Updated: Apr 11, 2022
While we were in Shanghai, we had planned on visiting my friend James in Hangzhou. We were told buying train tickets was very easy and didn’t buy them ahead of time. Little did we know…
When we got to the train station, there was only one train leaving in the morning that day for Hangzhou, and we had missed it by an hour. This left us thinking about what to do instead, which lead to some serious mishaps in Suzhou!
How did we end up in Suzhou? Well, we started brainstorming… we could spend more time in Shanghai, but we had already planned on going somewhere else and honestly, wanted out of a giant city, so I started Googling (thank goodness for T-Mobile and free international data +a VPN). Suzhou is only an hour train ride away and called “The Venice of the East.”
Suzhou has these really interesting canals surrounded by white buildings that looked beautiful. Before we went to China, I had done a lot of research and heard good things about it so we bought a ticket for the next train and were on our way!
There were tours from Shanghai available for about $130 on Viator, which was way more than our $14 round trip train ticket, and we were so last minute that there was no chance of booking anything like this anyway. Plus China is way cheap, so paying that much felt a little silly.
$14 train ticket + $25 tour
An hour later we got to Suzhou, got off our train, and had no idea what to do or where to go! We started trying to find how to get to the canals on my phone (it didn’t work on the train), and when a lady came up to us offering us a group tour. Since it is China and often difficult to find English tours, we asked if there would be English on the tour and if it went everywhere we wanted. She assured us it went everywhere and the tour guide spoke English. This wasn’t actually a lie looking back on it, but we definitely thought she meant the tour would be in English or that we would get to hear about places in English—at least something!
We were wrong… it was an all Chinese tour. Every word was in Chinese. The whole time we sat wondering what we were seeing and knowing nothing. I know the name of none of these places! Maybe if I Googled it, I could guess what we saw, but really we sat through hours of a tour and had no idea what was happening!
Even the tour guided had limited English and was unable to really speak to us beyond “meet back here at 1:00” and pointing us in the right direction. We honestly felt bad for the guy because he was probably wondering why we were on his tour! It was a funny day, and we still saw everything to see although we don’t know exactly what was happening. This is so typical of what happened to me while in China. People are always so willing to be helpful, but it is hard to know what you are getting yourself into!
Pro-tip: You will see people wanting to sell you a tour everywhere you go. They will be really cheap. We found it wasn’t great because you didn’t know exactly what to expect but was still fun. This is a good way to save money, but you could end up with something unexpected.
I still have no idea what we saw on the tour honestly. I know we saw a silk factory, tea ceremony, and went on the canal and walked some very beautiful gardens. Unlike other cities, Suzhou did not have anything in English, which was also problematic for us Americans.
The funniest thing about this whole thing was that at the end of the tour, a family started speaking to us in English. Turns out, they were Chinese Americans visiting from Michigan, and we could have spoken to them the whole time but never did because we didn’t realize they knew English and they assumed we knew Chinese. So here we were sitting helplessly all day long when we could have just asked for help. HA! Oh well…
Pro-tip: When traveling, you have to go with the flow sometimes. Mix-ups happen—be prepared to laugh at yourself, make mistakes, and be ready for memories you didn’t expect to make.
Suzhou is definitely somewhere you should visit while you are in China. I would recommend getting a day tour or finding a great place to stay in Suzhou beforehand so you don’t end up on a tour or stuck (unless you know Chinese—then you will be fine!).
Overall I find Suzhou to be an awesome place to visit for a day, just book a tour ahead of time…
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