Suzhou, China: Classic gardens, silk, and more
Suzhou, another of the Marco Polo cities, is famous for its outstanding gardens (UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site), silk factory (and shopping opportunity), ancient cultural streets, a theater in high tech Time Square, the lovely Lake Jin Ji. Add to that opera and artisan museum, Suzhou has much that will make you want to pack a bag.
Suzhouís classic gardens are lovely, and a traveler could spend hours exploring them. The Lingering Garden is one over a half dozen of these heritage sites. Wander the paths, watch the water, admire the artful stones, and while you stroll, notice the mosaics that have created the stone paths. To enhance the visual beauty, there are performances appropriate to the gardens. A lovely woman is rowed through the water while she delicately plays a musical instrument. A man and woman in a pavilion play a stringed instrument and sing.
The city has even more to offer than the gardens. Suzhou is a city of canals, a city built between and along the water routes. Shantang Street is one of the prime areas. In ancient times the canals were the streets of the city. Today boats ferry tourists along the water for sightseeing. The tiny streets are lined with individually owned shops selling handcrafts and souvenirs as well as pharmacies of Chinese herbal medicine. Its charm is clear - itís also used as backdrop for photo shoots.
Visitors find the original buildings of the area atmospheric but in reality the original buildings were constructed before plumbing or electricity. Some of these are being torn down, replaced with new construction that reproduces the architecture, but with the conveniences of modern life.
The city is also becoming a high tech center in southern China. Located at east of the Jinji (or Jin Ji) Lake of Suzhou Industry Park, Time Square is filled with high tech buildings, futuristic shapes and lots of neon that light it up as a wonderland at night. One of the cultural highlights is the Dance and Acrobatics Show at the Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center. Performed in the 1,200 seat Grand Theatre the show delights with graceful acrobatics, dance, and juggling.
Suzhou is considered one of the silk capitals of China and a tour of the factory combines fascinating information with a shopping opportunity. The Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory at 94 Nanmen Rd, is a popular destination. Not only will you really enjoy learning about the silk-making process (which is quite fascinating, but the state run store is huge and has all manner of silk products as well as art and embroidery.
The prices are high but so is the quality. The best deal, and probably their most popular item, is the raw silk comforters/duvets. Made of silk that doesnít meet the requirement to be spun into clothing, the comforters are available in all sizes and several weights (from light for summer to heavy for the coldest regions of the country). Yes, I bought one, and yes, I love it.
The high quality silk, made from perfect single pupa (worm) and thus one continuous filament is made into clothing, duvet covers, sheets and fabric. Then, embossed, color designed it becomes both exquisitely beautiful and rather expensive.
With more time, visit the Suzhou Institute of Embroidery, and their Embroidery Street, lined with privately owned stores and work shops.
If you can, allow a couple of days for Suzhou, itís a city that will unfold its charms to those with the patience to explore.