China is unique . It’s wonderful and wild and so incredibly different from the United States. There is an outrageous amount of fireworks and grilled animal parts on sticks. It’s impossible to fully dive deep into China. There’s too much. But, for a healthy dose, go to Suzhou.
Seventy miles outside of Shanghai lies what Marco Polo termed the “Venice of the East”. Suzhou, China (pronounced Soo-zho) is a popular day trip, but deserves more time than it’s so often allotted. It’s known for its sloping canals through the ancient part of the city. First established during the 7th century, the canals come from the Yangtze River. There’s several UNESCO World Heritage gardens sprinkled throughout the city. You can be transported to your own Mulan Reflection fantasy if you get to a garden early enough. There’s nothing but jaw dropping arrays of flowers and small pools and silence.
If you’re only here for a day, you can easily experience old and new Suzhou. Start your day early by wandering around the Gardens. While the Humble Administrator’s Garden is beautiful, it’s worth checking out the Master of Nets or Tiger Hill. For lunch, follow your nose and take a pedi-cab over to Walking Street or Guan Qian Jie. For those who aren’t feeling adventurous, there’s traditional western fare. But, if you’re embracing China in all of its bumps and warts, find what the kids call a “meat stick guy” and order 10 of his finest, spiciest shish kabobs. While you’re on Guan Qian Jie, be sure to check out the silk merchants. Suzhou silk is some of the finest in the world. Even though the craftsmanship is top notch, you absolutely have to bargain.
If you have more time, go to New Suzhou. Around Suzhou Industrial Park, you can find the world’s largest Ferris wheel and China’s largest inland lake, Jinji Lake. If you’re traveling with children, kids will especially enjoy the water fountain show.
China is weird and wonderful and wild. And Suzhou is no exception. It’s easy to get lost and turned around and sudden find yourself in 12th century China. It’s easy to make friends, as people are too kind and all too willing to try out their Pidgeon English. Is Suzhou chic and trendy and spotless like Paris? Definitely not. But is it amazing and life changing? Definitely.