She bought a package deal including one night in a pretty decent hotel and two tickets to some hot springs. This things are all the rage nowadays. Sites like groupon.com have spawned knockoffs in China, and Esther is indeed addicted. So far everything she bought has been pretty great though. The hotel room was a duplex, very nice all around. When we checked in, they give us the following: x2 hot springs tickets, x2 breakfast coupons, coffee and dessert vouchers, and x2 dozen eggs. That's right. Eggs. I do not know why.
The hot springs resort was actually just dozens of hot tubs, each with different temperatures and fragrances... Jasmine, Red Wine, Lotus Flower, Rose Petal. Green tea was nice, but the Jasmine smelled like poop.
We only had time to explore the city a little bit, but there are two main things to see there: water towns and classical gardens. We decided to see one of each. First was Mudu, one of the famous ancient water towns in Suzhou. It was quaint, cute, historical, a little touristy, but enjoyable. Picture old neighborhoods with shops selling street food and snacks, while canals and rivers subdivide the town. The local delicacies were deep-fried crab, tofu soup(?), red bean snacks, and noodles. Lunch was easily the best part of Mudu for me. We found a simple noodle vendor, cheap and delicious, $2 altogether. We sat in the sunshine, with a peaceful table just off the main street, right at a canal. It doesn't get much better than that. Two hours was all we needed to enjoy Mudu, and they were well spent.
For the Classical Gardens, we chose Lion Forest Garden, Shi Zi Lin. I just googled it for background information and facts, and i learned it's a World Heritage Site and Trip Advisor rates it #7 out of 126 attractions in Suzhou. Huh. I guess that explains why we enjoyed it so much, and also why throngs of people enjoyed it with us.
Shi Zi Lin is basically a massive 1,150sqm/12,000sqft estate located in the downtown old city of Suzhou. It was built as a monastery in the 14th century and features room after room of art, old furniture, awesome architecture and cool spaces, funky wood and rock specimens. But the real treasure was outside. The "backyard", for lack of a better word, was a maze of winding rock pathways and caves, crazy peaks and sharp, gnarled stones. Following these paths might take you to the edge of the lake within the compound, , or maybe up to the second floor of one of the buildings. You end up wandering and getting lost, and it's amazing. We were just astonished, constantly. Still didn't have a proper camera, but we both took pictures with our phones. Esther's (on the left) definitely came out better:
As I was taking the picture above, i noticed a lady with her professional camera trained on us. I approached her and asked if she had taken any good pictures of us. She said no, that she wanted to but didn't know if it was ok. I said of course, she could photograph us, but i'd love some copies. I gave her my e-mail address and she rattled off these two below.
That about covers our Suzhou experience. We spent 3 more nights in Hangzhou, which is fast becoming my favorite city in China. One day we took a long hike, inside the city. We walked from the restaurant where we had lunch to the botanicals gardens, then to west lake, then over a mountain, back to her car. In total about 3 hours, all free, and all basically inside the city. I still can't believe so much nature exists right downtown. A 15 minute walk is all it takes to escape crowds and traffic. That just doesn't exist in Beijing.