This is the final post on my 2011 trip to China, as well as for my “Throwback Travels” series, which has spanned just about every place in the world from Europe to the U.S. to China over this past month. Our last stop today is in Suzhou (苏州), a major cultural and economic city located about 60 miles from Shanghai (about an hour’s drive away). Rich in history, as well as its canals, bridges, gardens, and pagodas, Suzhou has been dubbed “the Venice of China.”
Upon arriving in Suzhou, we had, in my opinion, one of the best buffet lunches on the trip. Even though it was at a hotel, the food options were huge and had pretty good desserts as well.
Afterwards, we had a busy afternoon visiting three places: 1) the Yuyan Pagoda (aka Tiger Hill Pagoda), 2) the Suzhou Museum, and 3) the Classical Gardens of Suzhou.
We started off at the Yuyan Pagoda, which was the main pagoda of the now-lost Yuyan Temple. It was built back in the early 10th century, its foundation located on half-rock, half-soil. Standing at over 150 feet tall, it has over time started to lean due to gravity, thereby being nicknamed “the Leaning Tower of China” (first Venice, now Pisa! Lots of Italian analogies here!). 😛
*Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it, but here’s one for reference:*
Within the Tiger Hill area, we visited some surrounding temples as well. My dad hit the temple’s gong (for fun, I suppose) and we prayed to the Buddha statue (even though we aren’t Buddhists) before we headed to the Suzhou Museum.
What surprised me about the museum was that it was so modern-looking. With its minimalist, black-and-white design and slanted architecture, it looked more like a contemporary art museum rather than one which housed centuries of ancient paintings, arts and crafts, and calligraphy inside. We spent some time looking around the museum’s galleries, checking out certain relics and art from the different dynasties (too many to count!).
Finally, we went to the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was constructed by scholars spanning almost a millennium, from the 11th to the 19th centuries. The natural beauty and aesthetics of these gardens, which were located near pagodas and temples, set the standard for other great gardens in China over the centuries.
We wandered the gardens, finding them tranquil and the embodiment of ancient Chinese culture, from the tiled-roofed houses connected by intricately-patterned bridges to the large, lush lily pads on the pond.
They were all beautiful, but I admit, it was getting a bit tiring going from house to house, room to room, since after a while they started to blend together. Our local tour guide also was rambling about the details of each room/antique’s history for a good 20 to 30 minutes each, and I kind of tuned out. Truthfully, I was getting low on energy after a long day of being up on my feet and taking in so much from the visit; I’m sure you travelers out there have felt burnt out on a trip, and it kind of spoils your interest for new destinations. Ah, but what are you going to do about it? 😛
It started to rain (and pretty hard) after the garden tour. We headed off to dinner, where we tried some of Suzhou’s specialty dishes. Apparently, Suzhou cuisine loves its meat: we had pork, fish, and meatball soup for our last meal that day. It was delicious (although probably not so for vegetarians!). 😛
We stayed in Suzhou over night, and the next morning went to visit a silk factory (similar to what we visited in Wuzhen, although that was a silk workshop). Suzhou is actually renown for producing the finest silk in China; it was even recounted in Marco Polo’s travels back when he visited the country! Any case, we tour the silk factory, saw many silkworms producing silk, and ended up buying a ton of silk objects at the souvenir shop (e.g. cloths, pillows, etc.), all of which were beautifully embroidered. I believe we had spent either $1000 USD (which is ridiculous!) or 1000 CNY (about $150 USD), but either case, it was expensive!
After the silk factory visit, we ended our time in Suzhou; we took the tour bus back to Shanghai (which I already recounted in this post) in which we spent the rest of the day and overnight before finishing our entire visit to China.
…and that’s about it! Three things I have to say before I end this post:
1) Suzhou was a lovely visit, even though by that time I was super exhausted and didn’t have as much energy to appreciate the pagoda, museum, and gardens as I could have.
2) Reflecting on it, I would have to say that my 2011 visit to China was, generally speaking, less exciting than the trip in 2009. Even though we visited more places the second time around (and good places nonetheless), I think what made it less-than-stellar was the tour service. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t as well-arranged as the one from two years prior. Still, I’m glad to have visited places like Shanghai and Huangshan, seeing both the urban and nature.
3) With this concludes my “Throwback Travels” series, which I started doing just a month ago. From exploring the underrated countries in Scandinavia, Europe to the West Coast of the U.S. to two trips in China, we’ve covered some serious ground in a short matter of time.
That said, I want to thank you for staying with me throughout this journey of discovering and reflecting on new destinations around the world. I hope to keep digging to find more photos and journal entries of other places I’ve been to to recount to you (there are more!), but until then, enjoy my upcoming posts (related or not to travel) and I will see you soon. Take care! 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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