Suzhou & Tong Li – traveling in Shanghai shadow

The scenery is breathtaking. The old Chinese houses that line the canals are like something out of a tourist brochure about China. We are in Tong Li, one of the best-preserved canal towns, and a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of eastern China.

Suzhou's Points of Interest


Suzhou is famous for its pagodas, bridges, canals, and beautifully designed gardens which are one of the main sources of its attraction to tourists. The city of Suzhou is renowned internationally because of its well-designed and chic gardens. It has some of the world’s greatest gardens located near the south of the Yangtze River.

With various gardens spread all over a city, it can be quite hard to find the right place without the help of a local private tour guide in Suzhou. If you are relatively new to the city, it is suggested that you hire a local private tour guide in Suzhou so that he can take you to all the attraction spots without any hassle. Suzhou enjoys many tourists throughout the year from all over the world and is one of the must-see places to visit on your trip to China.

Suzhou Museum

The Museum of Suzhou is full of ancient Chinese artifacts, paintings, crafts, calligraphies, and art. The Museum consists of more than 15, 000 items on its display. It contains some of the most ancient Chinese artifacts including crafts, ceramics, relics, and paintings belonging to the artists of the Ming, Qing, and Song Dynasties. The museum is free to visit and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are many buses that travel to the Suzhou Museum, but it is best to get yourself a local personal tour guide in Suzhou.

The Suzhou Museum is a gallery of antique Chinese crafts, paintings, handwriting, and handmade arts in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China. It is one of the most-seen museums on the planet, with 2,570,000 visitors in 2020. The museum is positioned between squares to adjust the construction with its surrounding circumstances. The architect designed a major enclosure and several little internal yards to complete the construction of the museum. The main enclosure is a visionary terrain park enclosed on the west, south, and east sides by the museum establishment. The main square was represented as the most hard-conceived of the museum's courtyards, and it includes pebbled ponds, straightforward and curving bridges, octagonal belvederes, and bamboo woods. The creators used uncomplicated geometric forms such as octagons, rhombuses, and triangles as the construction blocks of the museum's plan. The atrium and many halls take an octagonal form, and some windows are in the figure of rhombuses. The roofs and ceilings are a patchwork of triangles, rectangles, and rhombuses, which determines the layout of the standard Suzhou edifices encircling the museum.

Lion Grove Garden

The Lion Grove Garden, situated in the city of Suzhou is famous for its huge labyrinthine grotto of the Taihu rock at the center of the Garden. The Garden is located at 23 Yuanlin Road. The Garden was created during the Yuan Dynasty in 1342 CE but was made open to the public in the 1950s. The Garden is most famous for its Maze consisting of 3 levels that stretch out to 1154 square meters containing various paths going through caves and caverns that are divided by a pond. The Garden has a fee of CNY 30 and is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Hanshan Temple

The Hanshan Temple has been a well-known attraction spot since the Tang Dynasty. It is located 5 kilometers away from Suzhou in the town of Fengqiao. The Hanshan Temple is a Buddhist Monastery that is beautifully preserved in its natural state which helps create a secluded environment. There is a compound in the temple and in its center lies the Mahavira Hall. The corridor behind it leads to a tower with a stream in front of it. The Hanshan Temple has an entry fee of CNY 20 and is open from 8 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Many buses lead to the Feng Qiao Station from which you can take a Taxi to the Temple.

Pingjiang Road

The Pingjiang Road located in the City of Suzhou got its name from the original name of the City. The street is considered to be one of the best-preserved streets in Suzhou and is almost 800 years old. The street is 1600 meters in length and is situated along a canal. The street starts from Beita Road to Ganjiang road. This street is a combination of modern and traditional architecture, crafts, and much more.

Lingering Garden

Included among the four elegant gardens in the city of Suzhou, the Lingering Garden was built in the Ming Dynasty by Xu Taishi. It is located just outside the Changmin Gate in Suzhou. The Garden is divided into four parts. Each part offers different scenes and features which are similar to each other yet considerably different. The passage that connects all four sections is about 700 meters long and winds all around the Garden. The entire Garden covers an area of about 23300 square meters and has an entry fee of CNY 40 and is open from 5: 30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Various Tour Buses can be taken to get there.

Zhouzhuang Town

Perhaps the most famous water town in China, Zhouzhuang is located in Kunshan City, which is about 30 kilometers away from Suzhou. The Town of Zhouzhuang attracts the most tourists during spring and autumn. The Town spreads over 3600 hectares. The Town was part of the fief Yaocheng. Known as Zhenfengli, the Town got its current name in 1086 during the Song Dynasty. Some attractions in Zhouzhuang include the Shen House, Milou Tower, Zhang House, Temple of Chengxu, and much more. There is an entrance fee of CNY 100, and the town is open to Tourists from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Suzhou Silk Museum

Many come to Suzhou to visit its various elegant gardens, but that’s not all the City has to offer. Suzhou is the silk capital of China, and it has a whole museum dedicated just to this. You can visit the famous Suzhou Silk Museum on your trip to Suzhou anytime. The Museum provides a history of silk manufacture and crosses stitch from 2000 BC. Some items in the exhibition are old looms, samples of silk patterns, and much more. There was an entire room dedicated to living silkworms that were fed and turned into cocoons in front of the visitors, but the live silkworms were replaced by models in 2009.

The Silk Museum is free to visit and is open from 9 am to 4: 30 pm. If it’s your first trip to Suzhou, it is advised that you hire a professional tour guide in Suzhou to bring you to all the main attraction spots. The old canal city is also known for silk. In Suzhou, there are several producers of silk, where you can see the production for yourself, right from the larval stage to the finished products. We are curious, and at one of the many silk factories we follow the large tourist groups to see the long process that eventually ends up turning into beautiful shirts, jackets, and duvet covers.


When the silkworm is fully developed it stops eating and designs to spin its cocoon. The cocoon must protect the silkworm from predators while it is in the pupal stage where it converts into a butterfly. To build its cocoon, the silkworm extrudes the semi-liquid silk earned in its two silk glands. The glands run zigzag through its body and are therefore much longer than the silkworm itself. 

The silk glands include a relatively large amount of silk, which includes a large part of the silkworm's body weight. The silkworm thus almost empties itself when it spins the cocoon. This explains why a silkworm can be inside the little cocoons, as it loses a big part of its volume when making its cocoon.

The silkworm starts by attaching the silk thread to a solid substrate. When it lived in the wild it could be a twig or similar, but when you breed them, you often use rows of small rooms made of cardboard or wood where it can spin the cocoon. Once the silk thread is attached, construction can begin in earnest. The silk mass solidifies the moment it comes into contact with the air. It becomes hard enough to defend against outside threats but soft sufficiently to breathe through the cocoon. It takes between three and four days for the silkworm to complete its cocoon, rotating its head in a figure-of-eight motion so that the cocoon comes to fully enclose the silkworm.

Inside the cocoon, the silkworm turns into a pupa in three to four days. After another ten days, it is a fully developed butterfly which, unless interrupted, will crack out of the cocoon by dissolving its silk fibers. Should this happen, the silk threads of the cocoon are destroyed and useless for silk production.

To prevent the butterfly from destroying the silk, the metamorphosis is interrupted by steaming the cocoon. The pupa dies as a result of the heat from the steam, ensuring that the silk is not destroyed. After steaming, the cocoons are dried to remove the moisture so they can be stored until they have to be husked. Some of the cocoons are allowed to hatch for use in further breeding.

Immediately after hatching, the butterflies begin to mate. Since they are blind, they are attracted to the female's pheromones. Males are able to mate with up to several females. Mating takes about three days, after which the females lay between 350 and 500 eggs, after which they die.

In fact, the only limit to what you can use silk for is your imagination. In the large combined showroom and store, we see everything from teddy bears to tea warmers to beautiful party dresses. The gardens of Suzhou should be part of any trip to China. Having just arrived in the famous city, which is a few hours drive from Shanghai, I have a little difficulty understanding the words of praise. Suzhou's suburbs consist of dreary high-rise buildings in winding rows, and the center, which is also the old town, is a huge traffic chaos.

Should this city be a must-see?

Suzhou is believed to be approx. 2500 years old, and is among China's oldest cities. When the Grand Canal connecting the city to the Yangtze River was completed during the Sui Dynasty, Suzhou flourished, attracting merchants and artists. In the 14th century, the city was known for its large silk production, and during the Ming Dynasty, the city became the playground of the elites who built beautiful villas and laid out the magnificent gardens for which Suzhou is so famous. Everyone praised the city, which, in addition to the gardens, also consisted of small canals and wide boulevards.

The difference between the rich and the poor in Suzhou was huge. Perhaps that was the reason why a revolt among the workers in the silk factories arose right here. In 1860, Taiping soldiers overran the city, and Suzhou's status as the seat of the elite gradually declined thereafter. The Cultural Revolution was also hard on Suzhou. The city wall and several old historic houses were demolished and replaced by uniform concrete buildings, and the communists' showdown with the past showed no mercy. Fortunately, some of Suzhou's gardens still exist, as do a few of the canals and houses from the more recent dynasties.

The inscription in traditional Chinese 网师园網師園 translates as "garden of the master of fishing nets"

Wangshi Yuan – Fisherman's Garden

It is the gardens that have made Suzhou famous. We are entering Wangshi Yuan, the fisherman's garden, one of the city's smaller gardens, but the best preserved. Wangshi Yuan was founded in the 12th century and restored ca. 600 years later. Today it appears as a complete home with the traditional reception room at the entrance and the more private rooms such as pavilions and bedrooms behind. The garden itself consists of a large pond that takes up most of the area. We walk through several small farms and admire the classical Chinese architecture and the many paintings that local artists have been allowed to exhibit.


Suzhou Old Town and the Temple of Mystery

The gardens are why tourists flock to Suzhou, but the old town has its own charm. Many of the houses from the city's heyday still exist, and the low-rise buildings are almost completely liberating. But we cannot escape the crowd and the eternal noise that is obviously a part of China. The Guangqian Jie pedestrian street, the city's answer to Shanghai's Nanjing Road, is teeming with people. The younger generation mainly comes here to shop and be seen, and they are all wearing their nicest clothes, which should preferably be in a western style.

While the title of the structure pictured above is "The Gateway to the Orient," provincial Suzhou people call it  秋裤楼   Qiū kù lóu. 秋裤 signifies "long underwear pants," and 楼 means edifices with floors. So, another way to name this structure is the "longjohns building." Other considerations, in both English and Chinese, call it the "pants" structure. Take a good glance at the architecture and the reason why this iconic part of Suzhou is so readily parodied. China is quarter to a lot of funky architecture, and holding a giant pair of pants on your skyline is just additional confirmation.

In the middle of Guangqian Jie is the Taoist temple Xuanmiau Duán, the Temple of Mystery, originally founded in the 3rd century, exactly where the former bazaar was located. We go inside and experience a little of the mystery of the East, and learn more about the beautiful temple and the philosophy behind Taoism. The decorations are impressive, and we follow the heels of the locals who seem to be lighting one incense stick after another. The Temple of Mystery is in its own way a great contrast to life outside, where materialism has taken over.

Magnificent Tong Li

The white houses with wooden shutters and black tiled roofs are lined up along the canals and in the cobbled streets. In the center of Suzhou, the canals are almost completely gone, so we have gone to Tong Li, which is 18 kilometers to the south. The town dates from the 9th century, and this is where you get the best impression of one of the classic canal towns. Tong Li is famous for its well-preserved houses and small canals that give the town a charming atmosphere.

The whole city is actually a big museum in the most literal sense. We pay an entrance fee to walk the streets and experience the beautiful houses and beautiful gardens. Here and there are luxury homes from ancient China, e.g. Tuisi Garden, which is from the 19th century. Once owned by a retired Qing Dynasty official, we enjoy the beautiful architecture, the stunning wood carvings and the crowning glory, and the wonderful garden, which of course includes the obligatory carp pond.

Located just 18 kilometers from downtown Suzhou, the Town of Tongli is a delightful travel destination where you get to experience the rural side of China. About fifteen rivers divide the Town into seven segments. The abundance of so many lakes and rivers makes the townspeople heavily dependent on bridges for traveling to the other sections of the Town. The bridges are ancient but well-preserved and beautifully formed. The most famous of the bridges are the Ternate Bridges. The Town is full of beautiful Gardens and houses.

Practical information for your visit to Suzhou and Tong Li


Most people who visit Suzhou come from Shanghai. Several buses run daily between the two cities. In Shanghai, you can use Shanghai Long-distance Bus Station. The trip takes approx. an hour and a half, and costs approx. 40 yuan. To return to Shanghai, Suzhou's south bus station is used. The train is another option between the two cities, it takes approx. 30 minutes, and there are plenty of departures daily. With fresh legs and goodwill, you can walk to most things in Suzhou, at least in the old part, which is definitely also the most interesting. It is popular to rent a bicycle, but watch out for the traffic. Taxis are also a way to get around, there are many of them, and you drive by the taxi meter. Suzhou has a few tourist buses that go around to the various sights, they cost only 2 yuan.


A cozy room in an ancient Chinese house could have been cozy, but it shouldn't be. Most hotels in Suzhou are big, dreary, and expensive, and that doesn't exactly make tourists want to stay in the city. If you choose to spend a few days in the area, you can find accommodation to any taste and budget.


There are also plenty of restaurants and eateries in Suzhou. The cuisine is roughly the same as in Shanghai, especially seafood is often seen on the menus. Shiquan Jie Street is the center in the evening, with numerous bars and restaurants.


As mentioned, there is plenty to do in Suzhou. First, there are many gardens, but if you get tired of that, there are other options. The city has a number of museums, worth recommending is the Suzhou Museum, which, in addition to the somewhat different interior, has an exhibition of woodwork, ceramics, and jade. Free entry. The Silk Museum is another interesting place, here the enormous importance of Suzhou for silk production through the ages is illustrated. Temples and pagodas are of course also part of Suzhou, it is usually always a good experience. So is taking a walk around the small streets in Suzhou, it really pays to poke your head into the places where other tourists don't usually come.


Banks can be found i.a. in the center – e.g. Bank of China on Guangqian Jie. You can read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs travel guide in your country and see more about passport and visa regulations before you travel.



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