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Trip to Suzhou
by Thomas Martin - Jul 23, 2015
On this trip I decided it was time for a little more culture. As an aspiring writer and lover of art myself I was taken quickly at the prospect of seeing a place promising to deliver 2,500 years of art and beauty. You will hear people repeatedly say that Suzhou is the Venice of the Orient and the old town will certainly feel like just that. The locals put a considerable effort to keeping up the aesthetic from the past and it has paid off in my opinion. It’s a great feeling to see a place with such rich history put such efforts into it not being forgotten.
On day one, after about an hour on a shuttle from Shanghai, I ran like a kid at Christmas to this grid of interlocking canals. Boats of locals lined docked at stone steps, at night the canals are lit up with traditional lanterns and the twinkling lights on the river make for a magical scene.
Typical Suzhou canal
Among these canals are many of the famous gardens. Researching before my trip indicated that I could take a trip here and specifically spend a week just looking at gardens and museums. I decided it was best to consolidate that down to a day or two of culture and one of indulgence.
There were plenty of establishments that provided you with free Wi-Fi, which was great to quickly reconnect with the rest of the world, though I try my best not to let it distract me too much. You don’t travel to a place like this just to sit at an internet café. That being said it was nice to read the news and say hi to some friends over breakfast to just gain that little fix I need every now and again. There are tourists and westerners who have taken residency here so there are restaurants that accommodate with food that is far from local and where I make it a point to try local cuisine wherever I go, I admit I stopped for some Belgium waffles when I discovered their existence. The food was very good though, seafood as you would expect was delicious. I was encouraged to try some “Stinky Tofu” which certainly lived up to its name. Unlike the smell however it actually tasted great!
The gardens show beautiful sights of unique formations of eroding rock that take up shapes that make them seem almost alive, alongside many flowering plants and water lilies. Gardens here were intricate and clearly were put together with a great deal of planning and care. It was nice though that amongst the sites which draw so much of the attention from the world, you are able to sit in a quiet and tranquil garden and drink tea while reflecting upon life, the universe, and everything.
Day two I decided to check out the Suzhou Silk Museum (苏州丝绸博物馆; Website: www.szsilkmuseum.com). There you were treated to a sight of art and history together. The ancient techniques of silk production were laid out before your eyes. Intricate patterns embroidered before your eyes in a demonstration gave you a view through time. I thought it was especially interesting to see the old looms for silk weaving and a room full of live silk worms!
Area map of Suzhou Silk Museum
Entrance to Suzhou Silk Museum
I of course had to check out some pagoda, temples, and anything else more than a thousand years old. Being from the states where nothing is more than a couple hundred years old, I’m possibly over enthusiastic when I find something where its age is measured in millennia. So I went to see the Panmen (盘门) city gates. Built in 1004 B.C. it is something you just don’t see where I’m from. I am not an architect but I really try to take the time and appreciate the architecture of cultures from around the world. New York City is dense and tall, London is massive and full of war memorials, and China has places like this that I swear the only goal is to make me go “Wow!” Absolutely stunning buildings covered in ivy growing on the walls, bridges into gardens on the water. I admit that in researching this trip I was concerned I would get sick of how many gardens I would see, but I promise you that by the end I really couldn’t get enough of them all. There you can take a ride out onto the water or feed the koi while taking it all in.
Day three I decided to check out the nightlife. There are some interesting places to see that offer a variety of experiences for a traveler trying to take in more of another culture. You can give some local bars a shot, but I don’t speak the local language so that leaves me pointing to a tap. A good time can still be had mind you; if you are an English speaker there are lots of options catering to Westerners. A bar called “Pulp Fiction Aussie Bar” (繁星酒吧; Address: 451 Shiquan Jie, Suzhou - 苏州十全街451号繁星酒吧; Phone: 1390 154 0768; 0512 6520 8067) for example has darts and a pool table so it is popular amongst the English speakers.
I read about a bar called Luoke Bar that is an ice cream shop by day and a bar by night so I had to check it out. Any place that has reviews where the owners are repeatedly mentioned by name is a place that will peak my interested because those are the types of places that people are really trying to make some memories.
I’m not much of a shopper for myself but there are large shopping malls with many name brand stores or little shops with art, trinkets, lanterns and local art as wonderful as the culture.
Alas another ending. But if things didn’t end we might not appreciate them quite so much. So I say farewell for now to another amazing journey made and smile as I go but I am feeling inspired already and have begun plotting out my next of many destinations on the road! I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip and hopefully you are inspired to make your own adventure!
About WriterThomas Martin grew up in New York. He lived all around the US, often taking road trips to take in the sights and culture of different states. In 2011 he moved to China to pursue an anthropology master, which he later put on hold to study Chinese. He has written for a variety of publications. When not writing, he enjoys cooking Middle Eastern cuisine and collecting butterfly specimens.