Suzhou is a larger city than it may seem. The historic center, surrounded by its canal-pit is the main tourist interesting area, is approximately rectangular, measuring almost 6 km north to south and 3 km east to west, so it is too large to be covered on foot, especially if we intend to make the round trip. In addition, the attractions are very far from each other, and does not include all the main ones, some of which are nearby, but not in the center itself.
Metro was useless until the recent line 4, that crosses the center from north to south, and has a stop at Main Railway Station, was opened; no point of interest in this area will be more than 10 minutes walk away. Line 1 crosses the center from east to west, precisely in an area where there are no great attractions, most being a couple of km north or south of its stations. Tickets are bought in vending machines, and it costs more expensive the farther we go, starting from 2 ¥ the first 6 km and increasing one for each extra 4-5 km.
An excellent means of locomotion… if we understand Mandarin; otherwise, it can be a nightmare. Luckily, in recent years some tourist lines have been enabled, identifiable by the symbol 游. Their routes have been modified recently, since metro line 4 was opened:
- Bus 游 1 (5:15 am-9:00 pm): Tiger Hill, Lingering Garden, Humble Administrator’s Garden (and therefore also Suzhou Museum) and Lion Forest. Also Silk Museum and Beisi Pagoda.
- Bus 游 2 (5:45 am -6:45 pm): Tiger Hill, Suzhou Railway Station, Silk Museum, Beisi Pagoda, Humble Administrator’s, Lion Forest and Master of the Nets Garden.
- Bus 游 3 (5:30 am-8:45 pm), passes through other areas: Amusement Park, Yushan Park and University of Science and Technology.
- Bus 游 4 (5:00 am-9:00 pm): Railway Station, Silk Museum, Beisi Pagoda, Mudu, Lingyan and Taiping.
- Bus 游 5 (6:00 am-10:30 pm): it goes through the western and eastern parts of the city, and has a stop at Suzhou Museum-Humble Administrator’s area.
- Bus 80 goes from one train station to the other, although it is recommended to go by metro.
Single ticket costs between 1 and 2 ¥ depending on how far we go, and 1 ¥ extra is paid if there is air conditioning. The exact amount must be given. They usually run every 10-20 minutes from 5 am to 9 pm.
An interesting way to observe Suzhou is from a boat sailing the canal. The most scenic area is the northern part of the west part of the main canal, but is currently closed to tourist boats, so before getting there boats are diverted to Shantang Street, in Tiger Hill direction; In Pingjiang street, due to size issues, tourist boats can not enter.
Boats leave mainly every 30 minutes from 6 pm to 8:30 pm, they cost 120 ¥ and trips last one hour. They are taken in a tourist dock in the southern area of the canal, very close to Panmen.
TAXI, PEDICABS AND MOTOTAXIS
Official taxis are silver-blue-green Volkswagen Santana. Taxi drivers usually use the meter, a receipt is given when paying and the price for a race through the center is usually cheap. The minimum fare is 12 ¥ for the first 3 km, increasing by 3 ¥ per km. As always, you should be wary of unofficial taxis, especially at tourist points and near train and bus stations.
The drivers of pedicabs and mototaxis are not usually reliable, but in Suzhou in particular their reputation is dreadful, they will try to rip us off at every moment. Not only you have to hardly negotiate the price, but when you arrive at your destination it is very likely that they will ask us for more money. This can be avoided somehow by writing on a piece of paper in the driver’s view the indicated amount, so that later he does not say that “we misunderstood him because his English was not very good”, it is typical to say 15 and when we arrive they will ask us 50, but there have been scandalous cases where they have asked for 3 and when we arrive at the destination they will tell us that they meant 300, etc. In any case, for a short journey in the city center we should not pay more than 10 ¥.
Most hotels rent them, and compared to other Chinese cities, it is not especially difficult to get around the city. They cost about 30 ¥ a day for a basic bike without gears.
HOW TO GO TO NEIGHBORING VILLAGES WITH CANALS
The so frequent bucolic villages with canals in this area have no connection by train.
- From North or South bus station. 8 ¥, 50 minutes, every 30 minutes.
- The new metro line 4 (blue) reaches the town, it takes approximately one hour from the center.
- Zhouzhuang: from North bus station. 16 ¥, 1h30m, every 30 min from 6:45 am to 5:50 pm.
- Luzhi: bus 518, from Suzhou Railway Station.
- Mudu, Tianping Shan and Lingyan Shan: can be reached by subway, using line 1 (green) to Mudu station, being the other two places nearby, or on the tourist bus 4.