We fell in love with Suzhou before we’d even moved to China. I did a quick search on the internet for the most livable cities in China, and Suzhou was near the top of the list. From that google search on, I always knew I wanted to live here. Although it didn’t work out for our first year in China, with 2 years of teaching experience under my belt, it wasn’t a problem to find a job here for year 2.
Living in SIP, we are surrounded by expats, western food, western bars and English. It couldn’t be more comfortable for us and I sometimes forget that we’re living in China. But Suzhou isn’t only good as a place to live and work. There’s plenty to see here as well, and although tourism isn’t as high as it is in cities like Guilin, you’d have no problem filling a week in Asia’s Venice.
Where Guiyang has minority villages, Suzhou has Water Towns. Water Towns are built along the canals and are a peaceful retreat into ancient China. They can be a little over crowded during holidays and weekends, but if you can escape to one during the week, they are a lovely experience. You can get traditional minority candies and food and there are always plenty of little restaurants where you can stop for some food. Water Towns are also nice for shopping and it isn’t difficult to find a shop that sells scarves and other traditional Chinese gifts.
Shantang Road and Pingjiang Road
There is no shortage of places to shop in Suzhou. Shantang Road ad Pingjiang Road are both ancient shopping streets where you can find any Chinese souvenir you desire. They’re also great places to grab a beer, hop on a boat and eat some local food. My favourite pass-time on Shangtang Road (we haven’t actually visited Pingjiang yet) is taking pictures. These roads are beautifully picturesque and no matter which time of day you visit, there are endless photo ops.
Although Dave hates shopping and crowds, even he is impressed by some of the craftsmanship you can find on Shantang Road. Jade carvings, paintings and wood art is easy to find along the street. Not only are these things beautiful to look at, but they give you an (air conditioned) escape from the crowds when they get to be too much!
What drew me to Suzhou happens to still be my favourite part of living in this city. Suzhou has the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in my life. They are a mixture of old and new, with old style buildings and carefully trimmed trees. In some of the more famous parks, the crowds can be a problem, but if you go to some of the smaller parks, they are peaceful and refreshingly quiet.
Circular doorways are abundant in Suzhou Parks and I never grow tired of taking photos of them. Most of the parks we’ve visited have also had rock formations that make mini caves. There are dozens of parks in Suzhou and so far I’ve only seen 3 or 4, but each has been impressive in its own way.
And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I consider it a game to find all the crazy translations each park has to offer. Here are some from Lingering Garden
There are really 2 types of parks in China. There are the walled off ‘old style’ parks that are a step into ancient China…and then there are modern parks that are free and open, similar to the ones we have out West. I don’t often go to those parks, but we had one particularly beautiful weekend back in May where Dave and I, and our friend Michael, spent several hours chatting and walking around Central Park. I ended up with a pretty impressive sunburn, but it was worth the peaceful afternoon.
If you’re lucky, you may even spot some wildlife in Central Park! We saw this little guy from across the pond…a testament to the zoom on my camera!
All the Other Cool Stuff
Although we’ve been here nearly a year now, I still haven’t had the chance to make it to some of Suzhou’s most famous landmarks. Tiger Hill is somewhere I was hoping to go this week, but my leg is still very swollen so I haven’t been able to. There is a pagoda there that leans that is pretty cool to see.
A smaller and lesser know destination I HAVE visited is Suzhou’s city wall. It’s located at the Xiangmen metro stop on line 1 and although it isn’t the kind of thing that would take up an afternoon, it’s a nice place to stop during sunset or at night, when the area is all lit up.
So there you have it. These are some of my favorite places to visit in Suzhou. This list will continue growing the longer we live here, but I think this is a pretty good start!
In my next post, I’ll be writing more about SIP, the area where Dave and I live.