After two lovely days in Hangzhou, our driver took us to Suzhou for a two night stay. We arrived at lunchtime and in the afternoon visited the Garden of the Humble Administrator and took a boat ride on the Grand Canal and saw the famous Marco Polo Bridge.
The Garden of the Humble Administrator is a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the top sites in China. Highlights include:
- Built in 1509 (Ming Dynasty)
- Covers 5.2 hectares
- One of the four most famous gardens in China
- Amazing landscapes and waterscapes, including fantastic lotus gardens
- Exceptional buildings and bridges, with outstanding outstandingly beautiful vegetation
- An artist’s or photographer’s delight
Our short cruise on the Grand Canal provided insights into historical Suzhou which was described by Marco Polo as one of the most beautiful cities in China, dubbed the Venice of the East. Suzhou is famed for both its beautiful gardens and its waterside architecture with the many canals.
Suzhou is small compared to Shanghai and Hangzhou but has an ancient pedigree, having been the capital of the kingdom of Wu in the twelfth to fourth centuries BC.
Historically, Suzhou has been famous for its silk industry but now it is well known for its high tech manufacturing – for example, it is the largest single producer of laptops in the World.
Suzhou is prosperous and there is an incredible array of shops and restaurants. We tended to explore Suzhou on foot.
Our second day, we visited the historic, Panman Gate and the Government owned Silk Embroidery Institute.
The Panman Gate was built two thousand five hundred years ago, and it’s the only example of a land and water gate in China.
The Silk Embroidery Institute provides an excellent and comprehensive insight into the process of producing the finest quality silk, including:
- Mulberry planting
- Silkworm raising
- Silk reeling
- Silk weaving, and
- Silk quilt making.
The Silk Embroidery Institute has a large shop, full of a wide range of silk products but unfortunately probably does not have staff yet fully trained to deal with selling luxury goods to Western customers.
Later we explored the city centre and walked many miles looking at the shops and observing local life. It’s hard to explain but this was an excellent example of China testing all one’s senses:
- Stunning colours for shops, their merchandise, state-of-the-art shop fittings, and, of course, the customers, all wearing the latest fashions
- Incredible noise of cars and bikes honking their horns, and thousands of people all talking at once
- The smell of fast food, ineffective drains and diesel fumes
- The overall sense of urgency, happiness and pure fun
Most important of all, on the streets one gets the opportunity to observe China’s young people who typically seemed much happier than their counterparts in comparable Western cities.