Guide to Suzhou: Rediscovering an Old City

Guide to Suzhou: Rediscovering an Old City

Train ticket to Suzhou
Photo: haanism.com

Suzhou is without a doubt one of the richest cultural centers in the whole of China and no visitor to this southern city can fail to history that pervades the place. Suzhou is located about 1 hour by train from Shanghai and this therefore makes it a wonderful one or two day weekend trip destination.

Alternatively, Suzhou is an excellent choice for expats living in Beijing who are longing for some adventure in the South, and want somewhere easy to get to. Wherever you are visiting Suzhou from, even if as part of a vacation tour of China, make sure to spend at least a day enjoying the sights and sounds of this testament to China’s long cultural history.

Probably the first thing anyone will tell you about Suzhou is that the city is famous for its many wonderful examples of Chinese landscaped gardens. One of the most highly regarded of which is the Humble Administrator’s Garden located in northeast Suzhou, it is the largest private garden in the city. It's a more traditional "outdoors" garden with streams, ponds, bridges, and islands of bamboo forests. It was constructed in the 1500s in the Ming Dynasty by Wang Xianchen, an imperial censor. Wangxianchen gave his garden this name, meaning humble Administrator's Garden, because it was built after he was dismissed from the imperial court.

The complex consists of four parts: the eastern, central, western parts and a dwelling quarter. The dwelling quarter is filled with typical Suzhou architectures which used to be residential houses for the administrator and his family, which now serves as the exhibition halls of the Museum of the Gardens. The eastern part features pine forests and lawns, bamboo groves and flowing water. Many famous attractions here include Orchid Snow Hall, Dotted Clouded Peak, Lotus Flower Waterside Pavilion and much more. In the center part, visitors will find pavilions, mansions, corridors, lush vegetations and willow sheltered ponds. The main attraction in the western part is the 36 Mandarin DucK Hall. Ponds, corridors, terraces also scatter everywhere in this part. The large garden will afford a leisure walk and stroll around for an hour or so. The layout, natural and unsophisticated, is a manifestation of the Ming Dynasty landscape art.

Following on from that, no visit to Suzhou would be complete without also viewing Canglang ting (Canglang pavilion). Not only one of the four most renowned Suzhou gardens, Canglang ting is also the oldest existing garden in the city and a model of Song-dynasty gardens. It was first constructed in the 10th century, and Su Shunqin, a poet of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), gave it this name, meaning Surging Wave Pavilion.

Breaking away from the traditional style of encircling tall walls, its layout allows a combination of inside and outside natural landscape. Long corridor traces the bank of the pond right outside the garden. The rocks, winding corridors and flowery walls are the three characteristic features of Canglang Pavilion.

Just wondering around Suzhou one can get a feel for the many dynasties that have stopped by and called this place home. One of the main reasons for Suzhou’s success is due to the abundant natural resources, one of which, silk, has been exploited for centuries.

To find out more, Suzhou Silk Museum is worth a quick look. The museum is the only silk-centric museum in the world. The museum falls into three parts, the Ancient, Modern and Contemporary Halls. The Ancient Hall mainly display silks from ancient time from the Neolithic Age through the thriving Tang and Song Dynasties to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, explaining the silk production history in ancient China. The modern and Contemporary Halls show the silk process and some products that won international prizes.

Travel Information

Getting there: Suzhou is easily accessible from Beijing by train (10 hrs), Guangzhou (12 hrs) and Shanghai (1 hr).

Places to stay:
Mingtown Suzhou Youth Hostel
Address: 28 Pingjiang Rd., Suzhou, Jiangsu,

Suzhou MingHanTang International Youth Hostel
Address: Guangji RD Shantang ST.Suzhou, Jiangsu,

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