Day trip to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang
After an hour comfortabel train ride, we arrived in Suzhou, a garden city northwest of Shanghai. From the moment we got off the train to the taxi ride across town to the hotel, we experienced some worse pollution, crowdedness and noisiness. We checked out the Master of Nets Garden, the smallest but many think the best of the four famous gardens in Suzhou. These gardens were some rich families’ houses and gardens before. It is a lovely garden but poorly maintained and lack of life.
We were a bit disappointed and hopped on a bus to Zhouzhuang, a little water village outside of Suzhou, hoping to find a peaceful and quiet spot to relax. Zhouzhuang was mainly built in Ming and Qing Dynansties from 1300 to 1900. It is nested among small canals, and lovely accent residential houses mostly painted white with gray clay roof. The moment we stepped in town, we realized once again that we were traveling in China, where one should expect everywhere was packed with tourists, mostly domestic travelers. In some of the narrow alleys, about three to four feet wide, it was so crowded that we had to step into the shops to wait for the groups of tourists walk through. Zhouzhuang was an important commerce town in the Chinese history though it didn’t become a popular travel destination until late 1980s when Dr. Armand Hammer purchased an oil canvas, “Memory of Hometown”, which depicts the Twin Bridges of Zhouzhuang from arguably the most notable painter grown up in Zhouzhuang, Chen Yifei. The painting later became the first-day cover of the United Nations’ postage stamp in 1985. Dr. Hammer presented the painting as a gift to then the Chinese leader Dengxiaoping in his visit to China in 1985.
We took a gondola tour, and walked around the village. I must say that I like this well preserved village that is full of life. We waited until most of the tourists left and walked around town at night again. This time, I felt in love with it. We stayed so late that all the buses were gone by the time we decided to leave, and we hired a local guy to drive us back to Suzhou.