OK you have done Suzhou’s famous classical gardens, explored the canals and had some great food. Now it’s time to have some fun and go Shopping! Suzhou is a great place to find bargains but you’ve got to know where to go.
1) Pearl Market
Let’s start at the Pearl Market (珍珠市场) 45 minutes north of the city in Wei Tang. Here you can pick up a leather strapped necklace with three cultured pearls in a tear drop mounting for as little as 10 RMB. The cavernous market has jewelry for all tastes and pocket books. Expect to haggle and you can come away with some great deals especially if you are loading up with gifts to take back home and buy in bulk from the same vendor.
2) Jade Market
There is also the jade market. The market, just south of Shi Quan Street, next to the Master’s of the Nets Garden, is a labyrinth of small jade carving shops. You can see the single Chinese character for “Jade” that looks like a capital “I” but with a line across the middle and a stroke at the inside bottom right (玉) poking out all along the winding streets. No need to go into each shop as each craftsman’s wares are on display as you walk by. These people are more artists than merchants and don’t seem in a hurry to close a deal. You will probably get an offer of tea if you sit down to discuss a piece you like. It is a good way to cut out the middle man’s commission and save a few Yuan.
3) Metro Shopping Center
For clothing, head to Metro Shopping Center (Mei Luo Shang Cheng) at the corner of Guan Qian Road, the main pedestrian shopping street, and Ren Min Road. They have lots of name brand stores and lots of sales. Put the two together and you can come out with some nice duds at a fraction of what you would pay at home. There is a new shopping district in the S.I.P. by Jinjihu called “Outlets” and although it has all the branded shops the tags rarely tout outlet bargain prices.
4) Children’s Clothing Street
For children’s clothing there is a special street called, not surprisingly, Children’s Clothing Street on Gong Yuan Road. Things are cheap but you need to check everything closely. A lot of the stock is seconds and can have faults, usually seams coming apart because not enough overlap was left in an ill calculated effort to save money. A better place for children ages 3 to 10 is The Kids’ Shop in Singa Plaza (Xin Du Guang Chang|新都广场). Here you find good quality branded goods at very reasonable prices. Check out the shoes too, very fashionable.
5) Bargain Silk
If you are looking for famous Suzhou silks you can try the No.1 Silk Factory on Pan Men Road along the south moat. They have a great selection of bed comforters. Or try the Silk Museum at 66 Ren Min Road south of the Railroad Market. All Suzhou expat women know Mei Mei’s on the east side of the temple grounds just off Guan Qian Street. Mei Mei knows what Westerners are looking for and prices are clearly marketed. She can have things tailored for you within a few days too. Not particularly cheap, but honest.
6) Cheap Foreign Language Books
For books head to the Foreign Language Bookstore (Wai Wen Shu Dian | 外文书店) at 44 Ren Min Road. It has a good selection of English books and some French and German ones. Most of the books are copies but the prices are unbeatable. They also have a great selection of children’s’ material. The grocery stores in housing estates that cater to foreigners have begun carrying copies of best sellers and popular business books. You can pick up many titles from the Harvard Business Review series for 15 RMB each. These retail for $19.95 in the States! Unethical yes, but cheap.
The Book store on the north side of Guan Qian Street has four floors of all kinds of printed material from maps to Hanzi wall charts. Unbelievable value for full colour printed art books. Lots of Chinese language support material. I bought my first Chinese-English Dictionary there six years ago for 16 RMB and I checked this week and it is still only 20 RMB for this must-have tool.
7) Bikes on the Cheap
There are a thousand bike shops in Suzhou. If you want some wheels for a child who will fast outgrow it pick up a cheap one at the Railroad Market (Qian Wan Li Qiao Xiao Shang Pin Shi Chang|钱万世里桥小商品市场) just south of the train station on the west side of Ren Min Road, or you can try Carrefour or Auchan for a little better quality. But if you want an adult bike you have the choice of cheapie which you can pick up in any of the many shops around the University, especially Moye Road.
However, if you want a bike that will last, head to the Giant store on Ren Min Road north of the pedestrian shopping street in Old Town. I paid 700 RMB for a three speed and have thoroughly enjoyed a trouble-free five years with it. Another reliable supplier is Decathlon. Good quality/price balance and a no questions asked return policy. It’s a one stop sports equipment and clothing source. However, if you want to go up market you can spend a couple of thousand or more at Silverstone or Teck. Both have shops in the S.I.P.
8) Stationary and Decoration Galore
Back to the Railroad market, it is also a good place to pick up stationary, decorations for Christmas, children’s’ party favours, and souvenirs to take home as give aways. It has plenty of little mom and pop shop and local colour. Another multi-floored warren of small shops selling everything from sponge shoe liners to candle lanterns is on the west side of Dong Huan Road between Zhong Xin Road and Zhuang Xian Awn Road. It also has cheap (in both senses of the word) clothes and odd Chinese mementos.
9) Second Hand Car
How about a second hand car? Go to the intersection where Yang Fan Road turns into State Highway 312 near the intersection of Yang Dong Road just about 3 kilometres northeast of the old town. Here you will find hundreds of vehicles from passenger cars and SUVs, to minivans and used services buses. The lot is belted by small offices with the managers sitting in the doorways smoking and surveying their fleets. They will bounce out and make an offer if you stop by one of their cars. A quick deal can be had but remember they are used, in other words “Buyer beware”.
One thing to remember when dealing with the Suzhounese, they are not really into bargaining. So if you want something you might ask for a little “discount” but don’t push it or you and the seller will both lose face, be unhappy and you will almost always walk away empty handed. So, unless it is clearly a tourist trap, ask for a 10% discount and be satisfied if the seller accepts. Happy shopping!
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Keywords: cheap goods in Suzhou shopping in Suzhou discount markets in Suzhou buying silk in Suzhou
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