Suzhou: Heaven on Earth | My Family Travels
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A famous Chinese saying goes, “上有天堂,下有苏杭,” which means, "Above, there is Heaven; down here, there is Suzhou and Hangzhou." Suzhou, China truly is Heaven on Earth, and during my time as an exchange student, it became my home away from home. I was simultaneously a tourist and a citizen, all the time falling more and more in love with the city and its people. The food is delicious, the people are friendly, and the city's mix of ancient and modern offers locations and activities that everyone can enjoy.

Suzhou is home to several famous tourist sites that no visitor should miss. Perhaps the most important sites to visit are the gardens, which have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Suzhou has many classical gardens that were built by retired scholars during the dynastic era. Two of the most famous gardens are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lingering Garden. My favorite, however, is the Master of Nets Garden, as it is smaller and generally less crowded than some of the others. The Suzhou Museum; the Hanshan Temple complex; and Tiger Hill, a park area with a famously tilted pagoda, are also must-sees for anyone visiting Suzhou.

Suzhou’s best shopping is undoubtedly at Times Square and Guanqian Street. Guanqian Street is home to a vast array of stores and restaurants including People’s Mall, the Xinhua Bookstore, and even Pizza Hut! The street is crowded and modern, with many stores that sell Western brands. Times Square, while still popular, is less overwhelming. Its main feature is a department store named Jiu Guang, which has a small grocery store and food court on its lowest level. Not far from Times Square is one of Asia’s largest Ferris wheels, as well as the Suzhou Science and Culture Center, which is styled after the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and which is home to a movie theater and performance hall. Even if you don’t plan on attending any events here, its multicolored lights make it worth a nighttime drive-by!

If you’re looking for the ancient side of Suzhou, you’ll find it at Pingjiang Road and Shantang Street. Both locations boast canals, old-style buildings, shops, and restaurants. Most of modern Suzhou is not yet even twenty years old, but the ancient parts are truly ancient, with history going back 2500 years! The Suzhou people are very proud of their long and rich cultural history, so the city’s old streets and districts are just as important as the new ones for tourists to explore!

Now for everyone’s favorite part: the food! Suzhou being a modern city, it is possible to find American-style food, but why would you? Suzhou cuisine is said to be some of the best in China. For the full spectrum of the tastes of the city, you should try the full spectrum of restaurants, from the holes in the wall, to the fancy establishments. Suzhou’s most famous dish is Sweet and Sour Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish, called “song shu gui yu” in Chinese. Don’t let the eyes and fins intimidate you; as someone who doesn’t eat fish, I’ll tell you honestly that song shu gui yu was some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted!

As if Suzhou’s nickname of “Heaven on Earth” wasn’t enough, you know now that you want to visit Suzhou, right? It’s a beautiful city, my second home. There’s a lot to experience and take in. But the beauty of not seeing all of a place the first time is that you have an excuse to go back!

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