Suzhou, China 苏州

Urban Population: 5,349,000 | City Area: 2,743 km2 (1,059 sq mi) | Population Density: 2,000/km2 (5,100/sq mi)
Dates Visited: 2.24.13 – 2.25.13
Departure City: Shanghai

A mere 45 minute ride on the high speed bullet train from Shanghai, Suzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in Shanghai and prized for its traditional waterside architecture–Suzhou is called the Venice of the East–and its UNESCO World Heritage Classical Chinese Gardens.

Originally founded in 514 BCE, Suzhou has enjoyed a long history of economic prosperity due to its strategic location on a major trade route. The city is surrounded by rich fertile land at the intersection of the east to west Yangtze River and the north to south Grand Canal.

Seated on the alluvial plain of the Yangtze River which spreads across eastern China, Suzhou lies about thirty-five miles inland from the point where the Yangtze River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Suzhou’s wealth and stability helped contribute to the rise of garden-making and scholarly pursuits, particularly from the 16th to 18th centuries during the Ming and Qing dynasties, a period which was also known as the golden age for Suzhou gardens. Most of the gardens were destroyed by the end of the 1940s following foreign invasions and internal uprisings, thus, most gardens that are visited today are restorations and reconstructions of former gardens.

We took the government subsidized bullet train ($8!) to Suzhou that traveled at a speed of 247 km/hr (~153 mi/hr). We also stayed overnight to celebrate the Lantern Festival (元宵節), the last day of the lunar New Year. We started off with a boat ride in the canals, meandered through various gardens, and explored the dense streets of Suzhou, including a beautiful walk at night down my favorite waterside street, Pingjiang Rd (平江路).

I really enjoyed my stay in Suzhou. It’s a much smaller city than Shanghai and also much more laid back. Goods are cheaper, great food is plentiful, and there’s a lot more to see than we were able to cover during our leisurely visit. I didn’t spend as much time as I wish I could have in the classical gardens, nor was I able to see all that I wanted. Looks like I’ll just have to come back to Suzhou in the future.

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