Classic Gardens of Suzhou - a warning!

Jun 10th, 2004, 08:19 PM
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Classic Gardens of Suzhou - a warning!

A few days ago, I wrote in a seperate thread about the crowds at some Hangzhou sites as well as commercialization of some of the "watertowns" in eastern China, based on extensive video footage from my parents' trip last month. Here's a report on the classic gardens of Suzhou.

There are 9 gardens in or near Suzhou that have been designated as UNESCO Heritage Sites, 4 originally in 1997, and 5 others in 2000. My parents visited 8 of them, with the exception of Yipu (Garden of Cultivation).

Well, the main problem with visiting these gardens is a serious one. Suzhou is an extremely popular city all Chinese tourists, including daytripper from Shanghai. As a result, many of these gardens are swamped with people. And mind you that Chinese people like to talk loud, and have little consideration that you may be trying to take pictures or videotaping.

And making things worse is the wide use of handheld loudspeakers that tour guides use. Unlike major tourist sites of the world where people rent an audio guide, or like Japanese tour groups that use wireless headsets, all the Chinese tours use those obnoxious loudspeakers. Somehow, they don't find it ironic or inappropriate to heavily pollute these classic gardens with noise.

Fortuantely, not all gardens are that bad. The ones with the most crowds are:
- Garden of Humble Administrator
- Lion Forest
- Lingering Garden

The ones with the least crowds are:
- Canglang Pavilion
- Garden of the Master of Nets
- Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty

The last one is a bit different from others in that it's not officially open as a park. Instead, it's being operated as a tea house, so they charge more for admission - 45 yuans instead of 30-40 for others - but includes a tea service. On the day of my parents' visit (May 1st holiday), they are the only group of people there, while the crowd was intolerable at Lingering Garden. [The Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute is next door, and have some displays in the garden. It's very worth visiting, and they also sell direct.]

Mind you that my parents have lived most of their lives in Hong Kong, a very noisy and busy city; but even they couldn't stand the crowd and particularly noise at many of these gardens. If you want to really enjoy a quiet and tranquil Suzhou garden, choose your itinerary carefully.
rkkwan is offline  
Jun 11th, 2004, 05:41 AM
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One other observation. The "Couple Garden Retreat" is not crowded either, but despite its UNESCO Heritage Site designation, some of the buildings have been occupied for commercial uses; and part of the main hall is actually a dormitory for some people. Pretty digusting.
rkkwan is offline  
Jun 12th, 2004, 12:59 PM
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Thank you so much for the information on the Gardens in Suzhou. I printed out your advice and have saved it for future reference. You were so kind to let us know about the crowds. Myszka
Myszka is offline  
Jun 12th, 2004, 08:41 PM
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rkkwan's warnings about Suzhou are (unfortunately) absolutely correct. The megaphone-toting Chinese tour groups are a basic fact of life that any visitor to China must reconcile himself/herself to. As with many other popular tourist sites around the world, the only way to avoid this pandemonium is either: a) travel in low season or b) visit the most heavily trafficed sites early or late in the day.
heraclitus is offline  
Aug 17th, 2004, 02:39 PM
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Note that the swamping of the gardens may be due to the travel time. The May holidays are one of the busiest times for Chinese tourism for the whole year. I suspect the Suzhou gardens would be less crowded one week earlier or later.
LiangShanBo is offline  

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