Suzhou

Suzhou (苏州; Sūzhōu) is a city in Jiangsu province, famed for its beautiful gardens and traditional waterside architecture. The town has many canals and has been called the Venice of the East. An older romanisation was "Soochow".

Heaven has paradise; Earth has Hangzhou and Suzhou. Chinese proverb

Suzhou is a prefecture-level city in the Chinese system of administration, which makes the name "Suzhou" somewhat ambiguous; it can refer either to the city itself or to the entire administrative area. This article covers the city itself; some towns within the administrative area, like Kunshan and Wujiang, have separate articles.

Understand

One of the canals

Historically, Suzhou has always been a major center of Wu culture which developed in the region around Lake Tai; a Suzhou accent in the Wu language is still considered prestigious, even though the language is now often called "Shanghainese". Suzhou was the capital of the Kingdom of Wu in the first millennium BCE and again the in first CE, but through most of history Wu has not been an independent state.

The area was settled much earlier, but the city walls that defined what we now know as Suzhou were built in the late 6th century BCE. By 100 CE Suzhou was one of the ten largest cities on Earth, and by the early 19th century it was the world's largest non-capital city. Throughout this history, Suzhou was clearly the most important city of its region; Shanghai was just a walled town near the river mouth and the officials there reported to higher-ranking officials in Suzhou.

Starting in the mid-19th century, Shanghai boomed due to foreign trade; today it is far larger than Suzhou and very much the center of the area. However Suzhou is still a very significant city; the core city has over five million people, and the whole urban area more than ten million. The entire region has prospered in recent years.

Suzhou has been a center of the silk trade and a place of gardens and canals for centuries. It has long been both a center of commerce and a haven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen. Marco Polo wrote:

Suju is a very great and noble city. They possess silk in great quantities, ... it hath merchants of great wealth and ... accomplished traders and most skilful craftsmen. There are also in this city many philosophers and leeches, diligent students of nature.

All of that is still the case today, over 700 years later.

Garden of the Master of the Nets

In Imperial China, Suzhou was a popular destination for retired scholars and officials, many of whom built classical Chinese gardens around their homes; even lesser houses and some commercial buildings often have lovely small gardens or courtyards. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Today, East China is one of the country's most prosperous and fastest-growing regions, and Suzhou is very much part of that. A wander off the beaten path and into some of the old neighborhoods can be quite a treat, but their seediness and crowded conditions provide a stark contrast to the endless billboards at the edge of the city advertising suburban developments that would not look out-of-place in Orange County.

Suzhou is a bustling modern city, though you can still see traces of a very old lifestyle centered around the canals. Come prepared to feel a bit betrayed by the guidebooks singing the praises of a quaint thousand-year-old city. On XiBei Road thoroughfare, every other storefront advertises foot massage, which in China is often a cover for sexual services; see China#Massage. It sometimes seems that half the city are masseur/masseuses and the other half are potential clients.

Developments in the SIP

Suzhou currently boasts one of the hottest economies in the world; the city is a major center of joint-venture high-tech manufacturing and currently the world's largest single producer of laptop computers. The Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) east of downtown and the Suzhou New District (SND) in the west have dozens of factories for both Chinese and foreign companies; products include microchips, flash memory systems, electronics, computer equipment, telecommunications components, power tools, chemicals and materials, automotive components and pharmaceuticals. This makes for a sense of stark contrasts: The outskirts of town were farmland just ten years ago, but now there are four-lane highways connecting the city to Shanghai...four-lane highways with pedestrians, bicyclists and pedicabs using the breakdown lanes.

The SIP is definitely the main center for the computer and communications industries, but it is by no means alone; the whole region is booming and electronics are only part of a very diverse industrial base. The SND on the opposite side of downtown is also doing very well and seems to be becoming a hub for biotech industries. Kunshan and Wujiang, both administratively "county-level cities" within the prefecture-level city Suzhou, are also growing rapidly, as is the neighboring prefecture-level city Wuxi.

Suzhou has a large expatriate community, many associated with the factories but also the English teachers, Filipino musicians and others found anywhere in China. Compared to other Chinese cities, Suzhou has a higher proportion of expats from other Asian countries: the SIP development was a joint venture between the Suzhou and Singapore governments, and there has been much investment from Singapore and Malaysia. Japanese, Korean, Taiwan and Indian companies are there as well; Samsung has large factories in Suzhou, including their first semiconductor fabrication plant outside Korea. Of course there are also many Chinese and Western companies.

Get in

By plane

Suzhou does not have an airport. The closest airports with flights of use to most travelers are the two in nearby Shanghai. The airport in Wuxi is closer, but it is relatively small and serves mostly domestic flights. Nanjing and Hangzhou are other alternatives; both are large airports with a range of flights and easily reached from Suzhou.

Via Shanghai

Pudong Airport (IATA: PVG) has many international flights and Hongqiao Airport (IATA: SHA) has mostly domestic flights. They are 120 km (75 mi) and 86 km (53 mi) away from Suzhou respectively.

Regular shuttle buses run between Suzhou and both Shanghai airports, taking about an hour to Hongqiao and one hour and forty minutes to Pudong.

A shuttle bus between Pudong and Hongqiao leaves every 10 minutes from 6AM-9PM and costs ¥30.

Hongqiao airport is also conveniently reached from Suzhou by train; some of the Suzhou-Shanghai bullet trains go to Hongqiao Railway Station which is only about a km from the airport one stop on the metro or a walk that is fairly long but all indoors and level. The trip takes less than half an hour. Be certain your ticket is for Hongqiao station; some trains go to the original Shanghai Railway Station, which is nowhere near the airport.

It is also possible to reach Pudong Airport by train, but this is much less convenient. From Hongqiao Station, metro line 2 goes to Pudong Airport but it takes over an hour and you need to change trains once; it is still called line 2 but you need to walk across the platform and get on a different train.

Via Wuxi

Wuxi is only a few km from Suzhou and, like Suzhou, is both a traditional center of Wu culture and a hi-tech hub today. Wuxi Airport is situated to the southeast of the town and has flights to major Chinese cities and a few international flights (e.g. to Taiwan). From the airport to Wuxi city center (Wuxi train station) there are infrequent (every 30 minutes) buses, just on the right side when you exit the airport (look for a blue plate with Chinese characters and timetable for 1,2,3 routes). Allow at least 40 minutes to ride to Wuxi center and about 15 minutes for a ride between Wuxi and Suzhou on a high-speed train.

Via Hangzhou

Hangzhou is well worth a visit; like Suzhou, it is both an ancient city with UNESCO-listed heritage sites and one of China's most modern and prosperous cities. Its airport has a good range of domestic flights and some international. The Air Asia flight from Hangzhou to Kuala Lumpur is usually the cheapest way from central China to Southeast Asia.

There is a bus between Suzhou and Hangzhou airports. You can go to the waiting room, located North of Entrance 5 to the Arrival Hall, First Level of Terminal Building. Price range is ¥20/per~¥30/per.

There are also city-to-city connections, using either fast trains or buses. The trains go via Shanghai while the buses take a more direct route, so the difference in travel time is not huge.

Via Nanjing

Nanjing is only about an hour from Suzhou via the frequent high-speed trains and is worth a visit; it is a very important city in both Chinese history and today's economy. Its airport has flights to all major Chinese cities and some international flights. Lufthansa fly Frankfurt-Nanjing, partly because the German company Siemens have had a factory in Nanjing for decades; one of their German managers is a hero in China for saving many people from the Japanese during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

By train

See also High-speed rail in China

There are four major train stations in Suzhou:

Suzhou Railway Station

Suzhou station and both the SIP and SND stations are all on the main line from Shanghai to Nanjing, but not all trains stop at all stations; you have to specify when buying the ticket.

The slower, cheaper and more crowded T- and K- services from other provinces on their way to Shanghai or Nanjing stop at Suzhou Station, but most travellers prefer the fast D- or G- trains.

Buying train tickets using self-service machines in the stations is no longer possible without a Chinese ID card. Foreigners must buy at the counter at the railway station or at railway ticket offices throughout the city, and must provide their passport as ID. It is often wise to book tickets a few days in advance as trains fill up quickly, especially during public holidays, but the more expensive fast trains can generally be booked the same day.

Most travel agents and some hotels will pick up tickets for you for a small additional fee.

From Suzhou or Suzhou North stations, the quickest way into town is Metro Line 2. That runs north-south through the center and a transfer to Line 1 can get you to other areas. All stations also have a taxi rank; you may have to queue but it rarely takes long. As anywhere in China, it is safer to ignore the taxi touts inside the station and just go to the taxi rank.

From Suzhou Station, you can also get downtown either by bus or on foot. Many city buses start from a terminus just across the street from the station. Most services will head towards the Guanqian Street/Ganjiang Lu area of downtown (15-20 minutes), although it's advisable to check. Buses 6, 26, 29, 178 go to the SIP. It is possible to buy a tourist map (English-Chinese, ¥10) indicating the bus routes in one of the tourism offices on the lefthand side of the walkway leading up to the North exit. Once outside the station, the bus stops can be found on the righthand side. Bus You1 and You4 (both heading towards Renmin Lu) leave from platform 4.

On foot, it takes about 20-30 minutes to walk to most of the sights - simply go outside the station and head right. At the first intersection, make an immediate right into either one of two tunnels heading under the train tracks. A pedestrian path is available that will take you to the old part of town. Once you cross the river, the 8-story pagoda called Beisi Ta (North Temple Pagoda) should be in plain sight. In summer, it might not be very convenient to walk downtown as temperatures might easily get up to 40 degrees.

If you are adventurous you can try to unofficial e-bike taxi - guys standing right to the station outside, you can negotiate to about ¥20 to the city center.

By bus

Suzhou has three main bus stations

The China Eastern Airlines City Air Terminal near the intersection of Renmin Lu and Ganjiang Xilu also has a small terminal for shuttle buses to Shanghai Hongqiao and Pudong airports, see Get In/By plane for details.

By bicycle

If you are feeling adventurous, it is possible to cycle from Shanghai to Suzhou in 2-3 hours (70km). From Shanghai city centre, head west towards Hongqiao Airport (following the route of Metro line 2) and follow the S343 Provincial Highway. This road can be quite busy but there's a segregated cycle path along its entire length and the route is entirely flat. The road passes through the attractive water town of Luzhi (20km east of Suzhou) making a nice stopping off point and the road will bring you into the Suzhou Industrial Park and ends at Donghuan Lu (the east part of the inner ring road).

By boat

The overnight ferries between Hangzhou and Suzhou are no longer running.

Riverboats on the Yangtze stop at Suzhou. See Along the Yangtze river.

Japan

There is a thrice weekly service from Suzhou to Shimonoseki route with Shanghai-Shimonoseki Ferry. Call 083-232-6615 (Japan) or 0512-53186686 (China). Tickets from ¥15,000 (Japanese Yen).

Get around

Orientation

The city has three main parts, the older center and large suburban developments on either side of it. On the east is Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), and on the west Suzhou New District (SND). These are not just industrial suburbs; both have much residential and commercial development as well.

Downtown Suzhou (Canglang, Pingjiang and part of Jinchang district) is completely surrounded by a large, rectangular canal known as the Weichang River (Weichang Hé), which is connected to China's Grand Canal. Within the rectangle, 9 east-west canals and 12 north-south canals run through the city. Most of the major sights are located within this area.

Outside the main canal is the ring road which is divided into east (Donghuan Lu), west (Xihuan Lu), north-east (Beihuan Dong Lu), north-west (Beihuan Xi Lu), south-east (Nanhuan Dong Lu) and south-west (Nanhuan Xi Lu) sections. It forms a rectangle in green on the map. The main long-distance transport hubs are located along this road, and bus #10 runs in a complete loop of the ring road.

East of the ring road, Jinjihu Lake marks the centre of the SIP with two main through roads crossing the lake (Xiandai Avenue to the north and Jinjihu Avenue to the south). Most streets in the SIP have names beginning with Xing (from 'Xingjiapo' - the Chinese rendering of Singapore) for east-west routes and Su (Suzhou) for north-south routes.

Downtown i.e. inside the canal the two main cross-town roads are Remin Lu (north-south) and Ganjiang Lu (east-west). Both are well-provided with shopping, hotels and restaurants, Ganjiang Road has Metro Line 1 running under it and a bridge into the SIP at its east end.

Two streets of importance to travellers run east off Renim Lu. Guanqian Jie, a bit north of Ganjiang Road, is a busy pedestrians-only shopping street near the center of town, with a major Taoist temple and a flea market area toward its east end. Shiquan Jie, south of Ganjiang Road, has restaurants, bars, hotels, the main Suzhou tourist information office, much tourist-oriented shopping, and the Garden of the Master of the Nets.

Guanqian Jie and Shiquan Jie are within walking distance of each other via Remin Lu on the west, Fenghuan Rd further east or various smaller streets in between. The back streets are not particularly scenic but do have some good shopping, especially for moderately-priced clothes and shoes.

Walking

It's possible to walk around the city although many will find the distances between some attractions too large to make walking an option. Ask the concierge at your hotel to write out the name of your destination(s), as well as how to get back. Make sure to add your own notes so you know what the translation is. Be warned that walking in downtown is by no means relaxing - most sidewalks are narrow and clogged with parked scooters meaning that you'll end up walking in the bike lane or in the road. Also, around the subway construction sites the sidewalk and bike lane disappear altogether. Keep your eyes and ears open. Walking in the SIP is more pleasant as roads and sidewalks are wider, and traffic is less heavy.

Taxis

Suzhou's rattling old silver-and-teal VW Santana taxis are a very reasonably priced way of getting around and are easily available outside of rush hour. Fares start at ¥10 for 3 km and tick up at ¥2.5 per km, so most trips within the city are cheap. That said, Suzhou's cabbies are infamous for their lack of local knowledge (most of them are migrants from poorer provinces) so having an address or phone contact to your destination will save you a lot of hassle. Driving style is best described as aggressive, although serious accidents involving taxis are rare. Be warned of taxi touts near tourist destinations and the train station - always use the taxi queue or flag one down from the street (available taxis have a green light on the front dash). Always get a receipt from the taxi driver at the end of the ride, so you may call the taxi company if you have left anything behind or need to dispute a fare.

Few, if any taxi drivers speak English or any other foreign languages, so be sure to get your hotel's business card, and have the names addresses of your destinations written in Chinese to show your taxi driver.

By metro

SRT logo

The Suzhou Metro or SRT (Suzhou Rail Transit) is a growing system. Line 1 went into service in 2012, Line 2 in 2013 and five more are planned by 2020.

Line 1 runs east-west from Mudu (well west of downtown) across the Suzhou New District and the Old Town, and into the Suzhou Industrial Park. The downtown part runs along Ganjiang Lu.

Line 2 runs north-south, from Suzhou North railway station to the main Suzhou station, then across the Old Town and into the southern suburbs.

Fares start at ¥2 for up to 6km, then ¥3 for 6-11km, ¥4 for 11-16, ¥5 16-23, ¥6 23-30; going the whole length of Line 1 is ¥6.

Bus

Taking a bus in Suzhou is relatively easy if you have a basic grasp of Chinese, or horribly bewildering if you don't. Buses cover the whole city, run at 10-20 minute frequencies from 5AM-9PM on most routes and are a cheap way of getting around. Unfortunately all bus information boards and on-board announcements are in Chinese only, however bus route information can also be found on Google Maps.

Fares are based upon the distance between where you board and the last stop of the bus - most times you will pay ¥1-2, although some longer routes such as the #69 to Xishan charge up to ¥5 - the fare will be displayed on the bus schedule as well as on a digital display above the driver's seat. Exact change is required, so keep plenty of ¥1 coins handy. Buses displaying a green or blue 'snow-flake' symbol next to the route number have air-conditioning and a ¥1 surcharge is paid on top of the regular fare (regardless of whether the A/C is switched on or not).

There are five handy tourist buses numbered Y1-5 - all serve the railway station and connect most of the tourist sights within the city proper, so if you are unfamiliar with the city, they are a good way to familiarize yourself.

Buses are often crowded, and it's good custom to offer your seat to elderly, disabled or mothers with children.

If you are in town for a while, it's advisable to get a Suzhou-Tong card (available from several outlets around town) - it's a prepaid smart-card that gives you a 10% discount on bus travel.

By bicycle

Cycling is an interesting but sometimes hair-raising way of exploring Suzhou. That said, cycling is much safer here than in, say London or New York, as Suzhou has an excellent network of cycle paths running alongside most major roads, however these also double up as scooter paths, sidewalks and parking lots; and some are rather potholed, so it's advisable to stay alert. See Driving in China for general information on traffic conditions.

Conveniently for both walkers and bicyclists, Suzhou and the surrounding countryside are almost entirely flat. There are no mountains anywhere nearby and few hills.

Bikes can be rented from most youth hostels or small bike shops at around ¥30 per day for a slow, heavy 1-speed city bike. If you are staying a while, it may be cheaper to buy since bikes start under ¥200 in supermarkets. The Bicycle Kingdom rental agency on Pingjiang Lu has road bikes and mountain bikes to rent for around ¥150-300 per day depending on the model.

Remember to always keep your bike locked when not in use - bike theft is a major problem, particularly downtown. Always leave your bike somewhere brightly lit and crowded. In some places (particularly around Guanqian Jie), attendants will keep an eye on your bike for a small payment (typically ¥0.50).

See #Bicycles below for bicycle shops.

Pedicabs

Available on most main streets and always near tourist attractions. Negotiate the price before you get in and don't allow the driver to change it once you arrive at your destination, for example, saying ¥15 and demanding ¥50. This is a slow means of travel but it allows you to actually see the city while you go somewhere. Despite what you might expect, pedicabs are often more expensive than taxis- and be warned that 99% of Suzhou pedicab drivers are notorious price-gougers, so bargain hard with these guys. Expect to pay a little more in the summer months since the driver is working hard in the heat to take you there.

Motorcycle taxis

Found the same places as pedicabs, and should be approached with similar caution. Suzhou motorcycle taxis are usually filthy, dangerously driven, and relentlessly uncomfortable (the seats are about 12 cm above the floor) so traumatic to your spine it would be best to consider another form of transport.

Talk

The language of the region is the Wu dialect; it is not mutually intelligible with standard Chinese (Mandarin), or Cantonese for that matter. Suzhou is the traditional cradle of Wu culture, and a Suzhou accent has some prestige, even though the language is now often called "Shanghai dialect" or "Shanghainese". Therefore, Suzhou is a good place to learn to speak Wu Chinese. However, as anywhere in China, most people are bilingual in the local dialect and Mandarin, and you should have no problem speaking Mandarin unless you are talking to the elderly.

Suzhou is a prosperous city with huge numbers of migrant workers, mostly from poorer provinces. People in the service industries that you may encounter taxi drivers, waitresses, hairdressers, ... are more likely to speak Mandarin than Wu, and quite likely to have a Sichuan or Anhui accent.

English is not widely spoken; staff at the better hotels and in tourist-oriented shops or the expat bars will speak some, but the level varies enormously. Do not expect cab drivers or staff in local restaurants or railway ticket offices to have any English; some will surprise you, but this is rare. Be sure to have the names of your destinations written in Chinese, so that taxi drivers can get you there; carry a business card for your hotel so they can get you back to it.

See

Suzhou has a number of attractions including at least two that are absolutely world-class, its famous classical Chinese gardens and a museum designed by a world-renowned architect.

Suzhou's gardens and architecture have had influence worldwide. Suzhou Street in Beijing's Summer Palace is a copy of Suzhou's Shangtang Street, and the Chinese Garden Court in New York's Metropolitan Museum is a copy of part of the Master of the Nets garden. Both Vancouver's Sun-Yat-Sen Garden and Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden were built by craftsmen imported from Suzhou.

Classical gardens

The UNESCO World Heritage List listing for Classical Gardens of Suzhou includes nine of the finest gardens, with dates from the 11th to the 19th century. They are:

Humble Administrator's Garden 拙政园
Water-carved rocks in the Lingering Garden
Retreat and Reflection Garden

Each of those gardens has both its own Wikipedia article and its own page on the Suzhou Tourist Bureau site (index); see those for additional detail if required. Some also have their own web sites or pages on the Chinese Ministry of Culture site; see links in the listings above.

The four great gardens of Suzhou are four of those, each of which represents the gardening style of a different Chinese dynasty:

Of course Suzhou has many other gardens as well. At one point there were over 200 classical gardens in the city, and the Chinese government lists 69 which survive today as protected heritage sites.

Large and famous gardens are fine, but smaller or less-known gardens can also be interesting; they can be good for a quick look or relaxing with a cup of tea in relative quiet. Often local folks are seen enjoying their tea and chatting. The small garden is a living part of the local, yet ancient, culture. Some of the other gardens are:

Temples

North Temple Pagoda
Gatehouse for the Temple of Mystery

Museums

Suzhou Museum

The Opera, Silk and Handicrafts museums are all right in the same area and can conveniently be visited together.

Other attractions

Panmen land and water gate
Changmen gate

Some pagodas and towers are covered above since they are within temples. The others are here.

Bridge, part of Ligondi

Do

Buy

Shi Quan Jie is the main area downtown for tourist shopping, with everything from cheap tacky souvenirs and ¥10 allegedly silk ties to fine antiques, silks and jewellery. There are also many such stores around the Mystery Temple and along other back streets north of Guanqian Jie, and some near various tourist attractions. Guangqian Jie itself is mainly a general-purpose shopping street similar to what one might find in any city, but does have some upmarket shops for silks and other tourist items. The same could be said of shops in the SIP, most of which are concentrated in a few enormous malls.

As anywhere in China, bargaining is the norm. Since Suzhou is a domestic tourist destination though, prices will start off at surprisingly reasonable values. As anywhere, help from a knowledgeable local can save you both hassle and money but you should not accept "help" from unknown locals; that may just mean you get a higher price and the "helper" gets a commission.

As a city famed through the ages for its silk embroidery, Suzhou is one of the best places to pick up silk handicrafts. Suzhou double-sided embroidery, in which the same picture is rendered in great detail on both sides of a silk screen and the knots are tied in the middle, is a traditional Suzhou speciality and is absolutely amazing. The needles used for this work are finer than a human hair.

Much of lower-priced embroidery work sold to tourists is now made using sewing machines which provide embroidery stitches. The fine handwork is still available, and often at better prices in Suzhou than elsewhere, but it is not cheap.

The Embroidery Institute is a lively enterprise producing high quality work which you can see on a tour of the facility. The gift shop has prices a little higher than at the street stalls but they will bargain and the quality is much better.

Silk fans, musical instruments, paintings and calligraphy, lanterns, mahogany furniture and jade carvings are all made in the city and all readily available. Prices can be very good, though you generally have to bargain to get a good price.

Freshwater pearls The Suzhou area is part of the largest freshwater pearl-producing region in the world. Pearls can be bought in every conceivable price and quality range, either singly or as strings or jewellery.

Sandalwood fans folding fans made from thin ornately-stamped sheets of sandalwood- are another very old Suzhou craft and widely sold around the city. The scent of the breeze they generate while fanning is heavenly. Cheap versions are probably more mundane wood dipped in sandalwood oil, and will lose their scent rather quickly.

Tea is produced in Suzhou; the most famous locally-produced green tea is called 'Biluochun'. Large shops with endless varieties of tea can be found all around the city, and some have seating where you will be encouraged to come sit and sample a pot. See China#Tea for background.

Snuff bottles are a long-standing Suzhou craft that remains popular today. Tiny glass bottles are delicately painted on the inside with elaborate and beautiful pictures. The best ones are truly incredible works of art.

Supermarkets & Department Stores

Bicycles

For the resident expatriate or the traveller planning some bicycle touring, Suzhou is an excellent place to buy a bicycle. Bikes are common anywhere in China (see China#By_bicycle), the flat terrain around Suzhou encourages their use, and several major makers of bikes and parts have factories in the area; Shimano and Giant are both in Kunshan.

The commonest bikes in China are still heavy and single speed, but a wide range are available, including multi-speed road bikes, mountain bikes with various suspension types, ultra-aerodynamic triathlon bikes and electric scooters. As anywhere in China there are many hole-in-the-wall bike shops, some of them surprisingly good, and most department stores carry bikes at prices from about ¥200 up.

In Suzhou, two popular choices for low-to-midrange bikes are:

There are also stores specialising in more upmarket equipment, including Silver Storm (city branch on Shizi Jie, Canglang-qu; SIP Branch on Xinggui Jie, SIP), Specialized Bicycles (Harmony Plaza, Ganjiang Dong Lu, Pingjiang-qu, next to the China Merchants Bank) and Trek Cycles (Xincheng Dasha, Xiandai Dadao, SIP, behind the Starbucks).

Eat

Suzhou has its own unique, slightly sweet cuisine that tends to have very light and delicate flavors. Locals are very fond of freshwater fish and shellfish. Sweets made from glutinous rice paste are an old tradition here; these will generally baffle most Western palates, but try them, anyway. A Suzhou specialty popular with many visitors is Song Shu Gui Yu, often rendered in English something like "Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish": the meat of a large fish is delicately cut into strips, breaded in flour, fried, and served covered with pine nuts and a sweet-and-sour sauce. It looks a little like a squirrel's tail...if you've drunk enough of the local rice wine.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Bars

Shiquan Street (十全街) is the main bar area downtown. Among the popular places are:

A number of the bars on this street (not the ones listed above) are thinly-veiled fronts for the world's oldest profession; numbers of very friendly young ladies sitting around the bar or standing in doorways to tempt in passers-by are easily recognized. Those wishing to avail themselves of such diversions are encouraged to exercise extreme caution, not overdo the drinking, ask the cost of everything (including the room you are taken to) before accepting it, and never pay anything in advance. Note also that prostitution is illegal in China and disease rates among sex workers, while reportedly quite low, are definitely not zero.

Some of the better known bars of this sort (safer?) are the Moon Bar aka 'The Danish Embassy", known for its regular crowd of locals, the Blue Lady and the Red Lion - all within the block between FengHuangJie and Suzhou Hotel. All offer drinks without other services and they won't bother you if you are not partaking further! It is fairly common for groups of Suzhou expats, usually of mixed gender, to visit these places because they are open late and have cheap beer.

There are also a number of bars in the SIP, mostly along the lake:

Coffee Shops and Book Bars

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Suzhou is a safe place on the whole but there are a few things to watch out for. Pickpocketing is common on crowded buses, and around the north bus station and the train station. Pan-handlers and beggars around the old town can become a real nuisance although they are not dangerous. Watch out for incredibly pushy hawkers operating on Guanqian Jie shopping street - they generally charge ridiculous prices for counterfeit goods.

Taxis are generally safe although it's advisable not to follow touts operating around tourist sights or the train station. Also be aware that pedicab and 3-wheel tuk-tuk drivers are known to overcharge.

Probably the biggest safety risk in Suzhou are the electric scooters. These cheap, plastic, battery powered 2-wheel vehicles swarm around the city like ninjas and are renowned for driving anywhere possible - the wrong side of the road, the pavement, tiny alleyways and across crowded pedestrian crossings. They are almost silent and riders generally don't use headlights at night to save battery power - the only giveaway is their squeaky electric horns. Don't be surprised when you're walking down a busy pavement and one of these pocket-rockets whizzes past at 50 km/h without warning so always keep an eye and an ear out for them, particularly at night and at rush hour when the designated bike lanes become too crowded so the riders take alternate means.

Remember that in China it's legal for car drivers to make a right turn against a red light - albeit they ignore the latter part of the rule 'turn with caution' - it's all too common for cars, and more notoriously, trucks, to fly round an intersection too fast and unfortunately accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are too common. Always keep an eye out in both directions when crossing the street.

Stay healthy

Breathing may be difficult for some travelers

Some travelers may need to worry about the air quality in Suzhou, although the problem is not as bad as in nearby Shanghai or Nanjing.

As is the case for most of China, the tap water is not recommended for drinking but OK for washing. Filtered and boiled tap water is considered safer for drinking.

As Suzhou is a water town, there is a high presence of mosquitoes in the summer; luckily, repellant can be found in every convenience store and they don't carry any known diseases in this area, so they're more of an annoyance than a hazard.

Connect

Suzhou has many free Wi-Fi access points as well as pay (¥2.5 per hour) Internet cafes.

Internet cafes

The biggest concentration of Internet cafes are located along Moye Road just east of Shiquan Street. Most are about ¥2.50 per hour and have fast internet, headphones, webcam, etc., and also serve hot and cold drinks and sell cigarettes (smoking is permitted inside). Chinese customers will use their ID card to access the computer; foreigners should either bring their passport to register onto the computer, although if this facility is not provided the cashier will use his/her card to sign you in. However, police will occasionally check, in which case it may be harder for you to use.

Wi-Fi cafes

The large coffee chains like New Island Cafe, Starbucks and Costa Coffee all have several branches in Suzhou, all offering free Wi-Fi. Most of the other coffee shops in town have free Wi-Fi, certainly all the expat hangouts like the Bookworm.

Quite a few bars and restaurants, especially ones that cater to expats or well-off Chinese, offer free Wi-Fi as well.

Go next

Suzhou has a central position in East China and anywhere in the region is accessible. The other major cities of the area Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou are all both economically important and major tourist destinations. Some of the lesser cities may also be of interest:

See East_China#Go_next for some possibilities beyond the region.

Suzhou is close to Lake Tai, which is a major recreational area. Day trips to the lake are possible going straight west from Suzhou or going via towns which are right on the lake, Wuxi to the north or the Suzhou suburb Wujiang to the south. Longer trips are also possible; see the Lake Tai article.

The whole region around Suzhou is flat Yangtze Delta terrain and has water towns, once the market towns for agricultural areas. All have picturesque canals with old houses along them and many bridges, and many are set up to accommodate tourists. Suzhou itself is very much a water town, and some travellers will find that enough. However, smaller places may be more picturesque or better preserved. Many agencies in Suzhou offer tours to some of these especially to ones within Suzhou such as Zhouzhuang, Tongli and Zhen Ze. All are within an hour's travel of central Suzhou, and these tours are quite popular.

Another water town, Mudu, can easily be visited without taking a tour since it is the last stop going west on Metro Line 1. It is reportedly a bit shabby, not as pretty or developed as some of the others, but this may change now that it is more accessible.

See also our lists of water towns in East China and within Shanghai.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, October 26, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.