Silk, pottery and delicious street food!

View from Beisi Pagoda
View from Beisi Pagoda

After the beautiful Wuxi, I decided to go to Suzhou. I read many things about this city and wanted to see the nice ancient sites of more than 1000 years old with my eyes.
Possessing wonderful gardens, exquisite water townships, charming natural scenery and splendid history and culture, the city is praised as ‘paradise on earth’. When Suzhou is mentioned, the first thought in every Chinese mind is of its gardens. It is said that the gardens to the south of Yangtze River are the best in the world, and Suzhou gardens are the best among them. By the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the city had become a garden city with more than 200 gardens (the history of local classical gardens can be traced back to 6 BC). Blue Wave Pavilion, Lingering Garden, Humble Administrator’s Garden and Lion Grove Garden are the four top gardens in Suzhou, representing the architectural styles of 4 important dynasties: Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. Lingering Garden, Humble Administrator’s Garden and Lion Grove Garden were added to the World Heritage List in 1997.
When you travel to Suzhou don’t stop only in the city, but go around and visit the water townships. Some water townships that I’ve read about but had no time to visit are Zhouzhuang Town, Tongli Town, Mudu Town and Luzhi Town.

A canal in downtown Suzhou
A canal in downtown Suzhou

I remember to have met an Indian guy and a Chinese girl while eating my lunch. The place packed with people, and I had asked the permission to sit and share their, the only table left with 2 empty chairs.

To save some of my time, I have taken a guided tour that included a water channel trip as well. This tour took me and the rest of the people to the Silk museum. One great place to buy real silk items, the entertaining part of this is that you can bargain the price you’re willing to pay for the things you want! If you like bargaining this is the place to go 😉
At this museum you’ll be taught how to identify a fake silk item from a real silk item and you’ll have a short demonstration on how silk cocoons are transformed into silk wires and then into beautiful bed linen.

King's silk clothing
King’s silk clothing

After this we went to a pottery factory. There, again, we were taught how to identify high quality ceramic from a lower quality or even fake tea pots. I have bought a tea set that is perfect for long autumn and winter evenings.
Then we moved to the water channels and the guide started to tell us more stories about this and that building.

After this tour I decided to go on with my exploration and get lost….and I did got lost!

Sweet potatoe time
Sweet potatoe time

I wanted to visit one of the temples and somehow took the wrong route 🙂 On the street I was walking I’ve seen a nice cafe that was selling very very inviting cakes and cookies and I’m crazy about sweets! Of course I could not resist the temptation and took a break. While trying to explain at the counter what I wanted, I heard behind my back a man’s voice in perfect English asking me what I want. A moment of silence followed then I turned around saw a local guy looking at me and waiting for my answer. This was a very big surprise for me, because until that day (and I was in China for more than 6 weeks) no one spoke a such a good English! He helped me with the cake and the tea I wanted. I was so happy with my choice! Too bad I cannot remember the name of the place, but I’m sure you can find many good cafes in Suzhou that sell good quality desserts and hot drinks.

The guy, Leo, was a local who have spent (by that time) many years in Europe. He was living and working in Denmark and that’s why his English improved and lost some of the specific Chinese accent. He told me that he was back for about 2 weeks, enough time to see his family and to attend his best friend’s wedding. We had a bit of chat while enjoying our sweets and thee, we have shared some funny moments of our lives, spoke a bit about China and what I’ve seen in Suzhou by that moment. Then we changed our phone numbers and he pointed the right direction. Some hours later he called me asking if I wanted to take dinner with his family. I was thinking why not, it would be better than having a dinner alone somewhere in the city.
The only detail that I forgot to ask was about the place. 🙂 Later, at the time we decided to meet, I asked where is the place we are going to have the dinner and he said that it will be his parents house!!!!! What a twist! It was too late to find an excuse not to go.
His parents house was nice and clean. His mother was running from the living room to the kitchen and back while we were sited at the table. This moment made me feel a bit uncomfortable and I’ve asked him to tell his mom to sit with us. Then he told me that his mother was very nervous because they never had a foreigner in their house before. His father came home after having dinner outside, he had no idea that they’re having a guest, that’s why he was very surprised to see me at their place.

One piece of advice here
: when you go to a dinner at someone’s place always bring something with you!!!! Some fruits for the wife and a bottle of some alcoholic drink (especially western) for the man of the house. Never go empty handed, it is considered poor education! Also, NEVER give a set of 4! Because the Chinese character of 4 is very similar to the one that signifies death!

After dinner we went to meet some of his friends, discover the nightlife of Suzhou, have a local beer that tasted like coca cola and have some street food 😀

The Tiger Hill
The leaning tower on Tiger Hill

The next day he offered to be my guide and we went to the Tiger Hill and surroundings. Tiger Hill is considered number one attraction in Suzhou. You can hire a traditional Chinese boat only for you and go around this hill. The trip to the Tiger Hill took me almost the whole day! After an early dinner we headed to the train station and I’ve left back to Shanghai.

Where to drop you backpack in Suzhou?

I have said earlier in one of my posts that I enjoy traveling alone and I’m not afraid of sleeping in hostels.

In Suzhou I chose to stop at WaterTown Youth Hostel. Was not so far from the train station, was clean and in front of the hostel there’s a small garden where they transformed it into a terrace with a billiard, soft chairs with umbrellas – perfect to chill out after dinner and before sleep….or to have your breakfast.

How to move around?

Suzhou is a quite big city and to visit all (or most of the touristic attractions) you’ll need to change busses or take a cab. Biking in China is still a dangerous thing to do, maybe renting a motorbike will give you more flexibility, but again, bear in mind that the traffic and the driving tradition in China is not what you’ll experience in Europe, USA or Australia! Nobody stops at red light or at the pedestrian crossing, especially drivers on motorbikes and, yes, the risk of accidents are quite high and guess who’s going to be charged for that.

Bells at a Buddhist Temple
Bells at a Buddhist Temple

Reminder! When traveling in China:

  1. RESPECT all the customs and the rules, do not behave like other expats or even locals (if you know that it’s wrong)
  2. Do not get involved into any charity activity – for example, you see an accident and call the ambulance. It sounds cruel or not a very nice thing to do…but take a bit of time and watch! Often, one of the parts involved into an accident is interested in it and it’s perfectly fine. Drivers will solve the problem with —-cash!
  3. Even if you see a person bleeding, do not call the ambulance. Ask locals to do it and move forward. If you call the embulance and they take your contacts, most likely that you’ll be forced to pay that person’s hospitalization bill (if no family members show up to the hospital, or the victim has no money to pay the medical check up and treatment, then the person who called the ambulance will be the victim’s guarantor). I was told this by numerous expats in China, and some foreign embassies in China are warning their citizens about this risk and sometime scam!
Canal of Pingjiang
Canal of Pingjiang

More of these tips you can read in one of my previous posts about Shanghai.

I hope this post and pictures will make you interested in Suzhou, because it’s worth spending some days of your journey in China!

For more information you can check these websites:

Travel safe and wise!

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