Updated: Feb 26, 2021
There is a popular quote about Suzhou in Chinese history:"上有天堂,下有蘇杭”, that Heaven has paradise, but Earth has Suzhou and Hangzhou. It is widely known that Suzhou is so magical that even heaven has designated a place for it.Time has passed so painstakingly slow during the pandemic that I don’t know how to accurately remember my memories, but I know if I write them down, I won’t forget. It's so difficult to remember when so much time has passed, but the spirt remains. The people who are no longer with us are with us in spirit, even if they remain far away, in spirit, they will always be close in memory.
Suzhou, my hometown, is my special article for this week’s Chinese New Year of 2021. This place holds so much significance in my heart because it is my motherland - the place of my birth. Although I moved away at such a young age, my visits back to my hometown have helped me reunite with the land of my birth. My grandparents are no longer here, but they would happy to know that the land of their birth received so much recognition over the years. Home to over 2500 years of classical history, culture,gardens, canals, silk, philosophy and many others, today I want to explore the legacies left behind by Chinese culture, especially in the city of my motherland. Suzhou today is an affluent, middle class city with a big technology sector with a high HDI, compared other Chinese cities. Easily reachable by high-speed rail by Shanghai in about half an hour, Suzhou is the perfect day or weekend trip when your in Shanghai and want explore true history and culture. If you looking for a insiders guide to Suzhou, then look no further than this guide.
This place will always have a symbolic part in my heart simply because the notion of its name.Known as the real heart of Suzhou,Shantang Jie was the street that my grandfather was born in, in a small post-communist style hutong in the classical Chinese style. Shantang Street was originally constructed in 825 AD during the Tang dynasty to create a link between the Huqiu and the city. Today it is a popular tourist street that brings alive ancient Suzhou-style classical buildings. I remember going back to visit the building that my grandfather grew up in, which has now been rezoned. Today this popular street is home to local historic Suzhou-inspired houses and buildings.
2. 平江路(PingJiang Road) & local silk houses
In the Song Dynasty, Ping Jiang Road was regarded as the main route and is still well preserved today. PingJiang Road is also close to Siquan Jie, known as the former popular downtown centre for shopping and entertainment.I remember I used to always stroll the streets from my aunt’s former apartment complex to the centre of downtown complex and also toke my graduation photos with a photo studio here after high school. Many commercialized shops and stores are also located in this district, with authentic cafes and local eateries. Many people also come to PingJing Road for commercial and silk shopping, as Suzhou was one of the historic places specializing in intricate silk dresses and clothing. There are many traditional shops that cater to this selection and various selections to accommodate your taste. If this is your first time in Suzhou, then you have to check out this interesting region in Suzhou.
3. Humble Administrators Garden & various classical gardens
Suzhou is known for it’s elegance and architecture in the form of classical gardens designed for emperors. Each season offers its own delight, with spring lilies in the spring and fall leaves that offer a spectacular scenery. There are also often traditional performances and events that symbolize the harmony of the gardens during some occasions, so be sure to do your research.The classical gardens of Suzhou date back to the 6th century BCE and are noted for their exceptional usage of harmony in nature and for their epitome of Chinese culture.One of the most famous and notable gardens is the Humble Administrators Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous gardens, which now charges a small entrance fee.
4. Suzhou Industrial Park
Suzhou Industrial Park is the example of modern Suzhou to the world and is home to many international hotels and banking institutions, including Intercontinental Suzhou and W Suzhou. It is the new heart of Suzhou with a modern heart where you can browse upscale shopping malls and boutiques that aline the newly constructed wide and open streets.Here you can also visit the stunning architecture including renowned the Gate of the Orient and browse through millions of designer shops and modern shopping malls. This region started as joint project with Singapore and today is home to over 500 Fortune Global 500 companies and has brought prosperity to the JingJi Hu region which was previously undeveloped.
5. 西山岛(XiShan Island)
Xishan Island is part of Suzhou and is the largest island in Lake Tai, offering idyllic and laid-back scenery. Come here for the appreciation of the country life and small town life as it is here that local plums, waxberries and other local fruit were produced and farms and small farmer’s houses line the county streets. It is notable for being a peaceful resting place for the dead, attracting tourists as far as Shanghai to lay their loved ones to rest upon the views upon the mountainside. It is often in the countryside as you do notice, that you will find authentic Suzhou- Jiangnan style noodles and cuisine, harvested from local produce and livestock, and made with traditional techniques. This is a great day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city if time allows for your trip.
TongLi is one of my most favourite water towns near Suzhou and contains illidic canals and restaurants by the water, offering a wide selection of local foods and authentic Suzhou-style small boutiques. In the past, it was teeming with poets, painters, Confucian scholars and government officials and today it is a vibrant place for tourists from all over the world. Built during the reign of Emperor JiaQing in the Qing Dynasty, it was home to many bridges with historical significances. The houses and gardens here also date back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, reflecting their distinctive architectural styles.It is the idyllic water town in China that can be compared to Venice in Italy, as when Marco Polo came to China and compared the similarities. Come here also for the famous snacks and street food that are made live on coal-powered stoves.
7. （光福）Guangfu and Qionglong Mountain
Guangfu is located west of Suzhou on the peninsula of Taihu Lake and the foot of Mt. Denwei. Home to famous temples and the famous XianXueHai located on Mt Dengue, this is the place where you can visit the famous plum flowers. Qionglong Mountain is the highest mountain in Suzhou and is famous for the militarist Sun Tzu and where he wrote the famous “The Art of War.” I remember hiking up the mountain and wondering why there were so many quotes about war; however now I know the significance of this mountain in both Chinese philosophy, history and war.
8. Suzhou Style Gourmet Food
Jiangsu style gourmet food is one of Suzhou's fortes, and the cuisine here is heavily focused developed during the time when high court officials lived in the Qing Dynasty. The food here is delicate, consisting of seafood and other delicacies, and many local vegetables. The best local food here is actually not located in the mainstream hotels and lobby but in the small hutongs and hidden streets where the ingredients are freshest and authentic. The traditional noodles are also a favourite here, with a blend of Shanghainese origin.
Chelsea Reviews : 5/5
This review is obviously biased, because it is my hometown and the people in my hometown are obviously nicer, however this is so much history, culture, philosophy and energy to explore around Suzhou. Today, the attractions of Suzhou are easily accessed by high-speed rail, bus, taxi, train and skytrain, so that everyone can have the opportunity to see the wonderful culture of the past.In my eyes, it will always be heaven on earth because of perseverance of the classical gardens,canals and the integration with the modern that maintains it’s outlook on life. I hope to one day to revisit my hometown and pay tribute to all my ancestors who have paved the path before me. I hope to head back to streets that I have taken for granted, and to relieve that familiar nostalgia that seems so distant now. Even though the pandemic has gone on for so long, I believe that one day we will be reunited with our hometowns, and we can see them in a new light, appreciating life and time for what it is in life.