Julia Dimon has been spending a lot of her time in China; she’s not in Shanghai, she isn’t in Beijing; she’s in the 2500 year old city of Suzhou, which she says is the next hot travel destination.
Dimon called College News, from one of Suzhou’s two-hundred gardens to share her secrets about the next hot travel destination of Suzhou, China. “I’m here at one of the major gardens, it’s called the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It’s the oldest and the biggest in Suzhou,” she says. “It’s an UNESCO World Heritage site because it really represents the quintessential classic Chinese design of the landscape, so you’ll find pagodas, koi ponds, beautifully manicured lawns, and lotus flowers. It’s such a nice place for people to come and soak up the nature, relax, and unwind.”
Where is Suzhou you ask? It’s about 60 miles west of Shanghai, Dimon informs me. Hop on the bullet train in Shanghai and it’s only a quick twenty-five minutes before you arrive in Suzhou, the city Marco Polo dubbed “the Venice of the east”, due to its elaborate system of waterways and canals. Dimon agrees with the nickname. “It makes sense to see why he called it that because as a tourist today you can walk around or take a gondola down the canals. It’s the oldest city in Yangtze River region. It’s a city that’s very rich in culture and history.” she's says. “A visit here takes you back in time.”
You will also like: Summer road trip essentials
But why Suzhou [as the next hot travel destination]?
“There’s something very special about it and very different from the other big cities in China, there are just so many different attractions. It’s a very green city. Some of the gardens actually have local opera.” Perfect for those on a budget because it is “free every night at 8pm during certain months of the year.” But this isn’t your average Park District show. The actors have “elaborate costumes and bold make-up. They sing traditional folk songs so it’s really fun for travelers to get the theatrical side and culture of Suzhou.”
What about traveling with kids?
Dimon suggests checking out Ferris Wheel Park. “As the name would imply, there’s a gigantic ferris wheel—the biggest in China. It’s 400 feet and it holds 360 passengers, the whole ride lasts thirty minutes,” she says. “It’s pretty epic.” It’s perfect for kids and grown-ups, alike, with it’s “sweeping views of the city”. There’s a lot more the park has to offer such as “roller coasters, 4D experiences, there’s a two-story carousel that the kids will love. There are fountain shows that use lasers and LED lights and it kind of has this Vegas feel.”
“All of this is located in the new part of Suzhou that’s called the Suzhou Industrial Park. There you will find a lot of Fortune-500 companies, five-star hotels and restaurants, lots of shops and boutiques. That represents the new side which is great for kids,” still she says “if you also want to embrace the older history you might want to take the kids to the Number One Silk Museum. I had a chance to go yesterday and it’s really fun because you can actually hold your own silkworms. They have these big wooden baskets, filled with silkworms and you put your hands in there. You follow the whole silkworm lifecycle, from cocoon then all the way to the threading of the silk. You can see the amazing artisanship that goes into the silk process. [Those are] just two quick things that would be really fun for the family and fun for the parents as well.”
Tell us about the tea culture in Suzhou
Dimon grins, “tea culture is huge here! They have so much green tea in China but in this particular region of Suzhou they have one tea which is wildly popular, it’s called the Bi Luo Chun tea, which translates to: green snail spring. They call it that because of the color and the shape kind of looks like a snail.” Dimon then takes her suggestion and builds on it, as if adding an expansion pack for those adventurers who desire a more immersive experience while traveling. She says, “I think a really fun way to learn about the tea goes beyond just drinking it. Tourists can go to the tea plantations and pick the tea leaves. They can learn about the process and all the hard work that goes from picking the buds to actually making a good cup or glass of tea. For travelers who want to immerse themselves, roll up their sleeves, and get their hands dirty, a visit to a tea plantation is a great way to do it and tap into that tea culture here in Suzhou.”
Can you travel Suzhou on a budget?
The ultimate question for college students received an enthusiastic, “Yes, absolutely!” Dimon continues, “now is a really good time to visit China because there are such fluctuations in the market and the US Dollar goes a lot further. Suzhou also offers a wide range of accommodations so if you’re on a budget you’ve got everything from hostels (like Hostel International has several different spots here in Suzhou). A one night accommodation in a shared dorm can cost you as low as $10 US Dollars. Then, of course, you have more mid-ranged, you can find some boutique hotels that have the local culture flair that are located along historic streets like Pingjiang Street. There are a lot of little kiosks and stalls where you can buy really affordable food. The mid-range can cost you about $75-200 USD.” She adds, “then you have plenty of five-star hotel options for the luxury traveler everything from the Lamborghini Hotel which has been open for awhile to the very new Starwood’s Element Hotel which opened in June.” She maintains, “no matter your budget there will be something here for you.”
What is the cuisine like in Suzhou?
“I consider myself a foodie and I love to eat different cuisine when I travel. Here in Suzhou it’s very similar to Shanghai cuisine…but a bit sweeter. A lot of the food in local, it’s seasonal, it’s very fresh, and it comes from the surrounding region. Yesterday, for example I had this amazing lunch where we had tons of food from the area and one dish that really stood out, it’s a speciality here in Suzhou, the Mandarin Fish. So the Mandarin Fish is cut up in this very artistic way, it kind of looks like a squirrel when it’s done.” She laughs. “It’s all de-boned, it’s fried, it has this sweet and sour sauce which is absolutely delicious. I would definitely recommend trying that. There were also all different kinds of dishes that were new to my palate.” She continues, “it’s fun to come here and try different dishes because it’s very different from the Chinese food we may be familiar with at home. If you want to get super adventurous, there’s things like eel that you can dabble in, there’s just so much. For someone like me and I’m sure you, we love to eat all different kinds of cuisine when we travel, there’s a lot to try here in Suzhou.”
What is your travel advice?
She takes a minute to think this over. “Traveling to China is such an adventure, especially if you’re traveling independently. There is so much to see, it’s such a rich culture, there’s so many things to check off that bucket list.” She suggests another water town called Tongli, just outside of downtown Suzhou, promising, “it will really transport you back in time. It has an aura of another era and I think that’s really special when you travel. It’s really a way to embrace other cultures and experience different things.” Which, she admits, is her long version of saying, “my piece of advice to college students is to try new things, say “yes” to new experiences, and check out [new travel] destinations like Suzhou.
Want to win an all expense paid trip to [the new travel destination] Suzhou?
Visit the website www.traveltosuzhou.com/sweepstakes. Nine lucky winners plus their guests will be rewarded with an all expenses paid trip to Suzhou, China!