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Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" for the city's crisscrossing canals.|
A quick nap away from Shanghai’s soaring skyline aboard the high-speed train (the fastest takes about 25 minutes), Suzhou (苏州) is a historical city that's greatly admired for its winding canals and classical gardens.
If Shanghai represents the future of China, Suzhou is where one can experience the nation’s past and present between sipping green tea and munching on rice cakes.
The waterside city's history dates back 2,500 years to the Spring and Autumn Period and was dubbed (perhaps with only a slight exaggeration) “paradise on earth” -- together with Hangzhou -- in Chinese history for its pleasant scenery, fertile soil and prosperous commerce.
This mini-guide provides all essential information for visitors to navigate the 8,488-square-meter city.
HotelsModern rooms abound in the heart of China's ancient trading town.
As a major tourist hub in east China, Suzhou has a variety of hotels suitable for different needs.
Below are three comfortable hotels suited to the business traveler, the casual visitor and the dedicated shopper.
1. Business: Marriott Hotel Suzhou (万豪酒店)Situated near Suzhou’s burgeoning New and Hi-tech Development Zone, the hotel comes with 13 meeting rooms and an executive lounge.
Complete with a marble lobby and a lounge with a stupendous chandelier, the interior is sure to impress your clients.
The concierges speak fluent English and the staff are always on hand to help hail a taxi.
A well-manicured Suzhou-style garden abuts the hotel, a great venue for outdoor barbecues during summertime.
At 50-stories high, Marriott is the tallest building in Suzhou’s old city and provides panoramic views over the ancient commercial hub. (To maintain the historic feel, the authorities limit the number of high-rises in the 14-square-kilometer old city.)
The 252-room hotel is a 10-minute drive from iconic Tiger Hill and is across the street from city governmental offices.
Marriot Hotel Suzhou, 1296 Ganjiang Xi Lu, near Xinhong Lu 干将西路1296号, 近馨泓路, +86 512 8225 8888, room rates: from RMB 690 plus 15 percent service charge, www.marriott.com
Relaxation: Pan Pacific Hotel Suzhou (苏州吴宫泛太平洋酒店)The five-star hotel is a mini-resort that offers guests a modern twist on ancient luxury.
It looks like a Ming-style Chinese palace from the outside, but the interior is decadent with marble halls and floor-to-ceiling windows
Hotel guests receive free access to the Panmen scenic area, one of Suzhou’s most famous ancient landmarks including a pagoda, a canal bridge and China’s only existing on-water ancient city gate, Panmen (盘门).
Rooms on the hotel's upper levels provide a complete view over the Panmen area.
The hotel is located near Taihu Lake and Hanshan Temple.
Pan Pacific Hotel Suzhou, 259 Xinshi Road, near Dongda Jie新市路259号, 近东大街, +86 512 6510 3388, room rates: from 850 plus 15 percent service charge, www.panpacific.com
Shopping: Holiday Inn Jasmine Suzhou (茉莉花假日酒店酒店)The 28-story inn is in the thick of things.
It's a great place to stay for visitors who want to shop, as the hotel is right next to a long strip of international shopping malls and electronic stores.
But for travelers who want a more cultural experience, it is also a stone’s throw from Shantang Jie, a more historical shopping hub that runs alongside a canal.
Holiday Inn Jasmine Suzhou, 345 Changxu Lu, near Gan Jiangxi Lu 阊胥路345号,近干将西路, +86 800 423 0908 , room rates: from RMB 511 plus 15 percent service charge, www.holidayinn.com
Dining"How about rice cake for appetizer, sweet-sour pork for main and sesame dumplings for dessert?" Suzhounese are notorious for having a sweet tooth.
Suzhou provides abundance of food selection -- from traditional establishments, to quick eats and confectionery shops.
The local cuisine, aka Subang Cai (苏帮菜), is known to be sweet to the taste and delicate in presentation.
Song He Lou (松鹤楼)Song He Lou is a noted Suzhou establishment with traditional cuisine and elaborate decor. With more than 200 years of history, it’s reputed to be one of the oldest restaurants in China.
Though the restaurant has three branches, the most famous one is near Guanqian Jie, a major shopping and tourist hub.
Songshu Guiyu (松鼠桂鱼), a squirrel-shaped mandarin, is elaborately presented and covered with sweet-and-sour sauce. The fish, which will come out resembling a porcupine, is deep-fried and filleted.
Other noted dishes include the braised bean curd with crabmeat and shelled fresh shrimps. Prices average RMB 100 per person.
Song He Lou, 72 Taijian Nong, near Guanqian Jie 太监弄72号, 近观前街, +86 512 6524 4921, 11a.m.-1:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
De Yue Lou (得月楼)Another long-time Suzhou establishment, this multi-leveled restaurant is known for Suzhou’s boat cuisine, with dishes made only with ingredients from nearby Taihu Lake.
Specialties include De Yue spring chicken, de-shelled shrimps fried with green tea leaves, steamed pork slices with glutinous rice flour, squirrel-shaped mandarin fish and jujube paste drawn cake.
The steamed hedgehog-shaped small bun (RMB 90 for six) is a great appetizer.
Like Song He Lou, the prices are on the higher end, with a standard bill pegging at RMB 100 per person.
De Yue Lou, 27 Taijian Nong, near Guanqian Jie 太监弄72号, 近观前街, +86 512 6523 8940, 11a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Yangyang Dumplings (洋洋饺子馆)For a more affordable dining experience, Yangyang Dumplings on Shiquan Jie fits the bill.
Dumplings average RMB 1 each. The specialty, at RMB 10, is the pan-fried dumplings. Heavily flecked with cilantro and filled with pork juice, these mini-wraps are crunchy on the outside but doughy inside.
Some other choices are the chive and egg, crabmeat, and garden vegetables with pork.
Surrounded by pubs, Yangyang is a great location to go to for a midnight snack after a long night out.
Yangyang Dumplings, 420 Shiquan Jie, near Nan Shipi Nong 十全街420号, 南石皮弄, +86 512 6519 2728, 8 a.m.-2 a.m.
Lu Gao Jian (陆稿荐)Located at the end of Guanqian Jie, Lu Gao Jian is a take-out restaurant that offers the finest cut of meat in Suzhou. The shop was founded in the Qing dynasty in 1663 and is especially famous for braised pork with soy sauce.
Other specialties include the honey sauce duck and braised pork head with soy sauce.
The massive cuts of meat come in all sizes and shapes and are loaded up on a counter against a window. The line can get extremely crowded so be prepared for a good deal of pushing and shoving.
Prices range from RMB 20 to RMB 50 per person.
Lu Gao Jian,8 Guanqian Jie, near Bifeng Fang 观前街8号, 近碧凤坊, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Huang Tian Yuan (黄天源)Step into this market and to the left you’ll see stacks of rice cakes resembling large bars of soap being sold à la carte and packaged into gift boxes.
The choices are vast -- sesame, peanut, red bean -- this rice cake store has it all when it comes to flavors.
One bar of cake costs about RMB 5.
With more than 320 varieties, the historical snack shop is known for baking pastries according to the seasons. They sell rice dumplings in January, rice cakes in February and qingtuans in March. The shop also sells noodles and wontons.
Huang Tian Yuan, 86 Guanqian Street, near Dongjiao Men 观前街86号, 东脚门, +86 512 6728 6933, 8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., www.huangtianyuan.com.cn