Suzhou on the cheap (and vegetarian!)

Two weeks ago, a couple of my workmates came to Suzhou to spend the weekend with us. I asked what they wanted to visit in the city, they only said “old things”. Well, we have a bunch of those in Suzhou! So I tailor-made an itinerary for them and I consciously avoided the main tourist attractions in Suzhou, like the Tiger Hill and the Humble Administrator’s garden. Why? Because they have ridiculously expensive entrance tickets. To give you an idea, in low season, the ticket to the Forbidden City in Beijing is 40 RMB. For the Humble Administrator’s garden it is 70. Are they crazy or not? Also, because my workmates are vegan, I found several vegetarian restaurants where we could go eat and then looked for cheap, nice places we could visit nearby. We saved a lot on entrance tickets and spent it all on food!

These are the places we visited:

Qu garden (曲园). Address: 人民路马医科巷43号 (close to subway stop Leqiao). Price: free!IMG_6286

I had never heard about this garden before but I found it online. It was the house of some government official from the Qing dynasty. It is a small garden, but you can see all the characteristics that the big gardens also have, albeit in a smaller size: the red wooden pavilions, the rock “mountain” with a maze, the fish pond, the calligraphy… And, I repeat, for free. And without crowds. The only visitors in the garden were a young mom with her son sitting in the garden and a bunch of old ladies rehearsing their singing in one of the pavilions. I think it’s great that they can use this garden as a meeting place for their community!

(Note: there is a bigger garden very close to this one but that is not free. It’s called Yi garden (怡园) and the ticket is 40 RMB. I have never been, but according to a friend it’s not worth it).

From Qu garden you can walk around the alleys, which are basically Suzhou’s version of Beijing’s hutongs. If you peek through the open doors you will see that many entrances have a long corridor leading to several apartments. If it’s sunny you will also probably see people eating outside or playing cards. And loads of hanging clothes, of course.IMG_6295

If you walk north from the Qu garden, after a while you will reach the end of the alleys and a big street called Jingde. There you can visit the city god temple.

City God Temple (城隍庙). Address: 景德路94号. Price: free!IMG_6296

Again, I had never been here. It is bigger than it looks from the outside. I think it is a taoist temple as there were taoist monks inside. The temple has several courtyards and pavilions with many statues of gods.

These must be the ones you have to pray if you want to have a son.

These must be the ones you have to pray if you want to have a son.

After the temple we walked back to the subway stop and went to Pingjiang Rd.

Pingjiang Lu (平江路). Address: 平江路 (the closest subway stop is Xiangmen). Price: free!IMG_6308

This is one of the two famous old streets in Suzhou, and, as such, it’s usually crowded. However, you can still find some charm in the side alleys (or some grandma washing her clothes in the canal) so I like bringing visits here. Many couples also choose this place to take their pre-wedding pictures. We also chose to come here because there is a Tibetan-vegetarian restaurant (address at the end of the post).

Old lady washing her clothes on the canal.

Old lady washing her clothes in the canal.

After lunch we walked towards the Beisi Pagoda (北寺塔). It is very close to where C.’s parents live but I have never been there. This time it couldn’t be, either, as they close at 3 pm and we couldn’t get in. Isn’t 3 pm kind of early to close a tourist attraction? Even for China…

Beisi Pagoda from the outside.

Beisi Pagoda from the outside.

For dinner we went to my favourite vegetarian restaurant in Suzhou, a Taiwanese place we go sometimes. I used to live very close to it but now I’m further away so I can’t go during lunch break. (Details below). We thought about going to Wave Livehouse to see some band but we were pretty dead.

Surging Waves pavilion (沧浪亭). Address: 沧浪亭3号 (crossing with 人民路44号, in front of the Temple of Confucious). Price: 15 RMB.IMG_6332

On Sunday it rained. Boooh! But we still had to do something, so we went to the Surging Waves pavilion. It is one of the classical gardens that are listed by Unesco in Suzhou. It’s my favourite of the famous gardens because it’s the cheapest one. It’s quite big and has a decent sized rock mountain in the middle, many pavilions, bamboo gardens and a covered corridor going all around the place.

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After lunch in a Lanzhou noodles place whose boss was kind enough to prepare vegetarian dishes, we went to have a foot massage as my workmates had never tried one. The masseurs had a great time making fun of the 3 foreigners plus the Chinese who also looks foreigner.

Shantang Street (山塘街). Subway line 2 has a stop right there, called Shantang St. Price: free!DSC00898

This is the other famous old street in Suzhou. Very revamped (it even has a Starbucks and a Family Mart with their facades imitating the traditional wooden doors) but still very pretty at night, when they turn on all the red lanterns. First time visitors always love it. If you want to get some souvenir, I suggest you have your face done in a paper cut, it’s quite unique. My workmates did it and the paper cut master had a hard time getting their foreign faces right. He said they used to charge more for foreigners, until a Chinese speaking laowai protested. But it is true that in the time it took him to do my friends, the other master did 4 or 5 Chinese people.

Even though we didn’t visit any of the super famous sights, my friends were very happy with their Suzhou visit. You should check these places out if you haven’t been!

C. and I in Shantang Street.

C. and I in Shantang Street.

Addresses of the sites and restaurants we went to:

Bookworm (bar, restaurant, library, gigs): Shiquan St. 十全街 滚绣坊 77 (十全街和平桥值街的路口)
Qu garden (曲园): 人民路马医科巷43号
City God Temple (城隍庙): 景德路94号
Pingjiang Lu: 平江路
Tibetan vegetarian restaurant in Pingjiang Lu (嘎尔庄园●藏式素食料理): 平江路242号. 70-80 RMB per person.
Beisi pagoda (北寺塔): 人民路1918号 (crossing with 西北街).
Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant Lotus Veg Café (水中莲有机餐饮): 工业园区 中新大道西8号 (the same street where Starbucks, La Pasta, Jack’s, Wawa Wewe, Heidi’s and all those restaurants are).
Wave Livehouse (underground music, Chinese bands): 白塔东路26号容创意产业园B幢
Surging Waves pavilion (沧浪亭): 沧浪亭3号 (crossing with 人民路44号, in front of the Temple of Confucious).
Shantang Jie 山塘街: subway line 2 has a stop right there.

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