China's Secret Treasure
China has risen in popularity as a multi-cultural vacation spot over the years. With highly publicized tourist venues like the Great Wall, it’s easy to remain unaware of other possible places to visit. Bustling cities like Beijing and Hong Kong are also hot spots for those looking to experience all that China has to offer. This article aims to shed some light on one of the country’s smaller, but equally as cosmopolitan cities.
Each time I vacationed in China, I stayed in the city of Suzhou (pronounced Sue-Joe). I consider it one of the best hidden gems of the country. Located west of Shanghai, it’s accessible via a short ride on the bullet train. With a population of just over one million, it is considered slight in respect to its neighbors. Imagine something similar to the size of San Diego, California. Don’t let its compact size fool you, Suzhou has more than enough to offer to meet the needs of any fun-loving tourist. Below are a few of my favorite spots in the city.
One of the best things about this city is its mixing of both old and new. Everywhere you go the remnants of old China stand next to the sparkling neon lights of a metropolitan landscape. Historical venues such as the Humble Administrator’s Garden allow you to learn about important Chinese culture while enjoying such a unique view. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these gardens are one of the most famous in the entire city. If you plan to visit during the spring like I did, you’ll find the plant life blooming in an array of colors. This venue is truly a serene reminder of the beauty of China.
Inside the Humble Administrator's Garden
Suzhou is also famous for its silk production. More specifically, people started to produce the delicate fabric here as long ago as 2000 BC. In an effort to learn more about this key part of Chinese culture, I recommend you plan a visit to the Suzhou Silk Museum. The tour takes you from the very beginnings of silk production all the way through modern times.
I watched carefully as the silk worms spun the material, it was gathered, then carefully handcrafted into an intricate and beautiful cloth. Think of it as one of the most hands on history museums in all of China. I mean this quite literally as you are even given the opportunity to aid in the production process during the tour. This experience truly makes you appreciate the effort that goes into such exquisite fabric, not to mention you can purchase the silk right after it’s been made in front of you. Talk about authentic!
Inside the Suzhou Silk Museum
The Humble Administrator's Garden and Suzhou Silk Museum are wonderful, but suppose you’re not much of a history buff. The city also has a never ending array of shops, restaurants, and bars. Many of these offer authentic Chinese cuisine. In the rare occasion that you're not craving local food, I recommend stopping by the Mamma Mia restaurant for authentic Italian dishes and drinks. Not only was the food phenomenal, but the outdoor seating allowed for a scenic view of nearby Jinji Lake.
This body of water makes Suzhou an outdoor lover's paradise and serves as a popular tourist destination. Each day I never failed to see someone flying a kite near the shore or partaking in an afternoon kayak trip. In the evenings, you can let yourself be dazzled by the light and music shows at the Jinji Lake Water Fountain.
No matter your travel desires, you'll certainly find what you're looking for here. Suzhou is an amazing city which truly brings the best of both worlds. The city flaunts a rich nightlife for those looking to live like a Shanghai native, but with less than half the population. This means far less time shuffling through crowds and more time enjoying your favorite tourist venues. In fact, there is so much to do that I couldn't even begin to experience it all during my two-week stay. To put it simply, the best of China is waiting for you in Suzhou. Don’t take my word for it though, go and see for yourself!
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