When it comes to traveling with the family, many people tend to think of the warm summer months while the kids are still out of school, but believe it or not, now is a great time to plan that perfect trip, especially to Suzhou, China. Whether you’re a history buff, or someone who loves delicious cuisine, eager to take your children on a fun educational trip they’ll never forget, love the look of lush gardens, or traveling down a canal on a gondola through “Venice of the East” is on your travel bucket list, then visiting Suzhou, China is definitely a must.
Travel expert and TV host, Julia Dimon joined me for an interview yesterday from beautiful historic Suzhou to discuss everything the gorgeous scholarly city has to offer, and how you can enter to win a trip to Suzhou, China!
Candace Rose: Which major attractions in Suzhou should be on your to-visit list?
Julia Dimon: “Well, there are over 400 attractions in Suzhou, it’s hard to hit all of them right now, but I can give you some of my favorites! I’ll start first with its location. It’s about 60 miles west of Shanghai. It’s really easy to get to, it’s just a 25 minute bullet train from Shanghai. It’s a city that’s dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’, so we’re talking canals and an elaborate system of waterways where tourists can actually rent wooden gondolas and paddle through the canals like they might in Venice, so that adds to a certain charm of the city.
Most people in China, when they come here they want to hit Shanghai, they want to hit Beijing, but Suzhou is an emerging destination that I really want to put on travelers radars. In terms of some of the attractions, I’m at one of the major ones right now, the Humble Administrator’s Garden. This is the oldest and biggest garden in Suzhou. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the quintessential examples of classic Chinese landscape design, so you’ll find these beautiful stone bridges, these coy ponds, huge pavilions and just strolling around it’s a really great place to take in the serenity, relax, rejuvenate and take in some nature.
The city is incredibly green. It has over 200 gardens much like this one, and some of the gardens also have opera performances in the evening. You’ll find elaborate costumes and makeup, they sing folk songs. It’s a way to tap into the theatrical tradition in a beautiful setting which is these gorgeous gardens. We’ve got gardens, we’ve got theater, we’ve got some really historical streets that have authentic ancient architecture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, tons of street food, museums – I could go on and on! There’s quite a diversity of the old and the new in Suzhou.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the top activities for families in Suzhou?
Julia Dimon: “Well, for families, I would definitely urge you to check out the ferris wheel park in the Suzhou Industrial Park. It’s a ferris wheel park as the name might imply, and it has a giant ferris wheel, which is the largest in China. It’s about 400 feet, it accommodates about 360 passengers. The whole ride takes about 30 minutes, it’s really fun for the kids and also fun for the parents too because you can see these sweeping views of the city. In addition to that ride there’s tons of roller coasters and a 4D experience, there’s water fountains and a water wall where they actually project different cinematic presentations. They have laser shows and LED lights on the ferris wheel, so it’s a lot of glitz and glam and it has that Vegas vibe that is in the newer part of Suzhou.
Now for kids who might want to learn a little bit of history, but also get their hands dirty, they might be interested in checking out the number one silk factory. It’s part museum, part shopping experience. The fun thing for kids is that they can get their hands in a big bowl of silk worms, and they can see the whole process from the cocoon to the actual silk making and weaving. It’s educational and it’s kind of fun to pick up a silk worm or two! I just went yesterday and it was definitely one of the highlights and it’s really fun for families.”
Candace Rose: What is the tea culture in Suzhou?
Julia Dimon: “Tea culture is quite large. They have this green tea called Biluochun, and it is delicious. It has medicinal properties, healing properties – it’s just great tea. The kids would enjoy going to the tea plantations, so this is a great way to show them how tea is made because you take it for granted, right? This is a fun attraction that you can go with the kids, do some tea picking and follow the process from bud to cup.”
Candace Rose: Can you travel to Suzhou on any budget?
Julia Dimon: “Now is a really great time to come to China with fluctuations in the market and the way currencies are going, your U.S. dollar will go much further. Suzhou also has a wide variety of accommodations from budget to luxury. From budget (for example) you’ll have all of these great boutique hotels, Pan Pacific is one example and they can range anywhere from $75 to $200 U.S. dollars a night. It kind of embraces a more local flair in the design and feel. And then you have the other end – tons of five star hotels in the Suzhou Industrial Park, five star restaurants, and a lot of the big name hotel brands that you’d be familiar with. Lamborghini has one there, which is kind of fun and high end.
You can travel on a budget, you can travel if you have a little extra money to spend – there’s a lot of options for you here.”
Candace Rose: How can travelers experience the ancient city of Suzhou along with its modern day marvels?
Julia Dimon: “It’s such a special city because just taking the canal towards where you’re walking down the historic streets you see the old and you feel like you’re being transported back in time. You get a sense of the local everyday life, but then you’ll go to new Suzhou which is some of the areas I mentioned where all the five star hotel are, a lot of Fortune 500 companies have set up shop in that particular region of SIPAC area, the Suzhou Industrial Park.
You’ll see the new – the Cosmopolitan, the sort of fast paced. The city is really interesting because it does have that juxtaposition and the layering of the old and the new. The history and the modern.”
Candace Rose: Can you provide us with the history of this beautiful city?
Julia Dimon: “It’s a city that’s 2500 years old. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Yangtze river basin. To provide an entire history it would take me a long time, but some of the points that I can touch on today in our short time together is that city really thrived so long ago due to the rice and silk trade. Also, it’s proximity and its location to the grand canal really made it an epicenter of commerce and economy. In the 1400s Marco Polo went to visit there, he was of course Venetian, saw all the canals and waterways and said this is just like Venice and that’s where the term ‘Venice of the East’ came from. He also noticed a lot of artisans and scholars, and so the city to this day has a reputation for being quite scholarly. A lot of rich families have come here and set up beautiful gardens like the one I’m in right now. Today, more and more tourists are checking out the area. The city has seen so much growth and the history continues. It has quite a rich history, so for history buffs, a visit here I’m sure will give you lots of fodder.”
Candace Rose: What is the cuisine like in Suzhou?
Julia Dimon: “The cuisine is a lot like Shanghai cuisine, but a lot sweeter. There’s a real emphasis on local cuisine, vegetables and fish that are sourced from the area. I had an epic lunch yesterday with so much food, so much different food, so it’s kind of fun to be able to travel through your tastebuds, so you can experience a new country through its food. One of the dishes that I really enjoyed that is unique to this area is the Mandarin fish. This particular fish is cut in such a way where it looks like a squirrel. It’s fried, the meat is available for the picking without bones, and it’s got this awesome sweet and sour sauce, so that’s one example of some food that is not to be missed when you’re in Suzhou.”
Candace Rose: How can readers enter to win a trip to Suzhou?
Julia Dimon: “This is the best part! Travel to Suzhou is giving a free trip. Nine free trips for you and a guest – all inclusive, all paid for, so all you have to do is check out the website: TravelToSuzhou.com/Sweepstakes. You fill out the application and you enter for a chance to win a free trip to Suzhou for you and your family.”