Visitors who are taken on the requisite trip to Guan Qian Street (观前街), the main pedestrian shopping area in Suzhou, are often taken aback at the surging hordes there. In contrast, Shi Quan Street (十全街) is a peaceful lane for shoppers, but the stores are limited to clothing boutiques and DVD stores. If you’re looking to have a nice stroll, and also do a little window shopping, a very different area is what the doctor ordered: Shi Lu (石路) and nearby Shan Tang Street (山塘街).
Shan Tang Steet, Suzhou Photo: 17u.com
Just at the northwest corner of the rectangular ancient moat system that surrounds the city, Shi Lu and Shan Tang Street are the commercial hubs of the area northwest of downtown. Shi Lu is a modern shopping area complete with malls, electronics markets, extensive dining options, and large pedestrian areas. Shan Tang Street is a remodeled ancient walkway that stretches from Shi Lu all the way up to Tiger Hill – a journey of seven li, or 3.5 km. The row houses here are classical but many sport new façades. The two areas combined together offer an afternoon full of wandering, shopping, and enjoying elements of both new and ancient Suzhou.
Shi Lu is located just off the main east-west traffic artery of Gan Jiang Road. It is home to a number of electronics stores and large department stores. Its format is similar to that of downtown Guan Qian Street; a large promenade is off-limits to cars and allows shoppers to move about freely. All the big-name fast food restaurants you expect to see are present, as well as some higher-end places that serve steaks and sit-down meals. In terms of shopping, the selection isn’t quite as extensive as Guan Qian Street’s many department stores, but it comes close. There seems to be a larger focus on electronics in this area, with a multi-story U-Town market just down the road, and a PC Mall in the middle of Shi Lu. Several side streets surround Shi Lu with small stalls and shops that offer generic gifts and daily necessities. A cinema, video game arcade, and a handful of bars round out the entertainment options as Shi Lu strives to serve as a one-stop shop for local residents’ weekend outings.
Shilu Steet, Suzhou
If Shi Lu contains most of what modern Suzhou has to offer, Shan Tang Street seeks to showcase centuries of local culture and traditions. Long-hailed as a “shopping street”, Shan Tang attracts tourists who wish to trek the nearly 4 km from Shi Lu to Tiger Hill; the stone pagoda that is one of Suzhou’s most famous landmarks. Shan Tang has developed quickly in just the last few years. Small convenience stores have given way to silk, pearl, jade, and handicraft shops. There is even a Cultural Revolution-themed store that carries 1960s memorabilia. A sword store carries replicas of weapons crafted by legendary local swordsmith, Gan Jiang. Ping tan music flows gently from a shop selling instruments, and the aroma of fresh green tea is ever-present as tourists flock to teahouses and vendors alike.
If the long hike doesn’t interest you, perhaps a trip up Shan Tang’s canal via boat is up your alley. Trips up the waterway that runs adjacent to Shan Tang’s row houses are available from the entrance to the street. The cruises allow visitors to enjoy a typical classical canal scene in Suzhou; white walls adorned with black tile roofs form a canyon that is crisscrossed by stone bridges. The trip can either take you to Tiger Hill, a very popular tourist destination, or back to the starting point so you can be on your way back to Shi Lu. Hotels are also available along Shan Tang for visitors who wish to make a night out of this window into ancient Suzhou.
If the busy masses of Guan Qian Street or the small selection of Shi Quan are giving you headaches, try a peaceful stroll around Shi Lu and Shan Tang. Both modern convenience and ancient charm await you in this northwest corner of the city. When your feet get too tired, just jump aboard a watercraft and cruise along Shan Tang’s canal and enjoy a view of classical Suzhou. No matter what your tastes, this area has what you’re looking for, and with plenty of room to wander!
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Keywords: Suzhou shopping Shi Lu Street Suzhou where to shop Suzhou shops Suzhou Shantang Street Suzhou
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