Oriental boats float romantically down the narrow canals. They pass under the round arches of aged stone bridges, past blood-red lanterns and glowing Chinese text. The modern neon lights clash with the serenity of the ancient water town.

After the boats are out of sight and the water stills, the reflection of the bridge creates a perfect circle – like a full moon on the river. The singing voices of the boatmen bounce off the traditional buildings that sit along the edge of the water.

Suzhou known as the “Venice of the East” is a famous water town located not far from Shanghai. The town has a rich history, with 60% of the main area spanning half-a-square-kilometer was built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties which go back as early as 1368.

Not far from the boat pickup is The Humble Administrator’s Garden. The 52,000 meter squared garden was built in 1509, during the Ming Dynasty and is a World Cultural Heritage site today.

You need to purchase a ticket to enter and see the bamboo forests, impressive pavilions and bodies of water that are covered in stunning lotuses.

The China Day:

As beautiful as everything in Suzhou was, it was far from a smooth day and absolutely nothing went as planned. Expats in China refer to a day when simple everyday things just don’t seem to work as a “China Day”… and this was definitely one of them.

It started when my husband and I got on the wrong bus from our home in Huaqiao to the train station. It took us several stops to realize that we were going in the wrong direction. Once we got off the bus, we crossed a busy road and the bus stop to take us back was nowhere to be seen. We had to trudge through +40°C weather until we found a metro stop.

Sweaty, we took a metro to a bus stop and then stood for an hour sardined on a bus until we finally got to the train station. We walked past the deliciously smelling fast food with our stomachs growling – we wanted to buy tickets first. After following a “Ticket desk” sign to a counter where we bought tickets, we were rushed to depart n under 10 minutes. It was seconds before boarding that we realized that we were getting on a bus instead of a train…

The bus wasn’t air conditioned and took thrice as long as a train, but we sucked it up. Finally, at Suzhou we found ourselves just 2 kilometers from our destination. Of course, the taxi tried to rip us off and a strange lady on an e-bike (an electric motorcycle basically) came to the rescue, promising us a ride for just 2 RMB (0.30 USD).

We squeezed onto the back of her e-bike and she took off… in the opposite direction of traffic! She drove between the cars, then onto the sidewalk and over a bridge! When we arrived at our location, she surprised us by demanding 20 RMB instead of 2  which we had to pay.

On our way to The Humble Administrator’s Garden, we got lost and accidentally ate at the most expensive restaurant in the area. We didn’t get to enjoy the garden for too long either, since we got there an hour before closing and didn’t even realize so we didn’t rush. At least the Chinese police that shooed us out were friendly.

With a few hours to kill before the last train to Shanghai, where we would catch a metro home, we decided to find a boat. We found what looked like a boat stop but several boats passed right by us without a glance. Finally, one boat stopped and said that a ride would cost 150 RMB ($22) which we quickly agreed to. The boat ride was amazing, but just after 20 minutes we were docked and the boatman was asking us to get off.

We got off reluctantly and just as he left, we read the sign that showed a much longer journey for the same price that we had paid. The problem was that we had gotten on in the middle and the boatman was happy for the extra cash. Another failure of the day!

For two hours we had a great time, enjoying some wine by the river while bats swooped above our heads. Then the Uber arrived and found us without any problems and drove us to the train station, that was incredibly breathtaking! We managed to buy a ticket and only had to wait 10 minutes to board the train. We scanned our tickets, anxious to get home… but the barrier didn’t budge.

Panicked, we ran over to the security guard who pointed at the date on our ticket – we were scheduled to depart in three days! Isaac ran back to the ticket counter, past the security check and long lines while I paced in front of the gate. Moving as fast as he could, he returned with the correct ticket merely a minute after the departure. The guard let us through just in time for us to watch the train pull out of the station. The last train had left…

Another train was about to leave but it was headed to a different area of Shanghai. Not knowing what else to do, we jumped on and the checking lady miraculously accepted our expired tickets. Finally, we had done something right! We took a longer, different route home but we made it. Our China day was over and we had some beautiful photos to show off – looking at them you could never tell how the day had actually been!

This was near the overpriced restaurant that we had a delicious meal at:
A Chinese chandelier at The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
More of The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
The boat ride down the river:
The boat ride down the river:
The Suzhou train station:
The Suzhou train station:

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible day after all! The wrong turns and challenges just made it more exciting and memorable! 🙂

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