Suzhou, China's Venice

Suzhou, located an hour train ride from Shanghai, is known for its gardens and canals. Once the capital of the Wu state during the Period of Warring States, 403 - 221 BC), Suzhou flourished as a major trading and silk center in the early 6th century. Da Yunhe, the Grand Canal, linked Suzhou to capital. Very prosperous during the Ming and Qing dynasties many of China's affluent settled in Suzhou and the local traders became wealthy. Much of this wealth was spent in creating elaborate gardens, over 150 of them, that, today, make Suzhou famous. Gardens large and small can be found throughout Suzhou tucked away behind houses and hidden between its narrow streets.

The objective of the Chinese garden,s to create the illusion of the universe in a confined area, was surely achieved here in Suzhou. While we visited only one garden it effectively demonstrated the use of rocky crags, zigzagging bridges, and winding paths commingled with garden spaces complete with ponds, fountains and pavilions. These are truly beautiful gardens.

However, before we visited the garden we took a boat ride along Suzhou's Grand Canal and through some of its smaller side canals. We also visited a silk factory and learned much about the silk producing process and, believe it or not, it was fascinating!

The train to Suzhou
Train to Suzhou
Anne and I
John and Carol
Anne and I (left) and John and Carol (right) take the opportunity to talk to
our fellow travelers during the hour long train ride.
Since I've been commenting on the pros and cons of taking escorted tours I should probably mention another consideration. One that could be either a pro or con depending on the exact tour and, unfortunately, there's no way to forecast what it will be before leaving. Your travel tour companions. On this tour we would be traveling with the same 23 people for 25 days. Practically living with them morning, noon and night the entire time and certainly confined in close proximity for much of the time. For that reason it's important that the people get along. We were fortunate on this trip because the group was small and all were seasoned travelers. That's not always the case. In fact, on a tour we took to Egypt there was a couple that announced to the entire group at the beginning of the trip that they had nothing in common with the rest of the group and wanted little to do with the group even though they would be traveling together for a week. Surprising, but true. Unfortunately you're stuck with the group you end up with and there's nothing that you can do about it. You won't know what personalities you'll be dealing with until you've arrived at your destination. So, if you sign up for an escorted tour ... good luck with your travel companions.
A tour on the canal
Anne peering out from the boat
Arriving in Suzhou we boarded a bus and were introduced to our local tour guide. It was a short ride to dock where the Grand Canal tour boats were located and our local guide filled us in on the history of Suzhou and the Grand Canal. Speaking of the local guide. I don't remember her name, but I remember her demeanor. She was a once teacher and tried to command the same level of attention from us that she'd have gotten from her students in class. Several times she got very annoyed when people weren't paying close attention to what she was saying. Being a teacher of adults myself I had to laugh at how upset she got and her determination that everyone would pay attention to her whether they wanted to or not. She was interesting to listen to as she was middle aged and had lived through the Cultural Revolution. She had much to say about life in China before, during and after the Cultural Revolution, and it was interesting.
Canal views, Suzhou
Canal views, Suzhou
Canal views, Suzhou
These pictures were taken along the Suzhou's Grand Canal giving a glimpse of what life is like
for the citizens of Suzhou. However, for a better look at Suzhou's canal life it's necessary
to ride up and down some of the smaller canals.
Canal views, Suzhou
Apartments along the canal
Canal views, Suzhou
Working boat
Canal views, Suzhou
Canal views, Suzhou
Turning down one of the smaller side canals we would get a firsthand view of what life is like living on the canal. Cruising down the canal we literally invaded their backyards. Laundry hanging on lines to dry, children playing and waving to us, potted plants bathing in the Sun, and women doing their laundry in the canal were common sights along the canal.
Canal views, Suzhou
Bridges cross the canal
Canal views, Suzhou
A smaller canal
Canal views, Suzhou
Steps to the canal
Canal views, Suzhou
A smaller canal
Canal views, Suzhou
View from under a bridge
Laundry by the canal
Laundry drying
A Chinese man and his pet birds
Man sitting with his birds
Canal views, Suzhou
Narrow passages of the side canal
Children wave
Children waving
Doing the wash, Suzhou
Doing the wash, Suzhou
Women doing their laundry in the canal
Narrow canal passage
Leaving the smaller canal we passed through some very narrow passages (left), barely large enough for the boat, and returned to the Grand Canal (right) passing the local fishing boats that doubled as houses for their owners.
Fishing boats on the canal
The Marco Polo Bridge
The Marco Polo Bridge spanning the Grand Canal
Now back on the Grand Canal we headed to our meeting point with the tour bus for our next stop ... a visit to a silk factory for a demonstration on the silk process and, of course, a visit to the local store offering silk goods for sale. Believe it or not it was fascinating (the demonstration part not the store part!). Join us on the next page to learn what was so fascinating ...
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Welcome to our China 2001 Photo Album
Planning and Getting there: Grand Circle Tours and Northwest Airlines
Beijing : Arriving in Beijing | Tiananmen Square | The Imperial (Forbidden) Palace (1) | The Imperial Palace (2) | The Nine Sons of the Dragon
The Imperial Palace Garden | The Summer Palace | Summer Palace (2) | Summer Palace (3) | Summer Palace (4) | Local Beijing Market
Local Beijing Market (2) | Hutong | Bell Tower | Hutong Family, Dinner and the Opera | Cloisonné Factory | Ming Tombs | Ming Tombs (2)
Great Wall of China at Ba Da Ling | Temple of Heaven
Shanghai : Arriving Shanghai | Yuyuan Garden | Yuyuan Garden (2) | The Temple of the Jade Buddha | The Bund | Day Excursion to Suzhou
Silk Process | The Administrator's Garden of Suzhou | Shanghai Museum of Art
Cruising the Yangtze River : Yangtze Cruise, Day 1 | Yangtze Cruise, Day 2 | The Xiling and Wu Gorge | The Lesser Three Gorges
The Lesser Three Gorges (2) | The Qutang Gorge | Wanxian | The Last Day of Cruising | Regal China Cruise Lines
Chongqing : Chongqing
Xi'an : Xi'an and Emperor Qin's Terracotta Warriors | Emperor's Qin's Terracotta Warriors (2) | Great Wild Goose Pagoda and Xi'an City Wall
Quilin : The Limestone Peaks of the Li River | The Limestone Peaks of the Li River (2) | Guilin and the Childrens Park | Children's Park (2) and Reed Flute Cave
The Hotels: Hotels, rail and air travel in China
Hong Kong : Victoria Peak, Repulse Bay and Aberdeen Fishing Village | Hong Kong at Sunset | Hong Kong Bird & Flower Market
| New Territories Fishing Village | Hong Kong Farewell Dinner
Bangkok : Jim Thompson House and Golden Buddha | The Flower Market | The Food Vendors | Grand Palace | Mystical Figures | Brightly Painted Masks on Mystical Figures
Golden Mystical Figures | Buildings of the Grand Palace | Lunching at the Shangri La Hotel | Loy Nava Rice Barge Cruise | Ayutthaya, Ancient Capital of Siam
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and the Reclining Buddha | Bang Pa In, The Summer Palace |

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