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Suzhou (苏州; Sūzhōu) is a city in Jiangsu province. It is famed for its beautiful ardens and traditional waterside architecture. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
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Points of Interest in Suzhou
Suzhou was the capital of the kingdom of Wu from the 12th to 4th centuries BC. Historically, it was the center of Wu culture, and the Suzhou dialect of the Wu language is still considered the standard dialect even though the language is now often called "Shanghainese".
Today, Suzhou has become a core city of China's Yangtze River Delta economic zone, given its high GDP contribution to China. More recently, it has been a center of the silk trade and a place of gardens and canals. Suzhou has long been a heaven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen, and this is still the case today.
In its many beautiful gardens and courtyard parks, Suzhou's ancient heritage has been preserved. This ambitious city, however, is not going to trade upon its past in order to meet the future. 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 Orange County like suburban developments. Suzhou is a bustling city, though you can still see traces of a very old lifestyle centered around the canals.
So 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 advertised foot massages. It seems that half the city are masseur/masseuses and the other half are potential clients.
At the same time, Suzhou has grown into a major center of joint-venture high-tech manufacturing and currently boasts one of the hottest economies in the world. It is the world's largest single producer of laptop computers. The Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) in the east, and the Suzhou New District (SND) in the west, are home to factories from numerous North American, European, East Asian, and Australian companies. Major industrial products include microchips, flash memory systems, electronics, computer equipment, telecommunications components, power tools, speciality chemicals and materials, automotive components, pharmaceuticals, and much more. This makes for a sense of stark contrasts, the outskirts of town were farmland just ten years ago. Now there are four lane highways connecting the city to Shanghai...four lane highways with pedestrians, bicyclists and pedicabs using the breakdown lanes.
BYOB Weekend cycle rides Rides to nearby attractions such as Lake Tai (30km one way), Yangcheng Lake (40km around the lake), Tongli (20km one way) and Zhouzhuang (40km one way), there are a couple of unofficial cycle clubs run by local cycle shops who run 1 and 2 day rides off the beaten path. Pace is normally relaxed with regular stops for photos and taking a rest. Joining the tour is free, although you have to bring your own bike (BYOB), although you may be able to rent a bike from the store for a deposit and small charge - costs such as meals and accommodation is split between group members. Although most of the riders are locals, foreigners are always welcomed and most members will speak English, and will ride in a safe manner. The following places will have regular rides for most of the year :-
- Specialized Bicycles - Ganjiang Dong Lu, close to Pingjiang Lu (next to the China Merchants Bank)
- Trek Cycles - New City Plaza, Xiandai Dadao, close to Xinghai Jie.
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.
- A Bing Cangshu Mutton Soup, 332 Pi Shi St. People in Suzhou like the soup very much. ¥20.
- Harbin Dumplings, Shizi Jie. The dumplings are much cheaper than the better-known Yang Yang Dumplings, and just as good.
- Let's Rock Hong Kong Restaurant (Hǎo Yuè), 403 Shi Quan St. A fun, modern little restaurant with great Hong Kong/Cantonese food. Good dim sum- these folks make a serious Barbecued Pork Bun (Cha Shao Bao). The menu offers lots of quick, inexpensive dishes. - recent name change but same owners & chef
- Nanjing Duck Noodle, 95 GongXiang. Traditional duck noodle where the more you pay, the more body parts you get. Some of the non-duck part dishes are worth a bite too. ¥7-12.
- Sicily, Guanqian Lu (near Renmin Rd and Ganjing Rd). Very good Italian food at near Chinese prices.
- Vegetarian Food, corner of Gong Xiang and Furenfang Xiang (Opposite Christian church). Vegetarian menu with relatively low prices
- Xi Sheng Yuan, 43, Fenghuang Jie ((on the west side of the street, approx halfway along - wooden facade, next to a spicy meat snack shop.).). 10am-7pm.. Bowls of wontons in soup (kai yang huntun) for ¥6 or wontons in a sweet sauce (ban huntun) for ¥9. Both delicious. This place is more widely known for its Xiao Long Bao (on sale to eat in or take away) in the steamed baskets to the right of the entrance. At lunch/dinner time it gets very crowded but tables are vacated quickly. A popular light meal with locals. ¥6-9. &ten;10.
- Song He Lou (松鶴楼), 141 Guanqian Jie, ☎ 67700688, e-mail: email@example.com. The "Pine and Crane" is not just the most famous restaurant in town, but reputedly the oldest in all of China (about 250 years old).
- Da Mario, Global 188 Building in SIP. Good Italian food. There really is a Mario, and he really is Italian. The pasta dish "Rosetta Della Mamma" is a Mario's original and absolutely not to be missed.
- Yun-Gei (Ren Ji) Cantonese Restaurant, intersection of Fenghuang Street and Shi Quan Street. A sometimes-raucous local favorite for great Cantonese food.
- The Southern Cross Restaurant, in the Guan Qian area facing Lin Dun Road, has very respectable Tex-Mex food, steaks, and a wide range of Belgian ales as well as some Belgian food specialties.
- Casa Zoe Tex-Mex Restaurant 河畔爱舍墨西哥餐厅, Building 22 Xindu Plaza,#38Xinghan St,S.I.P,Suzhou. 0512-62534118 Great Tex-Mex: Nachos, enchiladas, fajitas。。。Family Friendly. English Menu available.
- Tomato Kitchen Cafe (番茄主意), at 李公提, near Haagen Dazs. Fantastic ambience, very value-for-money set meals, international cuisine. Make reservations if you want a window seat.
- DainTi Hill (代官山), at 李公提 and 观前街, fusion food, very interesting dishes at affordable prices. Highly recommended.
- Rendezvous Restaurant & Lounge (人得福综合软西餐), No. 102 Zhong Hui Lu 钟慧路, ☎ 69367770, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.myrendezvous.com/ Located East of Jinji Hu lake, on Jin Hu Wan business street, Rendezvous brings Western food, comfort and service to Eastern Suzhou. You can enjoy their cold beers, cocktails and snacks on their outdoor patio.
Shiquan Street (十全街)is the main bar area. It is also the entertainment district for guys looking for a little conversation with gals. A number of the bars on this street 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. Some of the better known ones (safer?) are "The Moon Bar" aka 'The Danish Embassy", known for its regular crowd of locals, The Blue Lady Bar and The Red Lion Bar - 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!
- The Pub Bar (酒吧), ShiQuan St. Supports a large crowd of 'expat locals' and 'repeat visitors' in it's small but friendly interior with more than ten years of photographs and business-cards pasted on the roof and walls. It's a good point to catch up on local gossip and enjoy a drink with 'expat locals'. WiFi Internet, snacks and clean toilets keep the patrons happy.
- Pulp Fiction Bar (纸浆小说吧), 169 ShiQuan St. Happy hour till 8:30PM. This Australian bar is a great place to meet Westerners and English speaking Chinese people, shoot some American Pool and play a game of darts. It is fairly quiet until 10PM, then it comes to life.
- Zapata's, Rainbowalk, Jinji Lake. Margaritas and view over the lake. Western DJ plays happy tunes from last 4 decades and free tequila pouring on the bar every night.
- Ligongdi (李公堤). Li Gong Di area has plenty of night clubs, bars and one expat-friendly club Pravda (could be easily be the only one with the dance floor)
Coffee Shops and Book Bars
- The Bookworm, ShiQuan St (near The Shamrock). Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet. Good selection of English books to read in the shop or to borrow if you get a membership. A very nice alternative to relaxing at a bar. This place has become a major focal point for the resident expat community.
- The Minghantang Cafe, Santang St, ☎ +86 512-65833331/655565221. In an old traditional house that is more than 400 years old. Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet.
- SoloCafe, ShiQuan St (Cross the bridge over the canal across the street from the Suzhou Hotel and it is next to the north side of the bridge on your left.), ☎ +86 512-6572-0696. 10:00-23:00. Good coffee and food with a Lotus theme running right through to the shape of the milk in a mocha.
If you consider buying arts and craft items, teas, silks, or other items that are somewhat costly, it would be advantageous to get the help of a Chinese-speaking person, preferably a Suzhou local who knows the products and markets. Many more upscale hotels will offer the services of a personal assistant, or you can try asking around in one of the local expat hangouts to get connected to a friendly local person with some free time. Informed Chinese assistance can make a huge difference in the price and quality of the things you buy. As with anywhere in China, bargaining is the norm.
As a city famed through the ages for its silk embroidery, Suzhou is one of the best places to pick up silk handicrafts. Shopping is good along Shi Quan St, especially for many souvenirs. The Silk 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.
Suzhou embroidery, silk fans, musical instruments, scroll mounting, lanterns, mahogany furniture and jade carving are available at discount prices since they are made or created within the city. 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. Be aware that the lower-priced examples of Suzhou embroidery sold to many tourists are probably made by machines.
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.
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
- InCity Plaza (Ying Xiang Cheng), Xiandai Dadao/Sujiahang Xian. One of Suzhou's most popular shopping malls, with a WalMart, chain fashion stores such as Next, H&M and Uniqlo.
- Times Square & Modern Plaza. A suburban shopping area on the east side of Jinji Lake. Times Square is an open pedestrian area situated alongside a canal with many restaurants and shops, whilst Modern Plaza is a large mall selling many luxury brands. Buses 2 and 47 will get you close - get off at the International Expo Centre and walk 10 minutes to the east. Buses 219 and 168 will also stop by Times Square & Modern Plaza.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Suzhou on Wikivoyage.