A Kaleidoscope of Charms
Ascott’s Area General Manager for East China, Daisy Wang, introduces the blue waters, green gardens and golden historical sites of Suzhou
Issue: May 2012
With its beautiful canals and waterways, Suzhou is often likened to the Venice of the East
Coming from Ningxia Province in China where the desert-like land is relatively dry, living in Suzhou with its beautiful canals and waterways is a totally different experience for me. This southeast city of Jiangsu Province in China - which is within close proximity to Shanghai, Nanjing and Kunshan - is a paradoxical mix of ancient history dating back over 2,500 years, hi-tech modernity in its industrial zones and solitude of its classical gardens. Above all, Suzhou is a place where colours come alive in myriad ways.
Golden Eras Past
When a place is as rich in history as Suzhou, there is no shortage of ancient sites to visit. But if I had to take my pick, Hanshan Temple (寒山寺) would get my vote every time. Less than five minutes’ drive from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou, this temple and monastery, which was built during the Tianjian era (502 - 519) in the Liang Dynasty, is located in the town of Fengqiao. It is famed as one of Suzhou’s most renowned attractions due to the poem ‘Mooring at Night by Maple Bridge’ (枫桥夜泊) by Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ji: “And I hear, from beyond Suzhou, from the temple on Cold Mountain, ringing for me, here in my boat, the midnight bell” (姑苏城外寒山寺，夜半钟声到客船). The melancholy of the dejected traveller who moored at the town of Fengqiao, listening to the bells of Hanshan Temple is especially poignant when I walk the grounds of this temple.
The Hanshan Temple is famed by Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ji’s poem ‘Mooring at Night by Maple Bridge’
Photo credit: www.chinatourstravel.com
Another place where you can walk through history is the over 1,000-year-old town of Tongli (通力). A 40-minute drive away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou, the town has 15 river lanes cutting through over 40 stone bridges. The stone bridges and the town’s buildings, private gardens, temples and houses have all been perfectly preserved. I love the delicate beauty of the place and the peaceful atmosphere.
About 15 minutes away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou is the Suzhou Museum that was designed by renowned architect and Suzhou native, I.M. Pei (贝聿铭). The Pritzker prize winner had also worked on the glass-and-steel pyramid of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. I like his architectural style very much, and I find it very illuminating to be able to discover the entire history of a city through its cultural artefacts like paintings, calligraphies, porcelain, crafts and other ancient finds.
The Suzhou Museum, designed by renowned architect, I.M. Pei, houses over 3,000 cultural relics - most notably for excavated artefacts, Ming and Qing Dynasty paintings, calligraphy, ancient arts and crafts
Photo credit: www.szmuseum.com
Glorious Green Gardens
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou, listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, are masterpieces of Chinese landscape garden design in which art, nature, and ideas are integrated perfectly to create ensembles of great beauty and peaceful harmony. Among them is Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园), the largest in Suzhou and one of the four most famous gardens in the country. Built in the 16th century, Humble Administrator’s Garden was named after a verse in Pan Yue’s Idler’s Prose which talks about an idyllic life tending the gardens in retirement from politics. There, you can pause at the many intricately carved pavilions or bridges set in a labyrinth of ponds, admire the old-style Suzhou houses that are now museums or the 21 ancient trees still living on the grounds together with the over 700 Suzhou-style penzai (miniature landscaped potted plants) that have been masterfully created. I like to visit Humble Administrator’s Garden, which is about 10 kilometres away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou, in summer when the Lotus Festival is celebrated as the whole garden would be decorated in vibrant hues.
Humble Administrator’s Garden is a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 16th
century and, today, has 21 ancient trees and over 700 Suzhou-style penzai
(miniature landscaped potted plants)
Photo credit: www.chinatourstravel.com
Five minutes away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou is the Lingering Garden (留园), another classical garden that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The garden also features two UNESCO Intangible World Heritages: the Pingtan and the Guqin styles of classical music. Like the many gardens of Suzhou, the Lingering Garden is divided into sections, each with traditional buildings, open gardens, and jade-green pools. The tranquil beauty of the place will transport you back to a gentler, more languid time.
Beautiful Blue Waters
Since Suzhou, which is part of the Yangtze River Delta, sits on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake, the city is abound with water. For some family fun and to beat the summer heat, there is the Suzhou Water Park, less than five minutes from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou. Children will love the wave pool that simulates the motions of the sea while others enjoy the thrill of swishing and sloshing down the numerous water slides.
Daisy likes to visit Jingji Lake where she finds nature and modern Suzhou to co-exist in harmony
I like to take my family to Jinji Lake (金鸡湖) where you can appreciate the cool, blue waters at a more moderate pace. Here is where nature and modern Suzhou co-exist in harmony. You can cycle around the lake as locals love to do, or take a walk to the Suzhou Science and Cultural Centre and the Suzhou Ferris Wheel. The centre boasts a futuristic design that takes the water motif of the lake and recreates it with a waterfall on its roof. Wander the art galleries within or take in a movie at the 3D theatre. The Suzhou Ferris Wheel on the east side of Jinji Lake is one of the latest additions to Suzhou’s amusement park scene. Apart from the 120-metre Ferris wheel, there are other rides and games stalls plus a 28-seat 4D cinema.
Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Suzhou has been a vital centre for China’s silk industry. Today, Suzhou crafts continue to be very fine and beautiful. About 15 minutes’ drive away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou is Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory where one can see how silk is made from cocoon to cloth. I was quite impressed by the entire process and mesmerised by the huge selection here. Be sure to take home some quality silk wear or silk bedding that comes with government warranty after your tour.
And when you are done exploring the city, take a stroll down the shopping and entertainment strip of Guanqian Street. This street, less than 15 minutes away from Somerset Emerald City Suzhou, has been here since 1930 although it has gone through several rounds of renovations. 20 years ago, it was made into a “walking street” by the municipal authority and a new night market was also established. On this street, you can find literally hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, stores and clubs in old-fashioned structures surrounded by colourful signs and neon lights. I particularly like those shops serving tradition Suzhou foods. For more retail therapy, make your way to Somerset Emerald City Shopping Mall that is beneath our serviced residence, where you can find exquisite Suzhou silk, tea, local Suzhou foods and snacks.
Suzhou is indeed a city steeped in heritage, yet with its sight on the future. From the golden touches of ancient towns, glorious greens of the calming gardens to the glistening blue lakes and colourful retail therapy, Suzhou is the place to come, let your hair down and feast your eyes on all its different hues.
Stay with us at …
Somerset Emerald City Suzhou
No 436 Changjiang Road
Suzhou New District (SND)
Tel: (86 512) 6818 6611
Fax: (86 512) 6818 6622
Citadines Xinghai Suzhou
Block 27 Jiacheng Gardens
58 Xinghai Street (SIP)
Tel: (86 512) 8885 8288
Fax: (86 512) 8885 8200