The guide books all describe Suzhou as ‘The Venice of the East’… When my family and I got here we were not disappointed, but it struck us that except for industrial transport, nobody was on the water. We brought our inflatable kayak and have since discovered a side of Suzhou that few people have seen: we have explored outlying water towns in Wuzhong; gone island hopping in Taihu; and with the sail fitted cruised on lakes Jinji and Dushu. And we still have lots more to explore! My biggest surprise was when I was approaching a bridge near the Suzhou Art Museum. I saw there was a policeman on the bridge with his back to me. I continued under the bridge at a good clip. As I emerged out the other side I heard him yelling after me but I continued on. Then I got the fright of my life as I heard ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ My first thought was that the cop was shooting at me! Then I realized the explosions were coming from my right. I had inadvertently timed my passage in front of the new museum to coincide with the official opening and, of course, a massive explosion of firecrackers!
I was exploring a canal in Wuzhong when I discovered the True Color Museum. There’s a little harbor on the south side and you can moor up and visit an art exhibition. I tied up in the canal in front of the Southern Cross on Lindun Lu and went in for a pint. The staff couldn’t believe I had my boat parked outside and had to come out to look! You can easily pull up near the picnic tables of the Hofbrau House on Ligongdi and have a bratwurst and a beer.
The scenic area of Yangcheng offers many boating opportunities, and there is a water town hidden on the isthmus between Yangcheng Xihu and Yangcheng Zhonghu. You can paddle from one lake to the other passing through the village, but if the bamboo water gate to the canal is down you may have to make a portage. The village is a bit sleepy, and just a tad run down but it is in a lovely setting.
Is it as smelly as Venice?
“How’s the quality of the water?” people ask. Locals have told me that when they were kids they used to swim in the canals of Suzhou. It’s true that household effluents stream constantly into the canals. You can see this everywhere, even from restaurants. But the brownish-grey color of the water is mostly due to the sediment brought down from the Tibetan Plateau by the Yangtze which feeds the southern section of the Grand Canal and the flows into the Suzhou city canals. These are well-managed and are constantly being flushed by a complex water management system.
If you Google Earth Suzhou it is clear how the drainage from lake Taihu slides around Suzhou through the many canals and lakes on its way to the Yangtze. There are at least 11 large lakes surrounding the city including Shihu, the three Yangcheng Lakes and the most prominent, Jinjihu, Dushu and Taihu. In addition there are thousands of kilometers of canals including the 2,500 year old Grand Canal, China’s first superhighway. Suzhou is the pivotal point between the east-west Taihu-Suzhou Creek artery that gives access to the Huangpu river in Shanghai and the north-south axis between Beijing and Hangzhou via the Grand Canal. So, with all this existing waterway infrastructure, why isn’t anyone using it except to haul sand and gravel?
Answer: there is not yet a legal framework in place to regulate pleasure boating. There are however a few places that have a local concession.
Mercury Marina on Taihu is basically a place to entertain business guests but it does have boat slips, houseboat and runabout rentals, and for about $3,000 (just under 20,000 RMB) they can even get you an amateur captain’s license to go out a few kilometers around the Marina. For those who like to sail, the Shanghai Yacht Club and Resort on Dianshan lake between Suzhou and Shanghai offers a family friendly atmosphere and a variety of sail boats and kayaks for members on the 62km² lake.
Last year there was a kayak club that opened on the canal just east of the Ferris wheel off Jinjihu. They had lots of good equipment and the 400 RMB membership was very reasonable. They organized night trips on Jinjihu to marvel at the fireworks and early morning paddles to Dushu.
An easy way to meet and make new friends with a similar interest in sailing, yachting, kayaking etc, is by joining the social network Suzhou Sailing. Here you can meet a variety of Chinese and expat water-enthusiasts.
So, until regulations make pleasure boating accessible for the people, you can join us by getting a little boat and paddling you hearts out, discovering the hidden beauty of old Suzhou, or the marshes and backwaters of our many lakes. It’s fun, it’s free, and it’s away from the crowds…for the time being!
Suzhou True Color Museum 苏州本色美术馆View In Map
Add: 219 Tongda Lu, Wuzhong District, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 6596 8890
Southern CrossView In Map
Add: 72 Luoguaqiao Xiatang, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市落瓜桥下塘72号, 临顿路,碧风坊路口
Tel: 0512 6581 0067
Opening hours: 17:00-22:00
Hofbrau House苏州豪夫堡餐饮有限公司View In Map
Add: 50 - 52 Ligongdi, SIP
地址：苏州市工业园区李公堤50 - 52号
Tel: 0512 6295 0988
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Keywords: boating clubs in Suzhou kayaking in Suzhou exploring Suzhou lakes discovering Suzhou waterways
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