Tale of Two Cities: A Weekend in Suzhou

Tale of Two Cities: A Weekend in Suzhou

Suzhou is the perfect location for a weekend getaway. Travelling by train from Shanghai is cheap, very fast and drops you fairly conveniently at the northern end of the Old Town. Suzhou is split into three distinct areas – the Old Town, Suzhou Industrial Park and Suzhou New Districts – but only the first two are worth a visit.

Suzhou Old Town dates back to 514BC, when the original walls were built, establishing Suzhou as the major city state in eastern China. Nothing survives from this time, although the line of the walls and some of the grid iron planning reflects the original layout. However there are many points of historical interest.

On the other hand, Suzhou’s Industrial Park is a modern, gleaming cityscape, co-designed by the Suzhou local government and Singaporean developers. When the new rail links are completed, the industrial park will provide dormitory accommodation for Shanghai with millions of new apartments.

If you’re in Suzhou for the weekend, start your holiday off with a walk down Shiquan Jie ( 十全街, Bar Street) and stop off for a snack at one of the many dumpling restaurants. Spend the evening on Bar Street, with its wide range of drinking holes and clubs. For a relaxed drink, some light music and more snacks, the Bookworm is a real gem. The Image Tibet Bar, while harder to find due to its second floor location, is equally relaxing. For young hardcore expats, Australian bar Pulp Fiction takes some beating, with good music, pool and a friendly crowd. Further down the street, Jane’s Pub Bar offers a more upmarket version of the same thing. Dream Hollywood and Scarlet’s are two of the best nightclub bars.

The Bookworm 老书虫  View In Map
Add: 77 Gun Xiu Fang (junction of Shiquan Lu and Pingqiaozhi Lu), Shiquan Jie, Suzhou
Tel: 139 1558 9753
Open: 09:00-01:00
Buses: 2, 4 47, 401

Image Tibet Bar 藏地印象View In Map
Add: 251 Shiquan Jie, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 6516 8929

Dream Hollywood 杰姆好莱坞View In Map
Add: 299 Shiquan Jie, Suzhou
Tel: 0512-65107611

Scarlet’s 乱世佳人View In Map
Add: 441 Shiquan Jie, Suzhou
Tel: 0512-65187877

If you’re feeling sprightly enough the next morning, take a walk northwards along Pingjiang Lu and its canal. This brings you out onto Dongbei Lu and right up to the doors of The Humble Administrator’s Garden. The Administrator doesn’t appear to have been that humble, as you’ll realise when you see his garden.

A further walk to the west along Dongbei Lu eventually brings you to Suzhou Museum. Entrance is free and there are collections of jade, china, silk, calligraphy and painting. The museum, an architectural wonder, was completed in 2006 and the old museum, Zhong Wang Fu’s palace, is housed within the new complex.

Next, head to Tiger Hill. Either the Number 2 tourist bus or a taxi will whisk you straight there. In prehistoric times, Tiger Hill was probably an island overlooking the East China Sea. Today at 36 metres high it offers views over old and new Suzhou. The pagoda and temple complex are interesting, and there is often entertainment going on in the gardens. Avoid the many guides, as most have poor English and they are unnecessary. This is an ideal place for lunch; there are cheap snack bars around the entrance, and the fare ranges from fried insects to kebabs. 

After lunch, take a taxi or the Number 2 bus back through the Old Town to the south bus station and stroll over to Panmen (盘门). Here you’ll find a large pagoda set in beautiful gardens, as well as the historic gate. The fully restored Panmen is both a land and water gate to the old city of Suzhou, and is unique in its design.

Panmen Gate 盘门View In Map
Add: 1 Dongda Jie, Suzhou
Open: Daily 08:00-17:30
Buses: 2, 5, 7, 22, 30, 47, 49, 70 and others

As evening approaches, a great way to see the city at sunset is on a canal boat around the Old Town. This takes about 90 minutes. Wait until just before dusk – the boats travel clockwise, and the first half of the journey is best seen in natural light, while the second half is magnificent when lit up with spotlights. Word of warning: if you take one of the bigger boats, make sure you duck when you approach low bridges! The boat can be taken at Xinshiqiao wharf (新市桥码头) at 7:00pm. Find more information here.

A great place to spend Saturday evening is TGI Friday on Ganjiang Lu, just south of Walking Street (Guanqian Jie 观前街). This is within easy striking distance of Youya’s Tailor in the grounds of the Temple of Mystery, where you can have coats, shirts and suits made. It can be found by heading north from TGIF and taking a left at Diyi Tanmen. Mei Mei’s Silk Shop will put together anything you like as long as it’s made of silk. Find it by heading across Walking Street on the eastern edge of the Temple of Mystery. Both shops will take about a week to complete your order, but postal arrangements can be made if you don’t want to come back to Suzhou.

TGI Friday 星期五餐厅View In Map
Add: 1F, Xuanmiao Plaza, 820 Gangjiang Donglu, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 6801 7777
Website: www.tgifridaysec.com.cn/aboutus_e.asp

When Sunday dawns, it’s time for a touch of time travel. Head for Jinji Hu to the east of the Old Town, and you find yourself in Suzhou Industrial Park. The sandstone façade of the Customs Building heralds the entrance to the park, and from here on in nothing that is standing has been around for more than fifteen years, the area having previously been a series of rice paddies and fish farms. Construction is in full swing. The twin towers on Xing Hai Jie are the most obvious sign, towering above a massive sprawl of apartments and light industry. Jinji Hu provides an oasis of peace. A promenade lines its western shore, providing a pleasant two kilometre stroll to blow away the cobwebs and stretch the legs. Here the local people come to play. Kites flutter and swoop, children play, and families picnic among the park’s modern sculptures.

Cruises are available on the lake, either in fast motorboats or the large floating restaurant, and an open-topped tourist bus lets you circumnavigate the lake for 2 RMB. On the north-east shore is a funfair with a massive Ferris wheel.

There are several lunch options at the Industrial Park, including German food at Lowenberg, and Tex-Mex at Zapata’s, as well as local restaurants. If it’s traditional English Sunday lunch you’re after, go back the Old Town and go to the Drunken Chef restaurant – a little slice of Yorkshire in the middle of Suzhou.

Lowenberg 乐汶堡啤酒坊西餐厅View In Map
Add: Ground Floor, Lakeside Building ,Lakeside Boulevard, Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou 苏州工业园区湖滨大道湖滨楼首层

The Drunken Chef 醉厨西餐厅View In Map
Add: 336 Lijing Garden, East Ganjiang Lu, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 6511 9875
Open: Mon-Fri 15:30-midnight; Sat-Sun 11:00-midnight
Buses: 2, 5, 9, 46, 55, 60, 61, 68, 78, 89 and others

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