. Through the Ganjiang west road, you turn left when you get to the Xizongshi road. You will go through the old stone Chang gate, then you will turn right through the bridge of Dusunqiao. When you get to Shantang street, follow it. After half an hour, you will get to Tiger Hill, after visiting the sight, you will turn back to the Suzhou water town hostel.
  • Riding Pingjiang Road and Suzhou New Museum
    At morning, you start form water town youth hostel, turn left and go north following Renmin Road, then at once go to the east following the Ganjiang east road, you will turn left and go to north following the Lindun road. It will take you half an hour you will get to Suzhou new museum. Check and put the bike to bike keep store, visit the Suzhou new museum and Zhuozheng garden.Take the bike and ride to Yuanlin road, go to the Baita west road, you go to east and follow Baita west road, and turn right and go to Pingjiang road, you can follow the old street and go to Middle Zhangjiajie lane to visit Pintan museum and Kunqu museum, the two museums are very special and are free to visit. You will maybe spend 5 yuan or 10 yuan to watch a show of Pintan or Kunqu. Return to Guanqian street to have a supper, at night you go back the water town youth hostel and finish the riding.

Do

  • Walk down Shantang Street,a Chinese traditional old street rebuilt in Tang Dynasty more than 1100 years old, then take a boat form here to "Tiger hill" in canals.
  • Climb up the North Pagoda for a nice view of the city.
  • Visit the Silk Museum and discover the history of Silk making and the 'Silk Road'.
  • Visit the Silk Embroidery Research Institute and see the finest embroidery in the world.
  • Walk down Ping Jian Road and stop into the Kunqu (Suzhou) Opera school, theater and museum and the Pin Tan Museum. Pin Tan is a local musical tradition with a man and a woman playing traditional instruments and singing. There are nightly performances of Pin Tan at 8PM at the tea house at 793 Shi Quan Rd as well as at other locations.
  • Take a boat ride through the city's canals.
  • Dine at Li Gong Ti - the night view and lights are fantastic
  • Stroll down Guan Qian Street. If you're not the walking sort, you can opt for a ride in the little tuk-tuk down the very long shopping street. Check out the back alleys for good eating places and little quaint shops

Museums

  • Suzhou Museum designed by I.M. Pei, who is originally from Suzhou. Pei returned to Suzhou to create a museum that married his modernist sensibility with his sense of the Jiangnan home where he was born. South of the Yangzi was an area (Jiangnan) distinguished by the sophistication of its intellectual classes and aesthetic sensibilities. In his buildings, Pei has always used natural light for maximum effect in large airy spaces and entryways of his most monumental buildings. The broken planes ands and clean lines have made his renovation of the Louvre stunning and functional. The white walls of the museum are meant to evoke the whitewashed courtyard houses that once overlooked the labyrinth of canals that crisscrossed the city. One gets a glimpse of these old, dilapidated, once grand homes when walking through the old city. The Suzhou Museum recently featured the private collection of Robert Chang, Hong Kong collector. His collections contain some extraordinary pieces, snuff boxes and three color Tang ceramic figures of a breathtaking grace. The permanent collections of the museum contain some of the extraordinary archeaological finds of the area, which once was the capital of the prosperous Wu Kingdom. A thousand year old, perfectly preserved celadon bowl and plate have earned the title "national treasure." Do not miss the recreation of the Ming Dynasty scholar's study -- Dating from the 15th century, it has all the quiet sophistication of early twentieth century Austrian and German modernists. The refinement of the Suzhou literatis was unsurpassed in Chinese history. On the second floor, the collection of Chinese painting is also not to be missed. Also not to be missed is the recreation Ming Dynasty scholar's study. Gorgeous, peaceful, minimal, like the best of the Wiener Werkstaette, dark woods and sensuous curves, a daybed, every view is deeply restorative. The cafe is expensive and disappointing, but the gift shop is filled with exquisite and exquisitely priced items. Next door, is Prince Zhong's palace, which, like the Suzhou museum boasts free admission. This beautiful home is not to be missed. The shock of emerging onto a pedestrian mall with stalls hawking wares you can find in any American Chinatown will be deeply disorienting.
  • Suzhou Silk Museum most of the artifacts are faded and rather plain looking, but the live silk worms are quite a sight. A great place to bring the kids.

This is the modern, commercial centre of Suzhou located north of the old-town. Home to many electronics manufacturers, this area was recently redeveloped as a joint project between China and Singapore. This may not sound attractive but the area has been rebuilt to a similar style as Pudong in Shanghai and features many shopping malls, restaurants, parks and the huge Jinji Lake (it's no match for Xuanwuhu in Nanjing or Xihu in Hangzhou but still interesting). You can reach the SIP from the Old Town on bus no.2 and an open-top sightseeing bus departs from the Exhibition Centre car park every 45 minutes and runs a lap of the Jinji lake for just Y2! If you start suffering from garden-fatigue it's worth doing.

Buy

If you consider buying arts and craft items, teas, silks, or other items that are somewhat costly, it is strongly recommended that you do with the assistance of a Chinese-speaking person, preferably a Suzhou local who knows the products and markets. Many more upscale hotels will offer the services of a personal assistant, or you can try asking around in one of the local expat hangouts to get connected to a friendly local person with some free time. Informed Chinese assistance can make a HUGE difference in the price and quality of the things you buy.

Note that if a seller sees your foreign face, you WILL pay an inflated price- sometimes wildly so- although it may still seem cheap to you. Bargaining is an absolute must; people who don't bargain are taken for chumps. A good strategy is to offer 40% of the asking price and work from there. Don't be afraid to walk away from any negotiation if you can't get a price you're happy with. Few things sold to tourists are truly unique here, and the identical twins of most items can be found in many other shops.

  • As a city famed through the ages for its silk embroidery, Suzhou is one of the best places to pick up silk handicrafts. Shopping is good along Shi Quan Street, especially for many souvenirs. The Silk Embroidery Institute is a lively enterprise producing high quality work which you can see on a tour of the facility. The gift shop has prices a little higher than at the street stalls but they will bargain and the quality is much better. China Travel Guide - Suzhou
  • Suzhou embroidery, silk fans, musical instruments, scroll mounting, lanterns, mahogany furniture, and jade carving are available at discount prices since they are made or created within the city. Suzhou double-sided embroidery, in which the same picture is rendered in great detail on both sides of a silk screen and the knots are tied in the middle, is a traditional Suzhou specialty and is absolutely amazing. The needles used for this work are finer than a human hair. Be aware that the lower-priced examples of Suzhou embroidery sold to many tourists are probably made by machines.
  • Freshwater pearls- The Suzhou area is part of the largest freshwater pearl-producing region in the world. Pearls can be bought in every conceivable price and quality range, either singly or as strings or jewelry.
  • Sandalwood fans- folding fans made from thin ornately-stamped sheets of sandalwood- are another very old Suzhou craft and widely sold around the city. The scent of the breeze they generate while fanning is heavenly. Cheap versions are probably more mundane wood dipped in sandalwood oil, and will lose their scent rather quickly. China Travel Guide - Suzhou
  • Tea is produced in Suzhou; the most famous locally-produced green tea is called 'Biluochun' and is quite nice indeed. Large shops with endless varieties of tea can be found all around the city, and some have seating where you will be encouraged to come sit and try a pot.
  • Snuff bottles are also a long-standing Suzhou craft that remains popular today. Tiny glass bottles are delicately painted on the inside with elaborate and beautiful pictures. The best ones are truly incredible works of art.

24-hour convenience stores (bian li dian) are located on almost every street corner and sell commodities such as soft drinks, snacks (hot and cold), beer, condoms, cigarettes and magazines and whilst a little more expensive than large supermarkets they are still very good value. The 3 most prominent chains are KeDi, C-Store and FamilyMart. There are also many large supermarkets scattered around the suburbs - the most centrally-located is Wal-mart, located in the InCity Plaza shopping mall between Pingjiang District and the SIP development zone (bus 2 from downtown).

Eat

Suzhou has its own unique, slightly sweet cuisine. Local dishes here tend to have very light and delicate flavors, and there is a huge fondness for freshwater fish and shellfish. Some traditional sweets made from glutinous rice paste are an old tradition here; these will generally baffle most Western palates. A Suzhou specialty popular with many visitors is 'Song Shu Gui Yu', often rendered in English something like "Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish": the meat of a large fish is delicately cut into strips, breaded in flour, fried, and served covered with pine nuts and a sweet-and-sour sauce. It looks a little like a squirrel's tail...if you've drunk enough of the local spirits or rice wine.

Budget

  • Harbin Dumplings on Shizi Jie. The dumplings are much cheaper than the better-known Yang Yang Dumplings, and just as good.
  • Sicily, In the Guanqian (walking street) area very near Renmin Road and Ganjing Road. Very good Italian food at near Chinese prices.
  • Vegetarian Food, near corner of Gong Xiang and Furenfang Xiang, across from Christian church. Awesome vegetarian menu (especially the noodle dishes), served at insanely low prices (i.e. hearty dinner for two for ¥70.)
  • A Bing Cangshu Mutton Soup, 332 Pi Shi Street. Has a long history. People in Suzhou like the soup very much. It is delicious but very cheap--only ¥20/Person. Eat it once you will twice.
  • Let's Rock Hong Kong Restaurant (Hao3 Yue4) , 403 Shi Quan Street. A fun, modern little restaurant with great Hong Kong/Cantonese food. Good dim sum- these folks make a serious Barbecued Pork Bun (Cha Shao Bao). The menu offers lots of quick, inexpensive dishes. - recent name change but same owners & chef
  • Good Eats, now in Shamrock Irish Bar, ShiQianJie. North American fast foods like wraps, hamburgers, etc. Arguably one of the better hamburgers-n-fries sold in China. The Baltimore and California burgers are strongly recommended. - intermittent hours of operation
  • Meimei, - very affordable dimsum and Chinese food.

Splurge

You can go to Li Gong waterside and you will find the famous Suzhou local food and western food. Many of the 4- and 5-star hotels have good buffets in the ¥160-600 range depending on location.

Drink

Bars
Shiquan Street is the main bar area. It is also the entertainment district for guys looking for a little conversation with gals. Quite a number of the bars on this street are thinly-veiled fronts for the world's oldest profession; numbers of very friendly young ladies sitting around the bar or standing in doorways to tempt in passers-by are an easily-recognized signal. Those wishing to avail themselves of such diversions are encouraged to exercise extreme caution, not overdo the drinking, ask the cost of everything (including the room you are taken to) before accepting it, and never pay anything in advance. Some of the better known ones (safer?) are "The Moon Bar" aka 'The Danish Embassy", known for its regular crowd of locals, The Blue Lady Bar and The Red Lion Bar - all within the block between FengHuangJie and Suzhou Hotel. All offer drinks without other services and they won't bother you is you are not partaking further!

During the day, Shi Quan Street is an important shopping district- prices there tend to be high but quality is also often better than most.

Drinking only bars include:

  • The Pub Bar, is one of the oldest bars on the street and supports a large crowd of 'expat locals' and 'repeat visitors' in it's small but friendly interior. Located nearby the Master of Net's Garden, Pulp Fiction Bar and YangYang Jiaozi restaurant on Shi Qian Jie. The bar is cosy and boisterous, features 10+ years of photographs and business-cards pasted on the roof and walls and is a good point to catch up on local gossip, find out who is in town and enjoy a friendly drink with 'expat locals' and new friends. WiFi Internet, snacks and clean toilets make it a good resting-point on your travels!
  • Pulp Fiction Bar, 169 Shiquan Street. Friendly Australian bar on Shi Quan Jie. A great place to go and meet Westerners and English speaking Chinese people. Shoot some American Pool and play a game of darts. Like any place in Shi Quan Jie it is fairly quiet until 10PM then comes to life. Happy hour is until 8:30PM.
  • The Shamrock Bar, 775 Shi Quan Street. Hangout for some foreigners - it was once popular with both tourists and local expats. Pool (billiards) can be found here, and the new dartboards and foosball table see a lot of hot action, too. Great music; selections tend to rock and hip-hop but the available range is surprisingly eclectic. There's a DJ on duty Thursday-Saturday evenings and requests are welcome. The Thursday night ¥100 all-you-can-drink special is a genuine local institution. Might try a spectacular drink called a 'Flaming Lamborghini' sometime. China Travel Guide - Suzhou
  • "The Bookworm" is in 'computer street'; and just north of ShiQianJie near the Shamrock Bar - known for it's collection of books, friendly atmosphere and good range of comfort foods. Open daily for coffee and meals you will always find people sitting around reading, using the internet or just 'hanging out'.

Other notable drinking spots include Guan Qian Walking Street.

  • Southern Cross western style restaurant are on the east end of Guan Qian street about 100 meters south of KFC. Southern Cross has good Tex-Mex.and also has a Indian Restaurant
  • Goose 'n' Duck , (1/F, 1 Green Lake International Tower), ☎ 59283045. 24H. A venerable old sports pub, G&D is open 24 hours and features batting cages, basketball courts, beach volleyball and a golf simulator in addition to a full menu of food and drinks, including its own microbrews. Accepts international credit cards.
  • Zapata's, Rainbowalk, Jinji Lake. Great tex-mex food, Margaritas and view over the lake. Western DJ plays happy tunes from last 4 decades and free tequila pouring on the bar every night.
  • Harry's Bar (formerly nearby Southern Cross) has moved further North and across the road into an old residence near the Humble Administrator Garden - now known as 'Forbidden' it has a larger area for bands, more food and more space.

Coffee Shops and Book Bars

  • SoloCafe,+86-512-6572-0696 Good coffee and food. View right over the canal. Very cute place with a Lotus theme (the milk in my mocha was lotus shaped). Cross the bridge over the canal across the street from the Suzhou Hotel and it is next to the north side of the bridge on your left.
  • The Minghantang Cafe,+86-512-65833331/655565221 in Santang Street, Belongs to Suzhou Minghantang Youth Hostel, a old traditional house more than 400 years old. Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet. You can meet a lot of friends all over the world.
  • The Bookworm, Right off Shi Quan Street, near The Shamrock. Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet. Good selection of English books to read in the shop or to borrow if you get a membership. A very nice alternative to relaxing at a bar. This place has become a major focal point for the resident expat community.
  • Provence Cafe about 200 Shi Quan Street in the Dong Wu Hotel complex. Good coffee and food. Free internet for 30 minutes with a meal.

Budget

  • Suzhou Watertown Youth Hostel, +86-512 6521-8885, #27 Dashitou Lane , Renmin Road. Centrally located in a traditional Suzhou block-house with all the modern conveniences, including Internet access. prices from ¥40.
  • Suzhou Minghantang Youth Hostel,hostelling international, +86-512 6583-3331, #61 tongguiqiao,xiatang, ShanTang ST GuangJi Road,. Centrally located, in a traditional Suzhou block-house more than 400 years old in ShanTang Street , Internet access,WiFi, Coffee shop, beds prices from ¥40.
  • Dongwu Hotel Wuyachang, 200 Shi Quan St, +86 512 6519-3681
  • Suzhou Youth Hostel Hosteling International, 178 Xiangwang Lane (Next to Shi Quan St and the Dong Wu & 100 Happy Hotels). Tel+86 512 6510-9418 or 6518-8734 -beds from ¥40-50
  • Suzhou Hostel, 186 Zhuhui Road, Tel:+86 512 6518-0266. Beds from ¥45
  • 100 Happy Hotel, 201 Shiquan Street, Canglang District, +86 512 6801-7999, 6560-0796, 6801-7788 or 6137-7646. Few English-speaking staff.
  • Hengdeli Hotel, +86 512 65115788, offers small but clean rooms at cheap rates. If you call them, they will quote their cheapest room to you as "200 yuan", but if you say you found them on the internet, the price will drop to 160. And although they don't advertise it, they also offer ultra-cheap rooms for ¥128/night. Also unadvertised is the fact that all standard rooms are equipped with (extremely slow, but free) "broadband" access for laptop users. Breakfast is included. Staff are very friendly and speak English well enough to take a telephone reservation or give directions. A short walk from central Suzhou, but still very quiet. A great find and good value in Suzhou.
  • Mingtown-Suzhou Youth Hostel, No.28 Pingjiang Rd, 0512-65816869. In the most ancient block in Suzhou downtown area. Ping Jiang road keeps the old pattern of road paralleling to canal on its original site Town giving you aboriginal water town feeling, which makes it the most attractive ancient block in old Suzhou Town.Hostel is rebuilt based on an old building and have a nice garden with fish in the pool. It only takes ten minutes’ walk to famous sights like Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou Museum, The Lion Forest Garden, Shan Xi Assembly Hall, Couple Garden, Guan Qian Street and there are also many buses to other sight-seeing spots in Suzhou city from here. Bed Price:CNY40-CNY200/night.

Mid-range

  • Bamboo Grove Hotel, 168 Zhu Hui Road, 86-512 6520-5601. Comfortable rooms, lots of smokers, I found the dining room too smoke filled to enjoy eating there. Rates are reasonable. The internet connection is serviceable. Bamboo Grove is an older and more 'Chinese hotel' than other places. It is still very clean and comfortable and has plenty of character. English is spoken well by staff. It is within easy walking distance from Shi Quan Street, Guihua Park, 'Master of Nets' garden and 'Jack's Place' Italian restaurant. The Hotel has only 5 floors which is good if you have a heights problem!
  • Gloria Plaza Hotel, 535 Gan Jiang East Road, 86-512 6521-8855,. Nice hotel. Decent restaurant, clean rooms. Close to the center of the city and a short walk to the pedestrian mall area. Good internet connections, cost was reasonable.
  • Guibinlou Hotel, No. 888 East Ganjiang Road, Pingjiang District, ☎ +86-512-65217888. Located in the Guanqian Commercial Area, 3 km from railway station. Rooms have en-suite bathrooms, cable TV and free Internet. ¥400.
  • Mercure Suzhou Park Hotel, In Suzhou Industrial Park.
  • Suzhou Nanlin Hotel, No. 20 Gunxiufang, Shiquan Street, Canglang District, ☎ +86-512- 68017888, Located in the Shiquan St bar strip. 210 rooms with safe, toilet and TV. Gym, pool, sauna and, alas, karaoke. ¥500.
  • Wealth Center Hotel, 938 Ganjiang East Road, Pingjiang District, tel. +86-512-65091688. 4-star hotel

Splurge

  • Sheraton Suzhou Hotel and Towers, 259 Xin Shi Road, +86 512 6510 3388. Nice western style hotel, pool, gym, ood restaurant, but somewhat expensive. The tap water is filtered and drinkable. Good internet connections. There is a large and very nice garden right behind the Sheraton which is nice to visit.
  • Holiday Inn Jasmine, 345 Chang Xu Road, +86 512 65588888. New Western-style hotel with excellent amenities in-room that rival nearly any rooms in the United States (of any price). While somewhat out of the way of nightlife, the Holiday Inn would probably suit business travelers well. Free Internet in-room.
  • Renaissance Suzhou Hotel, 229 Suhua Road, Suzhou Industrial Park, ☎ (86 512)6761 8888 (fax: (86 512)6767 1888). checkin: 2:00PM; checkout: 12:00 noon.
  • Aster Hotel Suzhou, 156 Sanxiang Road, Suzhou, +86 512 68291888. Nice hotel, but a bit out of the way of the old town. Claims to be either 4* or 5* depending where you look. Perfect for the business traveller, except that the in-room internet connection was only 10Mbps, so things were a little slow. There is an outside swimming pool that is not heated, so is closed in the colder months. The Gym was also closed when I visited. The Lobby bar is a good place to meet up, but lacks much character. The ground floor restaurant 'Venice Cafe', serves really good breakfasts. There is also a revolving restaurant on the top floor, but I have not tried this. The rooms are really comfortable and big! One of the best rooms I have stayed, in China. The Staff are pleasant and helpful and speak English really well.

Contact

Suzhou has many free WiFi access points as well as pay (¥2.5 per hour) Internet cafes.

WiFi hotels
China Travel Guide - Suzhou Suzhou Minghantang Youth Hostel,hostelling international, +86-512 6583-3331, #61 tongguiqiao,xiatang, ShanTang ST GuangJi Road. Centrally located, in a traditional Suzhou block-house more than 400 years old in ShanTang Street , Internet access,WiFi, Coffee shop, beds prices from ¥40.

Suzhou Watertown Youth Hostel, +86-512 6521-8885, #27 Dashitou Lane, Renmin Road, . Centrally located, in a traditional Suzhou block-house with all the modern conveniences, including Internet access. prices from ¥40

  • 100 Happy Hotel Connections in the rooms via cable.
  • Suzhou Youth Hostel Free WiFi in rooms and common room, On desktops in the common room 15 minutes free + paid additional connect time.

WiFi cafes

The Minghantang Cafe,+86-512-65833331/655565221 in santang Street.,Belongs to Suzhou Minghantang Youth Hostel,a old house more than 400 years old.Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet. You can meet a lot of friends all over the world.

In China you may sit, relax and enjoy cafes and tea houses as long you wish, usually for the cost of one drink/meal.

  • Provence Cafe in the Dong Wu Hotel complex, Wuyachang, about 200 Shi Quan St. Internet access for a limited time via a laptop - free with your meal
  • New Island Cafe many locations throughout Suzhou and China. Free WiFi.

Buy

Supermarkets & Department Stores

  • Auchan Supermarket, Jinjihu Road 205 Tel. 6761 1616
  • Carrefour Supermarket, San Xiang Road, Tel. 68620324
  • Metro Hypermarket, imported foods, 579 Chang Jiang Road Tel. 6661 8888
  • Tai Hua Department Store, international labels, Nan Men Road, OT

Imported Foods

  • Summit The Market Place, imported foods, No.128 Jinjihu Road - East 1st floor (basement)
  • Horizon, imported foods
  • Yumway (Suzhou) Bakery & Deli, imported foods, SIP: 102 Singa Plaza, Jinjihu Road; SND: 1st floor, SGV Plaza, 98 Shi Shan Road Tel: 130 1381 7518 Fax: 512 6809 4548
  • Silver Palate, imported foods, Room 105, Building 23, 58 XinHai Street (on same side as Bailing Mansion Entrance), Suzhou, SIP Tel: 6075-9127

Hardware

  • B&Q, home improvement, 208 Jinjihu Road, Tel. 6761 2356

Toys

  • Look Toy World, 2F Space Flight Mansion, 12 Xinshi Road Tel: 6511 1337

Furniture

  • Markor Furnishings, furniture, 55 Gan Jiang Xi Road, OT(Old Town), Tel: 6523 7337