To make the most out of the Chinese National holiday (and prolong going back to my Politics textbooks) I headed to Suzhou, after my visit to Hangzhou. Having heard that it is a tranquil paradise with quaint canals, Buddhist temples and gardens dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasty (and listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) I re-packed my bag and went!
There was some dream-like quality about Suzhou- the beautiful garden architecture and quirky coffee shops (and roast potato street food) that picking key places is difficult. But, for the sake of not turning this post into an essay I have listed a few of the best places I visited.
1) Lion Grove Garden.
Suzhou is renowned for its abundance of gardens consisting of traditional architecture (all worth a visit) but Lion Grove is arguable the best one to go to if you are short for time. Built by a group of Zen Buddhists during the ruling Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); the garden has an ambience of peace. The garden has huge bouldering rock formations (hence the name Lions’ Grove) and ‘you-will-forget-to-duck’ low-level caves; perfect for a game of Hide and Seek (to keep the children entertained, of course). All in all, the garden with its labyrinthine rockery is stunning and grasps Suzhou’s architectural and cultural development well.
2) Tiger Hill.
A well-advertised and explored tourist destination, Tiger Hill is as exquisite as it appears on TripAdvisor. The name dates back to the (perhaps mythical) legend of a white tiger crouching on top of the hill to guard it following the death of King Helu. Whether or not this tale is factual, Tiger Hill is as poetic in its appearance as its lyrical construction. I spent the day watching Chinese performances, mesmerised my the elaborate masks and costumes, synchronised street dance moves dissonantly followed by traditional Chinese ribbon-wand motions. The whole show was a bit bizarre to be honest, and even involved a Chinese dragon appearing mid-performance, hovering for a few seconds before disappearing backstage.
3) Suzhou Museum.
The Suzhou Folk Museum provides a lovely insight into Suzhou’s rich and diverse traditions, including the clashing urban and local landscapes. I particularly enjoyed visiting the ‘Lucky Traditions’ hall, reflecting people’s ideas regarding how to avoid bad omens and have a fruitful life. The displays included the Marriage God (denoting China’s marraige markets and nuclear family structures) and Burning Incense in Donqvue Temple and praying for good fortune.
Suzhou has a distinctive character, bridging the urbanised metropolis of China and the rural agricultural cities.
It really is the Venice of the East.