Day 3: Suzhou/Shanghai
Today we took a day trip to Suzhou, a city 50 miles northwest of Shanghai. Sometimes called “the Venice of the East” due to the series of interlocking canals that criss-cross the town, it’s known for its beautiful gardens and silk factories. (Suzhou is also the world’s largest manufacturer of laptop computers.) We took a high-speed train from Shanghai’s main railway station and arrived at Suzhou in 30 minutes. The weather was cold, damp, and cloudy.
After buying a map of the city, we looked for a taxi to take us to one of the gardens. Before we found one, however, we were approached by a man offering a tour of five major sites in Suzhou, and after listening to his spiel we decided to do it. Within minutes, we were in a van full of Chinese tourists, speeding toward the center of town and wondering what we’d signed up for.
The first stop was Lion’s Grove Garden, a large garden consisting of four small lakes and Suzhou’s largest collection of rock formations, some said to resemble lions and other creatures. Many of the rock formations were arranged to create a labyrinth of caves, and the whole area looked like a surreal moonscape. The guided tour of the garden was in Chinese, of course, but one of the girls in the group asked if she could practice her English and translated for us.
Next was the North Temple Pagoda, a nine-story temple that towers over the city and is one of the symbols of ancient Suzhou. We were left to explore this area on our own (which was fine with us), and we started by climbing to the top of the wooden pagoda for some great views of the city.
Beyond the pagoda was the Plum Garden, a lovely wooded area with more rock formations. There were very few other visitors around, making this a very peaceful area to explore.
We stopped for lunch at the Green Leaf Inn (pork with potatoes, soup, sauteed cabbage, and eggs – decent, if not the greatest meal we’ve had in China) and shared a table with a guy from Russia, making conversation as best we could. The next stop on the tour was a boat ride through one of Suzhou’s canals, and we passed under some really interesting bridges and peeked into people’s homes built right on the water.
We left the boat and walked across the street to the Suzhou Silk Museum, where we viewed exhibits illustrating the cultivation of silkworms and production of silk thread, then watched four ladies demonstrate silk stretching. This was the customary shopping stop, as the museum had a large store where one could purchase shirts, scarves, jackets, quilts, etc.
The last stop on our tour was the Fengqiao Bridge, a pretty little scenic area along the water where we watched a brief performance by two musicians (interesting, if a little random) and wandered through the small alleys filled with souvenir stands.
Back at the rail station, we had tea and people-watched while waiting for our train to leave. Back in Shanghai, we took the subway to the Super Brand Mall in Pudong, where we had dinner at Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain that some say makes the best soup dumplings in the city. As we have become dumpling lovers, we felt compelled to judge for ourselves. We ordered pork and chive xiaolongbao, shredded pork fried rice, and chili long beans, and everything was excellent.
We walked along the riverfront so Matt could get some pictures of the Bund all lit up before heading back to the Peninsula, tired but pleased with the events of the day. Despite our general avoidance of organized tours, we unexpectedly found an enjoyable and rather effortless way to see some major sights of Suzhou and still get back to Shanghai in time for another great meal.
Tomorrow is our last day in Shanghai before we head west to Chengdu. Luckily our flight is late enough in the day to give us time for one last lunch at Yang’s…