If you have time to get out of Shanghai to do a bit of sightseeing, I suggest you visit Suzhou, a 2-hour (approx. 80 km) drive away from the city.
Just like Shanghai, Suzhou is a city rich in history and culture. It is filled with beautifully landscaped gardens, ancient bridges and canals, as well as historical temples and little towns.
There are so many sights to see here, but since we only had half a day to explore, we concentrated on the ancient town of Tongli. This place is so picturesque that avid fans of landscape photography as well as those who appreciate Chinese architecture and culture will surely enjoy.
(And some might also recognize this place as it is usually a location where Chinese movies are made.)
Take a look at some of the beautiful sights in this ancient old town that will make you feel you just stepped back in time, in the rich old world of opulent China :
Tongli is famous all over the world as a water town, situated south of the Yangtze River. In fact, it is more popularly known as the “Oriental Venice” or “Venice of the East”, because its rivers, streets, bridges, gardens and towns are all integrated seamlessly, perfectly as one.
Surrounded by five lakes, Tongli has numerous rivers and ancient bridges built during the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. The bridges stand as the town’s famous landmarks and tell the stories and legends of this rich ancient town.
Although Tongli is about a thousand years old, this beautiful little town was only open to the public in 1986. Their historical architectures and cultural relics like their pavilions, temples and gardens are everywhere.
The streets of Tongli are stone – paved and quite narrow. As we were walking around enjoying the beautiful scenery, we came across this street filled with a lot of people. We went inside to see that this is just one of their many markets where you can find antiques, handicrafts and specialty foods like rice cakes and dumplings being sold.
A calligraphy artist in the streets of Tongli
And if you only have time to visit one beautiful garden in Tongli, let it be the Garden of Master of the Nets. It is well-preserved and well known for its artistic features and rich cultural value, that UNESCO recognized it as one of the World’s Heritage Sites in 1997.
It is the smallest of the Suzhou residential gardens, yet it is the most impressive because of the way it is laid out. The use of space here creates the illusion that it is bigger than its actual size. But more than the great architecture involved, it is the tranquility and harmony that the garden embodies that leave its guests in awe.
At night, the Garden of Master of the Nets transforms. Lanterns light up to highlight the contours of the pavillions, terraces and corridors. Performers dressed in local ancient costumes stage various shows such as the Suzhou Opera, folk singing and dancing and instrumental playing.
But what’s more exciting is that these night performances are staged in different halls, pavilions or chambers of the garden, so that when you walk into another room, it will be a different show.
This is just one of the many halls and courtyards in the residential area within the garden.
It is filled with antique furniture and exquisitely designed window screens such as this.
The rooms inside this hall are quite impressive in design and ornamentation. They represent the style of the different Chinese dynasties from the time they were built until the last time they were used.
Historically, Suzhou was synonymous with Chinese high culture and elegance with generations of artists, scholars and writers who lived here. It is a place filled with beautiful canals and bridges, well-designed gardens and exquisite architecture.
A visit to Suzhou even if briefly, proved to be a beautiful and enriching learning experience. But more than what I picked up and learned, I think my appreciation for one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures just grew by leaps and bounds.