Sū Zhōu (苏州) – Handicraft Paradise

By principle you dislike big cities. They are crowded, noisy and polluted. You live in a small town in southeastern China and you’re very happy because of that. Once in a while however, you feel the need to see something more –  to see, so called ‘big world’. Weather it is out of curiosity, or simply to have an excuse that you haven’t spend your whole time in the middle of nowhere, you choose to visit one of the famous Chinese cities. You go to Suzhou and surprisingly to yourself, you wish to stay longer than you’ve planned…

 

Suzhou is one of the biggest and oldest cities in China. It’s located in Jiangsu Province (southeastern China). It was founded 2500 years ago. If you stay in downtown it won’t really matter which way you’ll go. You will always find something interesting on your way: old houses, picturesque canals, relics, gardens, museums, street vendors or souvenir shops. Everything within walking distance (no more than 30 minutes on foot).  Be prepared however, that if you walk along the street, you’ll be pestered by scooter drivers offering you a ride. The more ‘foreign’ you look, the more often you’ll be touted (average for brown haired Pole was once every 10 minutes).

 

Suzhou is famous for 3 things: classical gardens (a few of them are enlisted by UNESCO as World Heritage sites), silk and embroidery.

One of the most famous places in Suzhou is the Humble Administrators Garden (拙政园 zhuō zhèng yuán). Its was created in 1513 by an Imperial Envoy and poet Wang Xiancheng. Currently its the largest garden in Suzhou (entrance fee: 70 RMB ~12$). Maze of bridges, islands and pavilions makes it a perfect place for spending peaceful afternoon. Just don’t go there too late. They close the garden at 18.00.

After calming your spirit at the ancient classical garden you will get back to more materialistic world. Literally. The entrance to the Humble Administrator’s Garden is at Dongbei Street (one of the main merchandise streets in Suzhou). In other words… it’s time for shopping!

 

Suzhou is basically paradise for any tourist looking for souvenirs. What to buy?

  • Silk scarf – just remember to read tags very carefully (something like “100% silk feeling” is quite common)
  • Embroidery – the price depends on the size, technique, material, and weather or not it is handmade. The most expensive is double-sided embroidery (Suzhou specialty). For picture made in this technique (with diameter around 15cm) you’ll have to pay at least 200 RMB. Normal silk embroidery can be bought even for 40 RMB. Just remember to haggle when you’re buying something. The price you’ll hear from the seller would probably be twice higher than it’s worth. You shouldn’t also expect anything original. In each shop you’ll find the same motives (they are embroidered according to a pattern). You’ll find many souvenir shops on Dongbei Street and around Xuanmiao Taoist Temple.
  •  Xun – egg-shaped flute made of clay or ceramic. It’s one of the oldest instruments in China and one of the basic in Taoist music. Even if you’re not very musical, it will simply make an interesting souvenir from the trip to China (something different than usual fans, chopsticks and embroidery). You can find them at stands around Xuanmiao Taoist Temple. They have different sizes. The one with 6 holes should cost around 30 RMB.

If you’re planning on visiting China you should definitely put Suzhou on the must-see list.
If you’re going to visit many cities on your way, Suzhou is the best place to buy souvenirs. Everything is much cheaper than in other famous cities.

Have a nice time!

 

This article is contributed by Go Foreign, a blog site about an expat life in China. Would you like to know more? Follow Go Foreign here.

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