Sunday, December 30, 2012

[SUZHOU] One Garden Too Many

Any article on either Suzhou or Hangzhou would probably start with an old Chinese saying that goes something like: If heaven has paradise, China has Hangzhou and Suzhou. The place is said to be that drop dead gorgeous. Although frequently mentioned in tandem, the two actually belong to different provinces, but both easily accessible from Shanghai. For some reason, Suzhou won in terms of personal preference. I began to question that choice when I finally arrived.

If I am not mistaken, Hangzhou owes its fame to its canals; Suzhou, for its gardens. Gardens. I love parks and anything that has greenery in it but my short attention span begins to wane after seeing two or more. Sure, bonding with mother nature is awesome most of the time but after a few hours they start becoming all the same to me. So yeah, that is my lousy excuse for my laziness in Suzhou, not to mention winter.

Oh, yes. Winter. I was supposed to spend two whole days in Suzhou but the first day came to nothing because I was caught unaware by winter in Shanghai and indulged in sleep, leaving after lunch, and arriving at around 4:30 PM in Suzhou, half an hour before most of the garden attractions called it a day. One day wasted. Let's proceed to day two.

I admit. I was not really that excited to visit Suzhou. Truth is, this trip was supposed to be a Manchurian winter getaway. Suzhou is nowhere near Manchuria, but somehow I booked landing tickets in Shanghai instead of Beijing so I thought I should take advantage of that. Even so, I have decided that I would only visit one garden. That would be more than enough for me. That is what I did and I rewarded myself with a pagoda trip afterwards.

What welcomed me in Suzhou was the site of heavy construction, at least when I got to the city's main artery at Renmin Road, a name which you'll easily find in any corner of China. Winter in Suzhou is like Shanghai's. Muggy. I felt like I was going to die of pneumonia any moment, and that even under the half a dozen layers I enveloped myself with. Anyway, the construction is for the second line of Suzhou's metro line along Renmin road. The existing one cuts Renmin in the middle, sort of. I forgot the name of that street but I think it is where most of the happenings are. I never found out because I no longer bothered to visit.

Sleeping early on my first day for lack of better things to do did not help. I still woke up late the next day just in time for check out. My mantra for this trip has been the same all throughout: sleep until checkout, this is an effin' vacation. I was overworked the weeks prior to this so I figured I would just cut myself some slack. After checking out, I left my stuff for later retrieval and set out for five hours of adventure before all the attractions closed down for the day. I decided against renting a bike which was cheap at 15 yuan for half a day, because I doubted my legs could function well on the pedal while they are busy freezing to death. I knew I should have bought leg warmers!

The first stop was supposed to be the northern pagoda because it is just along Renmin road, but I decided to go to the Humble Administrator's Garden first because it is bigger in land area and just a few blocks away from Renmin road. But before that, lunch break! I found a cheap fast food type eatery serving local dishes. It was cheap, and with servings of rice, was a good breath of fresh air from all the KFC fries I have been consuming in the last 48 hours. The walking tour commenced after that.

The pedestrian street leading to the garden has loads of tourists in it, mostly domestic from different parts of the country. Bikes and motorcycles also spring out of nowhere pretty much unannounced like in the rest of the city. Take caution. You'll pass by a museum and a canal before reaching the garden. If you want a cheap boat ride, there are many touts hawking their services, although I see nothing special about it. If you want a picturesque canal boat ride, Suzhou has one or two special districts for that. Back to the garden, the entrance fee is usually 70 yuan but drops to 50 during off-peak season which includes most of winter.

Let me tell you, though, that there are probably a dozen other gardens in Suzhou, lest you forget that they are what it is popular for. Among all of them, the Humble Administrator's is said to be the biggest and the one that levies the most expensive admission fee. However, once you enter its premises, you'll find out that the fee is not unjustified as that place is simply awesome, and no, you will never run out of spots to unleash your inner camwhore at, if that is what you came here for.

And so, what do you find inside? Artificial lakes and streams, plenty of pavilions, and a truckload of camwhoring tourists. Thinking about it after the tour, the administrator doesn't appear to be humble at all, building an extravagant garden like this. You've got to be kidding me. It's said that such places were built for scholars so they'd have a place for themselves conducive for reflecting about whatever they wanted to reflect about in life. Well, congratulations, scholars! I bet they were able to reflect so well given how peaceful the place should have been back then when camwhoring tourists were still an out of this world concept.

Wow, I haven't really described the place in detail, huh. Who the hell do you think am I? Pigafetta? The photos pretty much speak for themselves. All I can say is that the many pavilions and bodies of water inside were able to hold my attention for a while but I only stayed for a little over an hour, which would be all the time you'll really need if you just want to walk around and not truly explore or take time to take everything in. Again, there are many gardens across the city if you want other options that are cheaper and smaller, but since you are already here, might as well visit the north pagoda as well.

I don't even know of it's really called as such but that's what was stated on my map. This isn't "the" pagoda here in Suzhou. I think that distinction belongs to Tiger Hill. Since I was already out of time and I really couldn't find it on my map, I settled for this one, which wasn't that bad after all. The view from the top is breath-taking either because of the terrific aerial view of the city or due to acrophobia. Mine leaned more towards the latter. The entrance fee is 25 yuan.

This is a Buddhist pagoda, made obvious by the Buddha statue guarding its front entrance and the base of the structure itself. You can ice skate for free at the patio without the need for special boots care of the icy floor. At your own risk, of course. The climb is exhausting but as already mentioned a gazillion times, the view up there is worth it.

There are more garden hopping to do in Suzhou but one was more than enough for me. If you are a nature lover or a horticulturist, you might fall in love with this place. Otherwise, just visit a garden and a pagoda and be on your way to your next destination. A word worth noting before I end this, Suzhou is a haven for bikers. They even have those bike/motorcycle hybrids  that look like malnourished motorbikes. Most people would even suggest that you start here if you are to embark on a biking tour of the country. That said, beware of bikes, because in Suzhou, there really is no such thing as a pedestrian walkway.

[SUZHOU] One Garden Too Many

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