Inner Circle

A Perfect Blend of Old and New

It may be one of the fastest-growing financial centres in China, but Suzhou has retained much of its cultural soul.

A Perfect Blend of Old and New
Small flights of stairs leading down to the waterways can be found every hundred metres or less along Pingjiang Road, the city’s famous tourist stretch.

One of the oldest cities in the Yangtze River Delta with a history of more than 2,500 years, the Suzhou of today is a prolific economic centre in China. Despite its rapid progress and modernisation, Suzhou has somehow managed to not lose sight of its ancient charm and culture. Unlike its more cosmopolitan and glitzy neighbour, Shanghai, where luxury shopping malls and towering skyscrapers now dominate the cityscape, Suzhou’s ancient architecture and beautiful gardens can still be seen all over the city, at times, alongside their modern counterparts. 

Timeworn Charms

The city is also famous for being the “Venice of the East”, thanks to its collection of latticed waterways on which people can travel by means of wooden boats operated by seemingly tireless elderly oarsmen. Small flights of stairs leading down to the waterways can be found every hundred metres or less along Pingjiang Road, the city’s famous tourist stretch, making it a breeze for travellers to embark on a tour of the canals. 

Unlike most other old towns in China that are dominated by shops selling the same souvenirs, Pingjiang Road offers a well-balanced mix of food and retail options spanning the old and new. From stalls selling pungent tofu and deep-fried snacks to quaint specialty cafes to Chinese restaurants housed within an ancient manor, travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to food options. You can easily spend an entire day here, given the variety of products available. Things the city is famous for, such as silk, Su embroidery and handcrafted Chinese fans, can all be found on this road, alongside hipster bookshops and tea boutiques.

Located a short distance from the northern end of Pingjiang Road is the Humble Administrator’s Garden on Dongbei Street. The garden, together with eight others in the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and regarded as one of the finest classical gardens in the world. The Humble Administrator’s Garden derives its beauty from its tranquil ponds, verdant knolls, grand ancient houses and winding cobbled paths flanked by flowers and bonsai plants.

Another UNESCO-listed park one should check out is the Lingering Garden, located a 15-minute car ride away. Built as early as 6th century B.C., this slightly smaller classical garden features masterfully crafted rock formations, rippling ponds and pavilions set amid a sprawling complex that once housed aristocrats and wealthy families.

Cultural Pursuits

To experience the modern side of Suzhou, head over to the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) area on the eastern side of the city. Though called an “industrial park”, this zone actually has more than factories and offices. It is home to a population of about two million people and its roads are spotless, incredibly well maintained and adorned with a variety of flora and fauna. In a bid to attract top talent from around the world to work in Suzhou, the local government has, since the zone’s inception, been striving to provide an attractive and holistic living environment for such individuals by introducing a slew of lifestyle and cultural amenities.

The Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre is one of the most impressive of these amenities. Come nightfall, the building’s metal, mesh-like façade akin to the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing is lit up in vivid hues and almost impossible to miss. It is also a most befitting home to the Suzhou Ballet Theatre, widely regarded as the most modern and innovative dance troupe in China.

A few hundred metres down the road from the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre is Eslite Spectrum. Unlike conventional shopping centres, this Taiwanese development is largely focused on arts, culture and design. The massively popular Eslite Bookstore is the largest establishment within the building and the first Eslite bookstore to open in China, where the beautifully designed space carries nearly all genres of literature and stocks over 150,000 books in English and Chinese.

Eslite Spectrum also houses a splendid range of restaurants and cafes, an art gallery, a theatre and a multi-media exhibition zone. Elements of arts and culture can even be found in the retail zones, some of which feature cosy stages where visitors can watch artisans work on handicrafts.

Nestled in Suzhou New District, Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou is one of the best places from which to begin your city adventures. Apart from being situated just 15 minutes away from the Suzhou Railway Station, many of the city’s famous sights, such as Pingjiang Road, Suzhou Museum, Tiger Hill and Hanshan Temple, are situated within a ten-kilometre radius.

Travel Tips:

  • The best times to visit Suzhou are during spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) when the temperatures are ideal for sightseeing.
  • As there are no airports in Suzhou, one can land at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport before taking a short 30-minute train ride to the city.
  • Looking for authentic Suzhou cuisine? Song He Lou is arguably the most famous dining establishment in the city that has more than two centuries of history. Try the restaurant’s signature squirrel-shaped Mandarin fish.
  • Located an hour’s drive northwest of downtown Suzhou is the Yangcheng Lake area that features many dining establishments and nong jie le (home restaurants) specialising in hairy crabs, which are in season from mid-October to early December.
  • Shiqian and Shantang Streets are the renowned nightlife hotspots in the city. If you’re looking for a quiet late night meal, Shishan Road, located a short walk from Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou, offers a variety of Japanese izakayas, Chinese restaurants and pubs.

 

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