After a week in Shanghai, it was time to move to my next destination – Suzhou, a city of just over 4 million people, some 100km north-west from Shanghai. After Shanghai it seemed like a very small place, although it was still a very big city.
My journey from Shanghai to Suzhou took approximately 20 minutes. Travelling in China is very easy, fast and comfortable. China has built an extensive network of high speed rail in recent years, therefore there is no need to fly within China. The high speed rail connects most Chinese cities. Chinese trains travel at 300km/h, thus I arrived to Suzhou in no time. As a matter of fact, it is possible to do a day-trip from Shanghai to Suzhou. However, as I was moving in that direction, I decided to stay there for several days and to see the city in a more relaxed way.
I took my train from Shanghai Hongqiao railway station. My friend in China bought me a ticket in advance. But, it is possible to turn up at the station and to buy a ticket just before the travel. The risk is that the train you want may be fully booked and consequently you may have to wait for the next available train. Shanghai Hongqiao railway station is a new station, in the western part of Shanghai. To get there, take the metro line number 2. The journey to the station is longish because the scale of the metro map does not reflect the true distance. I wouldn’t bother with a taxi as the traffic in Shanghai can be horrendous, while metro is safe and reliable.
Chinese trains are brand new, comfortable and fast. Travelling in the 2nd class is perfectly sufficient, especially for shorter journeys. Trains are not entirely cheap, although they are not as expensive as in Europe. From Shanghai to Suzhou the 2nd class train ticket was 39.5 yuan.
I arrived to Suzhou railway station. There are 2 railway stations in Suzhou. The other train station is Suzhou North railway station. You should avoid it as it is very far from the city, although the Suzhou metro system connects it with the city centre. I stayed in a 4 star apart-hotel, the Fraser Suites, close to Xinghai Square metro station. It was an excellent hotel but not in the best location. I still had to take a metro every time when I wanted to go to the centre. I would have preferred a hotel from where it would have been possible to walk everywhere.
Because of its canals, stone bridges, pagodas and meticulously designed beautiful gardens, Suzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in China. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. People also call it “Venice of the East”. If you look on the map of Suzhou, the main historical part is a rectangular area, encircled by the main canal. To find it easily, look for Lindun Road metro station, on the line number 1, which is more or less in the centre of that area. Almost all places of interest are there.
Before going to Suzhou I read various guides in order to find out what the city centre is, but none of them mentioned it. To get to the centre, go to Xuanmiao Temple in Guanqian street, which is a famous pedestrian street.
Xuanmiao Temple is a prominent Taoist temple with a long history. It is right in the centre of old Suzhou and it is worth a visit. I would suggest that every visitor to Suzhou goes to this colourful area. Guanqian street and the whole surrounding area are full of shops, restaurants and markets. It was very busy in the evening with people shopping or looking for a place to eat. Shops were open until very late.
There are many beautiful things to see in Suzhou, this is what I visited:
– Pingjiang Road – is the 800-year-old road in a historical district, within the walking distance from Xuanmiao Temple. The road is approximately 1600m long and I suggest that you start your visit from Ganjiang road, on the south side. You will eventually arrive to Dongbei street, near the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
In 2009, the Chinese government listed Pingjiang Road as “the famous historical and cultural street of China”. The street runs along the canal and there are many stone bridges, old buildings and intersecting alleys. There, you will get a feel of old China, something that the modern-day China mostly lost due to the economic progress and urbanisation. There are many shops and open space places where you can eat along the street. A gentle walk allows you to fully absorb its magic.
– The Humble Administrator’s Garden – is one of the most famous, the finest and the largest gardens in Suzhou, the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It consists of three major parts around the large lake and it contains numerous pavilions and bridges, set in a maze of connected pools and islands.
This garden is a dreamlike. I arrived there around 11am and it was already very busy. In order to avoid huge crowds and enjoy its tranquillity and mysticism, go there as soon as it opens. As it is a large garden, it takes approximately 2h-3h to see it in a relaxed and unhurried way. This garden is a must see for everyone going to Suzhou. If you have to choose just one place to visit, this has to be it.
– The Pan Gate Scenic Area & Pan Gate – is a historic landmark, in the south-west corner of the canal that encircles Suzhou. Pan Gate is approximately 2500 years old and it is now a part of the Pan Gate scenic area.
The other 2 main attractions are the Ruiguang Pagoda, which is the earliest pagoda in Suzhou, built in 247 and the Wu Gate bridge. The Ruigang Pagoda is constructed of bricks with wooden platforms and it has simple Buddhist carvings at its base.
I spent approximately two hours in this outstanding park. To arrive there – I walked, however I took a taxi back to the centre. You can now take a metro line number 4 to Nanmen station and walk 15 minutes to the park. When I was there, this metro line was under construction.
I spent only 2 days in Suzhou although, clearly that is not enough time to see everything that I could see there. I missed some other famous Chinese gardens, which are also listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Additionally, I also missed Shantang street which is similar to Pingjiang Road. It is not possible to see absolutely everything, especially if the stay is very short. I would gladly go back to this uniquely charming city. Outside of this old part, Suzhou is a bustling modern city.
If you go to China and if you happen to be in Shanghai, I urge you to do at least a day trip to Suzhou. Choose to see one or two places that interest you the most. You will not regret, especially as going there and back to Shanghai is so easy.