Planning a trip to Hangzhou and Suzhou

Map of China

After I graduated in December 2013 I have been doing a little freelance copy-writing, some teaching and wedding planning of course. But staying at home for these past months have been very hard for me. I don’t have classmates to talk to, I don’t have to leave my house in order to do my job. Then finally last night I had a talk with my husband and he encouraged me to make this one week trip before my graduate studies start.

It’s been four years since I traveled alone and I had almost forgotten the freedom and the excitement on being on the road. From the map above you can see all the provinces I’ve visited before, this time I will be doing short trips to both Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

If everything goes according to the plan, I will be staying in Hangzhou from 8th to 11th August, then I will head to my second destination Suzhou, where I will be staying until it’s time to take the train back on the 14th.

Now it’s time to ask for your recommendations of what are the must see places in Hangzhou and Suzhou. Where would you go if you had about three days in each of the cities? Which water villages or gardens would you explore?

Please leave a comment with your tips, recommendations or wishes for a good journey, thank you!

 

  • Annie Leonard

    Hello! I’ve only spent a weekend in Suzhou, but I recommend checking out all the old gardens. My favourites were 拙政园,狮子林 and 耦园. I think that Emperor Kangxi or Qianlong (one of those Qing rulers) visited 狮子林 in the past. It was fun to imagine walking the footsteps of an emperor!

    I live in Chengdu, and I see you’ve already visited from your map, but you should visit again if you get a chance!

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for the recommendations! I’ll let you know if I ever find my self in Chengdu again :)

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  • Kaiser

    苏州!我太喜欢苏州了!建议你去天平山。在山峰你会看苏州全市和苏州的周边农村地区。非常漂亮。另外,在山基地,开始登山前,你会通过一个又美又古的庄园。通过爬山,你也可以得到锻炼。为了去天平山,乘地铁到木渎站。然后乘巴士到灵天路。灵天路离木渎站特别近。可以走到灵天路,那么近。我特别喜欢天平山。很少老外知道这个地方。如果你不遇到任何别的老外的话,别觉得很吃惊!

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    哇,这么多人给我很多好建议!多谢多谢!

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  • Jocelyn Eikenburg

    I am SO excited you’re coming to Hangzhou, Sara! You’re really going to love this city! There is so much to see in and around the West Lake (including even the Zhejiang Provincial Museum), and of course you don’t want to miss out on trying a Hangzhou-style teahouse (where you can enjoy Dragonwell tea, the famous green tea from the Hangzhou region).

    In Suzhou, of course you must visit the gardens. I visited all of them but found that after a while some are not as amazing as the others. Check guidebooks for the most recommended (my favorite is the Master of the Nets). There’s a fantastic pagoda in Suzhou that is worth a visit. Also, if you enjoy books, the Bookworm Suzhou bookstore is a nice place to go (I wish we had one in Hangzhou!). Plus, Suzhou has lovely canals so you can also enjoy that 江南水乡 feeling.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I’m ready to fall in love with Hangzhou, having you as my guide I will surely see a different side of the city :)

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  • T

    You might consider checking out the “Pants of the East” (aka “Gate of the East”) while you’re in Suzhou. (-:

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    Kaiser Reply:

    去天平山!

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  • Andy He

    Don’t forget to try the 杭州菜 and 苏州菜, and 黄酒. :-)

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I don’t usually travel for food, but I’m pretty sure I will be tasting some local dishes as well. Not sure about the 黄酒 though!

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  • I live in Suzhou but I’m not a big fan of the classical gardens. I find them all too similar! Also, if you’re on a budget, the ticket for 拙政园 (the biggest garden) is at least 70 RMB. There are several smaller and cheaper gardens. Next to 拙政园 there’s the Suzhou Museum, the building is quite interesting.
    My favourite touristic place in Suzhou is Tiger Hill (虎丘), there is an old leaning pagoda and an interesting story about a king buried in a cave underneath.
    There are also other pagodas like 北寺塔 or 双塔, and temples like 寒山寺。There is also a fake city wall close to the university (and I say fake because it was finished last year!).

    For places without 门票 you can go to 平江路 and 山塘街, both are old streets. 山塘街 is better at night. For a glimpse of real old streets, without tourists, you can check the alleys around 临顿路.

    For watertowns, I like 同里 because apart from the usual canals and old houses they have a very interesting sex museum.

    I will be in Suzhou until the 13th in the afternoon (when I leave for Spain), if you need help with anything let me know! You could even stay in our apartment if you need, as we have a spare room :D (but I know it’s way more fun to stay in a hostel in the old town haha).

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much Marta! You guessed right, I’m on a tight budget here so perhaps some places need to wait for next visit if the ticket price is very high. Glad you mentioned free places as well!

    If you want to have dinner or something in Suzhou, send me an email :)

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  • Rene

    Hangzhou is great – I’ve been there quite a few times (I live in Shanghai, though).

    If you are a fan of tea going to the China Tea Museum there is fantastic. There is a lot to learn there and the tea plantation itself is great! Not to mention there are a few tea houses on site. :)

    Also, the Lingyin Temple 灵隐寺 (aka “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”) is one of my FAVORITE places. It’s been there since 328AD and is steeped in history… I’ve been to quite a few temples but that one is extraordinary. It is one of the largest and wealthiest temples in all of China and is still functioning. The caves and cliff carvings (Feilai Feng 飞来峰) are INCREDIBLE!! There is also the Hall of 500 Arhats where you can walk through a building with five-hundred life size statues of Arhats. Even though this is a newer addition -It left me in awe! They also have the largest wooden Buddha statue (coated in gold) in China as well as the largest bronze structure in the world (a bronze canopy in the Hall of 500 Arhats). I would deem this place a “must see” if you are in Hangzhou. Yes, there may be a lot of tourists there – but, it is for a VERY good reason. I normally avoid tourist spots at all costs but this is one place that I had to go to. I’m extremely glad I didn’t write it off as “just another tourist attraction”.

    There are also quite a few temples scattered around Hangzhou worth taking a look it.

    Oh, and I’m sure I don’t have to mention stopping by West Lake (kind of hard to miss!). ;)

    I hope you have fun on your trip!!

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much for all the suggestions! These will be helpful to others traveling in the area too :)

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  • Good point to plan the visit beforehand! I will have time to think about that during the flight, and also on the first morning in Hangzhou before I start my exploring.

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  • Jiang

    I was born in a small town belong to Suzhou and I quite agree with Rene, Marta and Kaiser. I also recommend 山塘街, 虎丘 and 天平山.

    For classical gardens, they are extremely beautiful when there are not so many people and so much noise. Classical gardens are private houses of those who were both bureaucrats and intellectuals in old dynasties.They were designed with a tranquil and gentle aethestic ideology. So if you want to feel the total beauty of classical gardens, you’d better avoid those garden which are too well-known, or at least go there earlier on that morning. Several years ago I spent all the mornings of my summer vacation in a small unknown classical garden in my hometown, reading books, playing vertical bamboo flute or watching lotus in the rain. That feeling is unforgettable.

    I haven’t been to 同里 but this town is highly recommended by my friends so maybe you can also take a look. I am not so familiar with Hangzhou…西湖 is not as beautiful as I imagine but I really like 灵隐寺. It is also better to visit 灵隐寺 a little earlier in the morning so as to get the special feeling of temple.

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