They say that Suzhou is the Venice of the East – and this morning, the girls and boys found out why. After a colossal breakfast at the Grand Metropark Hotel, we all hopped on the bus and headed out to Tongli – a beautiful Watertown trapped in a time capsule…preserving the old ways of the Suzhou District for all to see! The trip out was entertaining with our guide (Michael) singing us traditional Chinese songs and the Aussie’s abroad returning favour with Bohemian Rhapsody. Those on the other bus may have been pleased to have a bit of peace and quiet instead.
The drive to Tongli was relatively short (half an hour) and we arrived ready to explore. First up was a guided tour on a traditional Chinese boat up and down the gorgeous canals. As we floated by we saw residents washing clothes in the river, tourists sipping tea in canal-side cafes and local business owners selling their wares on the street. Highlights included passing under ancient stone bridges, seeing fishing cormorants perched on their master’s boat and posing for the many photos taken of us by locals as we traveled by.
A tour of a UNESCO World Heritage garden was next – protected to preserve traditional Suzhou gardens and architecture. Our group toured through – enjoying the round doorways, courtyards with bonsai (did you know they actually originated from China not Japan), official meeting rooms, bedrooms, gardens and ponds full of colourful fish – where is Mr FattyPatty? We even saw a famous Chinese Papercut artist working in his studio – truly amazing work to view and even buy!
Shopping was popular after the tour, as was coffee from Illy for the caffeine depleted adults. The kids didn’t indulge in coffee but they sure did enjoy the 2 -6 Yuan ice creams! Even some big kids enjoyed ice creams – it was very hot and humid after all.
Shopping in Tongli was easier with most stores selling goods at a set price – and overall, much cheaper than anywhere else. Popular purchases were fans, papercuts, pearls (you could buy a clam and have it cut open and the pearls inside were yours – what a Kinder Surprise!), fidget spinners, silk landscapes and the famous Suzhou silk scarf. Some kids also had a foot treatment thanks to tanks of fish nibbling away – tasty foot jam fish food!
The group dined upstairs overlooking the Tongli streets and a canal. A delicious array of foods were served, including spicy prawn, pork hock, spicy chicken and peanut, fried rice, and sweet and sour pork. It’s been wonderful to see the majority of children trying new dishes and using chop sticks!
A heavy downpour of rain greeted us as we left the restaurant – so we shelter-hopped our way back to the buses and headed into downtown Suzhou to visit the Silk Museum. We now know the different stages of the silkworm lifecycle and also the process followed to obtain the silk threat – very interesting to see this in action. The kids even got to help make a silk doona – or at least watch as one was made. On departure, the tourists once again spent some Yuan in the shop – with gifts for loved ones the main focus here. Many wanted to bring home a real piece of silk for their beloved – though for those with fake silk items from the markets…no one will know the difference (don’t tell anyone at home how to tell real silk from fake girls and boys).
The second last stop of our big day was at Old Shantang Street for a wander along the canal and over the stone bridges to look for more bargains to bring home. Luckily for those who missed out on buying a clam with pearls at Tongli – there were opportunities to buy here! This area is in Old Suzhou and showcases the beautiful, ancient city that still thrives today with bustling stone streets full of shops. We all enjoyed it, though the visit was short due to being late in the day.
Finally we went to a beautiful local restaurant for dinner – more delicious foods showcasing local Suzhou delicacies. As the day draws to a close we are busy getting ready for school visits and overnight stays tomorrow.