From Shanghai, we traveled 2 hours west to Xitang, an ancient water town with more than a thousand years of history. Known as the “Venice of the East”, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou form a triangle consisting of ancient towns that mostly built around the complex canal systems, rivers and lakes. Xitang, together with with Zhouzhuang, Luzhi and Wuzhen, have been included in UNESCO’s Tentative List as “The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River” to be considered as a World Heritage Site in the future. Although our tour agency suggested a different ancient water town called Zhujiajiao as an alternative, we decided to stick with Xitang because Zhujiajiao seems more commercialized and crowded due to its proximity to Shanghai.
From Xitang, we traveled another 2 hours to Suzhou, a city famous for its exquisite classical Chinese gardens. Out of 69 well-preserved classical gardens dating back to 600 AD, 9 of them are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We visited 2 of these gardens: Couple’s Retreat Garden and Lion Grove Garden. During our 2-night stay in Suzhou, we also visited Tiger Hill, a scenic area with more than 2500 years of history, and 2 shopping streets: Guanqian Street and Shantang Street.
A couple of observations…
- Things seem to be moving at a slower pace in Suzhou than in Beijing or Shanghai. Beijing is at least 2 times larger than Suzhou in population and Shanghai is at least 4 times larger than Suzhou in population. That said, to put things into perspective, the city of Suzhou has similar population size (~5 million) as the state of Minnesota.
- We realized our trip itinerary issued by the tour agency was slightly different from the tour guide’s version. Initially, we were supposed to stay a night in Suzhou and 2 nights in Hangzhou. However, after being convinced by the tour guide that we would still be able to cover all the attractions plus an additional attraction in Hangzhou, we stayed 2 nights in Suzhou and a night in Hangzhou instead. This way, we rested better after a long eventful day in Suzhou instead of arriving late at night in Hangzhou.