Suzhou (Su Zhou), Heaven On Earth - China Travel Story
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Suzhou, Heaven On Earth
In Chinese, there is a famous sentence to describe the beauty of two cities in the southeastern part of China: Above there is heaven, down here there are Su and Hang.
Suzhou (Su Zhou) and Hangzhou (Hang Zhou) are two cities near Shanghai, one to the west about a hour on train, another to the south about two hours on train. Honestly speaking, this ancient sentence describing the two cities is not overstating at all. They are heaven on earth.
I haven't been to Hangzhou myself. I sure heard a lot about it and saw it many times on movies and TV. The famous Western Lake has been described in many ancient Chinese poems just as beautiful as another famous ancient beauty "Xi Shi", and saying it was beautiful no matter what day, what weather, and how you look at it. Since I haven't been there, my imagination is just as good as yours. And I will definitely go there the next chance I have.
What I really want to say in a little more detail here, is Suzhou. To me, Suzhou is more like a traditional shy beautiful Chinese woman, maybe not very attractive on first sight, but the more you look, the more you like, and eventually you fall in love.
To explore the many beauty of Suzhou, it's probably better to travel around the city on bike. The street of Suzhou is not very wild and modern like other big city along the Yangzi River. Big trees cover the sidewalk along the streets, and some of the streets are still made from stones, not cements. Also there are so many bridges in the city, and many of them are a little up and down to cross, it's really better to ride a bike then ride a car.
I have heard the comparison of Suzhou to a famous city on water in Europe, Venice. I have never been to Europe, so I can't say if it's a good comparison. What I can tell you is, the beauty of Suzhou is really closely associate with water, no water, no view.
There is river zip zapping in the city, many buildings are along the river. Every bridge is different in a way from others; standing on the bridge looking at the many boats under it really makes you feel the pulse of an ancient city. Not to say the many gardens in Suzhou almost always have beautifully designed ponds, yet they are all different in many ways.
At night if you can get on a boat travelling outside the city, there is a place call "Maple Bridge", where a famous "Hang Shan Temple" is nearby. A famous ancient poem described the scene that when a boat reached the temple around midnight, bell was ringed in the temple to announce the coming of guest.
Many many of these scenes by water can be compared to Venice, but I would say that Suzhou is definitely in a catalogue of itself. It's a window of ancient Chinese culture; it's a city that is still immersing deeply in old times.
Suzhou is really mostly famous for the many gardens in the city. And main views of many of these gardens are surrounding the water. Suzhou was traditionally a very quiet city, in that many rich and the prominence like to retire or build their family houses here. And that became the origins of these gardens. In a way, these gardens represent the best of resident architectures in recent Chinese history. And you can see many examples of it still in modern Chinese building, especially in the southeastern part of China.
To explore the beauty of these gardens, you really need time. When I visited them many years ago, I was on bike to go from one to the other. With a map of Suzhou in hand, I was visiting two gardens per day on average, one in morning, and another in the afternoon, and it takes me almost a week to visit most of them. You can't rush on such a trip.
Many of the gardens are built in such a way that behind every window on the wall along the walkway, there is a different view. You have to walk slowly, stop, look, and then you can enjoy. I don't think I have space or time to describe the gardens one by one here. Just to remind you, my personal experience tells me that the smaller the garden is, the better it usually gets. Don't just go the big famous ones; explore all the little ones. Each one of them has a unique view, and an ancient story behind it.
Story Courtesy to Augustwind