Suzhou Reaches Out to American Travelers
PHOTO: The Humble Administrator’s Garden is one of nine UNESCO rated gardens. (Courtesy of TravelToSuzhou.com)
In an effort to reach the North American traveler more directly, the Chinese city of Suzhou launched a new website with photos, travel information, tour packages and social media links. Not too long ago, getting to Suzhou from “nearby” Shanghai was a rickety rail journey of several hours, even though it’s just 70 miles away, but China’s revolution in high speed rail has made it a virtual daytrip from Shanghai, which means Suzhou has to get its story out more effectively if it’s to reap its tourism potential. It’s a powerful story and a long one at about 2,500 years in length.
Best known for its UNESCO-rated classical gardens, silk production and its Grand Canal, tourism officials claim Suzhou is home to more than 400 attractions, ranging from pagodas and temples to historical districts and museums. Some 730 cultural relics in the city are under government protection.
At more than 1,100 miles, the Grand Canal rivals the Great Wall as it connected Hangzhou, Beijing and several river systems. Last year, UNESCO made it part of its peerage of globally significant sites. Though it’s famous for its bridges and the poetry written from them, the canal was really an economic catalyst and some parts of are still in use for moving cargo.
The gardens of Suzhou, especially the Humble Administrator’s Garden, are hard to appreciate on a whirlwind tour and really deserve the focus necessary to unlock their beauty. The city claims more than 60 gardens, nine UNESCO rated, but few visitors get beyond the big ones.
The ancient water town of Tongli, located on Taihu Lake, is about 11 miles from Suzhou. Surrounded by five lakes, the town contains hundreds of gardens, temples, mansions, and the former residences of dignitaries built from 1271 to 1911 during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Visitors to the No. 1 Silk Factory can experience the silk lifecycle by watching silk production from the harvesting (from silkworm to cocoons), before moving on to preparing the silk, and finally to spinning the thread. The best time to check out the process is during the summer months through October, when guests can view live silk worms eating Mulberry leaves. In the off-season, visitors can still watch workers along each step in the process, as the factory is open year-round.
The Suzhou Museum opened in 2006 as a $40 million structure by I.M.Pei who sought to fuse traditional Suzhou architecture with modern influences. The collection has more than 15,000 pieces including paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, crafts and more. The collection’s highlight are the paintings and calligraphy by Song, Ming and Qing dynasty masters.
Suzhou’s Taihu Lake region has many tea farms that allow visitors to pick the leaves and experience the entire process from bud to glass. A popular destination is Rain Flower Resort which offers a program for approximately $30 that includes an entrance fee, tea picking, tea roasting, and a presentation of Biluochun tea. Biluochun is one of the most famous green teas in China.
Suzhou added two new hotels in May: the Asia Pacific’s first Element Hotel and Hotel Nikko Suzhou and has several more hotels in its pipeline including the W Suzhou (2017), Fairmont Suzhou (2018) and Le Méridien Suzhou (2019). The 478-room Hotel Nikko Suzhou is in the New District, while the 190-room Element Suzhou is in the Suzhou Science and Technology Town.
Over the years, Suzhou has attracted millions of tourists for the silk shopping, the gardens and other traditional attractions. Today they also come for the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which has five-star hotels (Hyatt Regency, Crowne Plaza, InterContinental, Kempinski and others), Lake Jinji, Asia’s largest Ferris wheel, the world’s largest Sky Screen and more. Visitors watch the Sky Screen from Harmony Times Square every evening at 7 p.m. The screen showcases a range of animations, shorts and cartoons. Rising 400 feet, the Ferris wheel is known known as the “Eye of Jinji Lake.”
Fowl and fish are the backbone of Suzhou cuisine, which tends toward sweet flavors. The Pine and Crane Restaurant claims to be 200 years old, and as such it has a reputation for being a bastion of traditional Suzhou cuisine.
Oriental Tours and Travel includes Suzhou in its 10-day Taste of China package along with Beijing, Xian and Shanghai.
More by James Ruggia
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