A 40 minute train ride from Shanghai brings you to Suzhou, the city of gardens. I expected a small to medium size city, but found this city of 6 million surprisingly more of a larger city. I would guess it to be about the size of Kunming.
Many rivers and canals run through the old city where you find hutongs and garden compounds. It is also the city that produces much of the silk in China. No doubt it is a city geared for the tourist and everyone seems quite aggressive to get you into their shops. One a plus side, this leaves for a lot of competition so you can bargain down prices quite a bit. I found the silk products here of very high quality and workmanship very good. Be sure to look closely at what you want to buy and bargain hard. I found a beautiful silk thread picture about 2 ft X 2 ft that was priced at 23,000 RMB. The colors and quality were outstanding and made by a famous artist here. I found it in an art gallery, not a tourist shop. It took the artist 5 weeks to make. I bargained it down to 5,300 RMB, and this was in an art gallery. The silk museum also has a store with some good quality silks, but they will not lower their rather high prices. Many of the items there could be found elsewhere for a lot less.
Tiger Hill Park is a must see. The 1600 year old pagoda there is the “Leaning Tower of China” as it looks ready to fall over any minute. I was assured it has been retrofitted with internal supports and it will not fall down. The public is not allowed inside, but it is quite interesting to see. One of my pictures shows it’s doorway and gives you a good idea of how much it is leaning.
Walking around Suzhou is like a mix between Lijiang and Beijing. Many interesting alleys and river views can be found everywhere. The gardens are quite nice, but a visit to one or two is all you really need to see. They all have about the same design utilizing rocks and water which is a traditional stlye for Suzhou.
The local food is fish and a special crab, but I didn’t find it all that special. Worth a try, but I liked the local noodles more. Taxi’s are very cheap and the best way to get around. You can use the 3 wheeled bike taxis as well, best for running around inside the old town area. I recommend the Holiday Inn Hotel for it’s location and room quality. It is a 5 star hotel that deserves it’s rating. 50 RMB for a full buffet breakfast including western foods and great coffee. I think 2 nights would allow one to see everything Suzhou has to offer.