On the outskirts of Suzhou, just a short bus ride from the city center, the misty and tranquil Tai Hu Lake, the third biggest freshwater lakes in all of China, modestly sequesters a selection of tiny villages, pagodas, shrines, monasteries and scenic mountains. All offer a great view which travelers, who’ve been herded in and out of the bustling and repetitive shopping centers, bars and gardens, often miss.
Surprisingly, despite this area’s close proximity to many major cities, the part of the Suzhou prefect that winds along the eastern shore of the Tai Hu Lake maintains a profusion of quaint sleepy villages, mostly relying on agriculture and fishing, rendering a nice, quiet escape from the supercilious modern world, preserving many of those obscure, captivating China gems, which tend to get swallowed and forgotten in the haze. Day trips are short and painless, costing only a couple RMB by bus, and just wandering through the tiny towns, along the beaches, and through the parks provide a great escape from the daily grind. What’s more, fuchsia rosebushes, pine forests, weeping willows, tall cattails and large, green parks line Huan Hu Lu, the road that runs along the Suzhou side of the lake, making even the trip there enjoyable.
Tai Lake. Photo by author
Taihu Lake, loomed over by lofty mountains, encompassing an area of over 2,250 km, dotted with over 90 islands of various sizes, with its round shape and massive size (the gifts of a meteor), spreads like a blotch of ink towards the blue-gray horizon. Sunlight plays on the rippling waves as they slide hesitantly towards the thin beaches. The warmer months of the year offer weather that nicely suits a swim or a day cruise around the lake or to one of the islands, the colder months offer a clean and crisp liberation from the inner-city seas of people.
Whenever you go, chances are one of Taihu’s famous sunsets will complete the day—falling through the mist, easing in the twilight with vibrant coral hues. Enjoy one over a dinner of the famous Tai Hu ‘‘three whites,’’ (white fish, white crab and white shrimp) at one of the many restaurants that line the water’s edge.
Getting there: Buses 58, 62, 63, 64, 65, 69, 500, 502, 621, and 691 all go to various areas of the lake—see below
This Island presents a perfect escape from urbanity. Despite the fact that the island used to be the hideout of China’s most infamous criminals, today it is nothing more than a traditional and serene Chinese fishing and agrarian township, containing about 200 households. Walk along the shores, watching the boatmen balance themselves while reaching into the silvery lake with their nets, searching for shrimp, crab and fish; browse through freshly picked fruits and vegetables; stroll through the unpopulated paths up to one of the precipices overlooking the lake; enjoy silence punctuated only by birdsongs; and even stay for a night or two at one of the guest houses, offering 20 RMB beds and very fresh dishes.
Getting there: From the Dongshan Scenic Area, head to the docks near Luxiang Old Village and hop on one of the boats. Say ‘’sanshandao,’’ to one of the friendly boatmen.
The Guangfu Scenic Area, a mountainous stamp of land jutting out into the western part of the lake, houses the Yonghui Monastery (永慧寺); the Situ Temple (司徒) and the Guangfu Pagoda (光福塔), which peeks above the treeline. Numerous villages and wandering trails weave between myriad temples, monasteries and parks.
Getting there: Use bus 63, 64 or 65
This large island, connected to the land by the longest inland bridge in China, makes for a great day trip. Check out Mingyuewan Old Village (明月湾古忖), tucked into the southern tip of the island, and Xishan Hill National Forest Park (西山国家森林公园), full of trails and peak with great views.
Getting there: Bus 58, 69, or 691 will take you out and over the islands making many stops along the way
This northwest peninsula stretches like the head of a turtle from the shell of Suzhou. Trek through this scenic area, almost entirely enclosed by the lake, up to Biluo Peak (碧螺峰), or over to Luxiang Old Village (陆降古村), which rests on a little patch of land creeping out into the water—perfect for great photos.
Getting there: Take bus 62, 500, 502 or 621
Hurry up…rumour has it that in the works, like every other Chinese tourist attraction, there are plans to build resorts, restaurants and tacky amusement parks, and a simple tour of this area will make you believe it. In a few years one may find that the peace, the solitude and the tradition that surrounding these slumbering freshwater retreats have been washed away by the promise of commerce and drowned by tacky exploitation.
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Keywords: Suzhou getaways city escape Suzhou Taihu lake area Suzhou Tai Lake Suzhou
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