The most quiet and still of places still echo their history. In the peace and tranquility of a sleepy morning, the remnants of a place’s ancient past are like passing shadows. You can imagine the people’s feet walking down the same path as your own. You can fathom the centuries of sweat and laughter and joy that filled the air. The unwritten bliss of travel is the ability to imagine how tiny and fleeting your imprint in a place’s history truly is. Suzhou’s quiet channels, ancient gardens and aged alleyways are just the place to remind yourself just that. Suzhou is a gem hidden and distilled in its ancientness. Suzhou is lost in time.
Lovingly called “the Venice of the East,” Suzhou is known for its ancient pagodas, temples, stone bridges, still canals, flowing water, and architecture that could send anyone into a frenzy of imagination. Just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, the city is located on the banks of the Yangtze River Delta, which fills the Grand Canal with peaceful waters. It’s the perfect, easy trip away from the city. With Cathay Pacific’s seamless flights from the US to China, visiting Suzhou is so a no brainer. Every step of the journey to Suzhou, from Cathay Dragon‘s comfortable flights to bullet trains and everything in between, reaps the benefits of our modern society. Although, I, like anyone, found myself lost in nostalgic, romantic notions of what Suzhou might have looked like in its beginnings.
The modernization of many Asian cities have pushed the continent towards new heights. In many ways, China leads the front in progressive invention. The shiny, skyscraper-dotted, modern cities of the east are expected when visiting beautiful China. But to catch a glimpse of the old world in its modern age is a treat for the eyes and a feast for the imagination. Suzhou, although sparkling with modern amenities, flexes its deeply rooted history in its untouched beauty.
Suzhou shimmers in its frozen in time feeling. Lingering in the Shan Tang Old Street, you will see Qing and Ming dynasties’ architecture in between shopping stores and delicious foods. While boating through the canals and winding waterways, you will feel its ancient charm and sacred, historic tea houses and private houses. In between hearing the folklore of King of Wu seeing a mighty, white tiger atop a mountain, you will soak in the wear and age of a thousand year old pagoda. You will imagine the stories and whispers of the people who encompassed the city for centuries. You will get lost in the peace and tranquility of the Humble Administrator’s Garden’s koi ponds, twisting pathways and quiet pavilions. And in between all of these moments and sights you will be bombarded with the overwhelming realization that you are so young and so small in juxtaposition to Suzhou’s history.
Suzhou Cultural Highlights
Boat Ride On Suzhou’s Canals – Prepare to be enchanted. Boating through the winding, peaceful waterways of Suzhou gives you the full experience of the “Venice Of The East.” The old, narrow passages recall an ancient time we can only experience with a vivid imagination and a beautifully preserved place as this.
Humble Administrator’s Garden – What might be the most perfect Chinese garden. The whimsy, the mystery, the restfulness that comes when slowly walking through the pristine gardens is a lot like a meditative moment to savor. Each unfolding scene reveals a moment preserved with great intention, giving you a moment to breathe, be still and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Tiger Hill Garden – A legend best heard by a local who can truly bring it to life. According to the folk stories of ancient China, in 496 B.C., three days after the King of Wu buried his father atop the hill, a white tiger appeared and guarded the tomb. So moved by this moment, the thousand year old leaning Yunyan Pagoda stands as a relic to the story. Below the towering pagoda, sits the Sword Pool, believed to be the spot where the king’s sword rests. There’s a reason that the ancient poet Su Dongpo says “to visit Suzhou and not see Tiger Hill would lead to a lifetime of regret.”
Dongshan & Taihu Lake – Tea lovers, this is for you! For more than a thousand years, Biluochun Tea has been sipped and enjoyed. It’s one of the most famous and requested green teas in China! Seeing a harvesting of the tea leaves is a great way to feel more connected to your favorite drink.
Shan Tang Old Street – A great spot to shop while traipsing through architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Mixing the old world with the new world in a few city blocks.
Pingjiang Road – The perfect vantage point to enjoy passing boats, traditional Chinese music, tea houses and boutique shops.
Suzhou Museum – One of Suzhou’s most popular attractions, located right by the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The Suzhou Museum is free and open to the public to see some of the most ancient ceramics and woodcarvings. Don’t forget to take in the absolutely stunning lotus pool in the center.
Boat Trip To Visit The Village Of Tongli – A preserved water town with more than a thousand years of history. (Have you noticed that Suzhou is rich in ancient history yet?!) For years the Ming and Qing dynasty pavilions, temples, gardens and towers were kept away from the public. Not until recently has “the Oriental Venice” become a wonder to see for ourselves. Find yourself here and prepare your imagination to flourish!
Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater – The unique, theatrical art that originated from Suzhou features bright costumes, graceful movements and a unique timbre of sound.
No. 1 Silk Factory – Suzhou’s famous fine silk production once dominated the world with its luxurious texture. The secret process to create such soft and opulent silks was under lock and key. It was once so important that it was punishable by death to reveal the secret! Today, we’re able to sideline that punishment. Tour the silk factories and learn the process of silk making, hand weaving and silkworm raising.