Suzhou is known for its canals, bridges and gardens, and has been dubbed the “Venice of the East”
Founded in 514 BC, it has over 2,500 years of history and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world
The collection of gardens in the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Suzhou was a one-day trip while traveling to Shanghai and honestly, I wish I had more time.
My sister’s husband’s family is originally from this area so I put it on the itinerary and I’m really glad I did. For anyone into street photography, it’s quite a dream.
THINGS TO KNOW
The internet that you know and rely on doesn’t exist - get a VPN to access any Google or Facebook related site amongst many others you don’t realize you need. We used Baidu Maps [CN] and Alibaba’s AutoNavi Maps [CN].
There’s not much English. Most staff can’t speak English so be prepared to have communication difficulties.
Mobile payments via WeChat or Alipay are the norm. Because a Chinese bank account is required, tourists can usually pay with cash or Union Pay credit card, but those transactions are seen as a hassle.
HOW TO GET THERE
Suzhou is about a 30-minute ride on the country’s high-speed train from Shanghai Railway Station [MAP].
You supposedly can buy tickets online here, but we had trouble and had to buy them at the station’s ticket office. Do know that the ticket office is actually in a building across the street, diagonally to the southeast [MAP].
Once you arrive at Suzhou station, you can get a one-day transportation pass at the ticket hut at the metro’s ticket gate. Shanghai’s SPTC card doesn’t work here.
Metro lines 2 & 4 go to most of the main destinations, but keep in mind that Line 4 is NOT shown on Google Maps.
BEISI TA (THE NORTH PAGODA)
This station puts you within walking distance from popular spots like The North Pagoda, Humble Administrator Garden, Suzhou Museum, Lion Grove Garden and more.
We had the unfortunate luck of traveling here during a Chinese national holiday, so we weren’t able to get into the most popular sights. They were booked for days and required prior reservations via WeChat. It does seem that they prioritize Chinese citizens over tourists.
After being bummed for a little, we decided to walk around and we came across some other amazing sights.
COUPLE’S RETREAT GARDEN
The Couple’s Retreat Garden, together with the other Suzhou gardens, are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From The Humble Administrator’s Garden area, it’s a short walk to the southeast. It has canals on three of its sides and is build around a library annex and pond area. It’s a smaller but intimate garden that isn’t as overcrowded as some of the other more popular ones.
Making our way back to Beisi Ta metro station, we walked along the canal south of the Couple’s Retreat Garden, labeled Daxinqiao Alley.
Here’s some of the sights and local life that we saw.
From Belsi Ta metro station, we went back to Suzhou station and transferred to Metro Line 2 to Shantang Jie (山塘街) metro station.
The Shantang area is centered around the Tonggui Bridge (pictured at the top of this page), and features small streets and a bunch of memorial bridges arching over the canals below.
Along the main pedestrian streets are souvenir shops, restaurants as well as food cards that come out in the evening offering local bites to eat.
If you really want to see a more non-touristy side to the area, I recommend taking a stroll down the alleys surrounding the main area.
Here’s some of the sights we saw in those alleys.
Before we head back to Shantang Jie station, we walked through Beihao Long street, one of the main shopping streets for tourists.
We took a look at the market at Shangtang Jie metro station before going back to Suzhou station and heading back to Shanghai.
Our one day adventure exploring Suzhou was amazing, even though we weren’t able to get into the main gardens.
Here’s to hoping for a chance to be back again.