A capital of ‘Wu’ culture for 8 ancient centuries, Suzhou’s history is both essential and almost timeless, having long been at the heart of scholarly China, as well as central to the economy of the area around the Yangtze River Delta. The city is strikingly beautiful, like an Eastern Venice in parts, with its water lane a memorable photo opportunity lined with paper lanterns. The rest of the city, meanwhile, seems to fixate on the massage business.
Aside from the impressive watery attractions, there are plenty of temples to be found in Suzhou, including the eight-level North Temple Pagoda, as well as Confucian temples and one of the last remaining old-style Buddhist temples, most of which were destroyed in the Chinese communist Cultural Revolution. Suzhou’s gardens are equally impressive, and there are literally dozen of them, four of which the locals hold in particular acclaim. The Surging Wave Pavilion is a stunning spot famed for its artistic and learned activity, and shaded by a thick forest, while the romance of the tunneled walkways found at the Couple’s Garden Retreat is one for those traveling in pairs.
Suzhou is also a part of the infamous Silk Road, a role you can explore in full at the impressive Silk Museum, as well as being home to Shantang Street, a traditional spot that dates back more nine centuries, and still manages to inspire with its traditional buildings and fascinating handicrafts. Taking a cruise along the canals from here to Tiger Hill is all but essential, and – if you want to play your role as the tourist up to the max – snapping up ornate wooden fans and cheap freshwater pearls will keep the folks back home happy.
Mosquitoes and a horrific air quality do blight this city to some extent, but certainly not to the point where you should even consider crossing one of China’s cultural heartlands off your ‘to visit’ list. Suzhou is a Chinese must-see, a real taste of what the China of old would have been like, and holds cultural treasures around almost every corner. In other words, it’s an extremely difficult city not to love.
Zhouzhuang is a small water village at the shores of Lake Dianshan, about one and a half hour drive from Shanghai. The area and the lake is known because it is rich in crab.
This tiny vill…