Around China: Suzhou
Now based in Shanghai, one of our favorite contributors Gelyn So Seng travels around China on weekends. Last time she was at Huangshan and now she takes us to Suzhou.
What do you do when you need a break from the city? You instantly pack your backpack and buy a 40yuan ticket to the next town that is Suzhou for a weekend trip. Suzhou is approximately 25 minutes via fast train from Shanghai Railway Station or Hongqiao Railway station. Faster than what would take you from Shanghai’s Puxi area to Shanghai’s Pudong area via metered taxi during rush hour. It is Shanghai’s mini version both in area and population -which means it is way quieter and 10 times more relaxing.
I took the Friday 6pm Hongqiao-Suzhou train. Settled and eating dinner at Suzhou’s Baker and Spice branch by 7pm planning my next 1 1/2 days of city-touring with my “Suzhouren” (Suzhou = name of place. Ren = word for “people” in mandarin - I may have made up the word, but it made sense to me) friends. The planning may have taken longer than usual as we switched venues to a local pub. Over live music at Ollie’s and their bigger-than-face glass of beers, it was safe to assume we finished our “discussion” at 2am.
Saturday started late as expected. First on the agenda was a trip to see one of Suzhou’s many gardens, Yuan Dynasty’s The Lion Grove Garden. The name is inspired by its famous labyrinthine grotto said to resemble lions. Maybe it’s my lack of imagination but I didn’t see the lions. But it was still as beautiful as they said it was.
Second place was a 10-15 minute walk to the old street of Pingjian Lu, a bustling touristy street with small cafes and river cruising. It was 3pm and we were prune-drained from the scorching China heat, but the unique vendors and singing boatmen kept us entertained.
The last agenda of the day was to watch the sunset at the famous Shangtang jie, regarded as the number one ancient street in China. The dramatic change of a bright busy tourist spot to a picturesque scene with red lanterns that lit up the skies as soon as the sun bids its goodbye was absolutely beautiful. Amongst the old well-maintained traditional Chinese houses and river, by 7pm there was a wave of red lights illuminating through the waters that made it seem like hundreds of red balloons were floating around Suzhou’s dark skies. Beautiful.
Sunday came and before heading back to Shanghai, we decided to make a quick stop to the nearest lake, Jinjihu. The scene was a picture perfect Sunday complete with bikes, golf carts and kites. An equal proportion of cool breeze and children’s laughter swept through the place. As the wind brushed through my hair that sunny afternoon, sweet giggles were calling and happily ringing on my ears. I can’t help but walk around with a contended smile on my face. It was the kind of last stop I needed before going back to the city.
It was 6pm again. With my backpack and a 40yuan train ticket, I am on my way home... once again.