Tuesday, August 26, 2008

苏州-周庄/Suzhou - Zhou Zhuang

After taking in most of Suzhou sights in the first day, we decide to check out Zhou Zhuang, a little town about 1 hour away from Suzhou city centre. This place claims to be the number one water village in China and the travel guides gave rave reviews about it too. I am happy to say, we were not disappointed by what we saw.
Just like Shexian and Hongcun visited previously, not all of Zhou Zhuang is touristy. To get to the main tourist zone, you actually had to walk quite a distance from the long distance bus station. But it was a pleasant walk as you start getting a glimpse of what you might see later on.既然号称第一水乡,进入景区后最先看到的自然是小河啦。这儿的小河比苏州的干净和漂亮多了。小河旁边又有着柳树和其他正开着漂亮花朵的树,河上又不时有船只上下,船家一边划着船,一边唱歌娱乐船上的游客,再加上两旁的旧房子,一看就知道这个“中国第一水乡”绝对不是盖的。
Since it is supposed to be the number one water village, the first thing you will see on entering the main tourist zone is… … the river (what else?). Compared to the rivers we saw in Suzhou, the river here is much cleaner and pleasanter. Along the river banks, you will find willow trees and flowers in bloom. On the river, you will see many boats running up and down, with the boatmen singing lovely old tunes to keep their passengers on board entertained. Coupled with the beautiful old houses on both sides of the river, it is not hard to see why tourists flock to this place.

Although the streets and buildings here are old, they are pretty well-maintained. However, with shops lining both sides of the streets, selling everything from food to clothes to tea to accessories, you cannot help but feel it is too commercialised. 才走了不久,就发现一个卖豆浆的地方。天气那么热,我们当然要坐下来,吃碗冷豆浆来解热啦。还以为这里的豆浆(就是我们新加坡的豆花啦!)一定超棒,不过吃了之后,还是觉得新加坡的比较好吃。
After only a short walk, we found a shop in a little corner that sells beancurd. Of course we sat down immediately for a bowl of cold beancurd. But I was a tad disappointed with the beancurd. The ones in Singapore definitely taste better! 这里的老房子保留得很不错,有几个属于名人的房子是开放共人参观的。除了房子本身外,里头还可以看到古代人用的日常用品。
The old houses here are very well maintained. Some of the houses belonging to the famous or the rich are thrown open for viewing, where you can see household appliances, clothing and other accessories used in the olden times for display. 在其中一间老房子里,我们发现了一个卖画的。这些画都非常漂亮,尤其是画家那周庄春夏秋冬画。原本以为会很贵,怎么知道,一整套春夏秋冬的画(每副画有A4那么大)才25元(5新元),而且还包括画框!结果我们都忍不住,每个人都买了一两套回去。
There was someone selling paintings at one of the old houses. Most of the paintings are of Zhou Zhuang. Saw a set of paintings which depict Zhou Zhuang in the four different seasons. We thought the paintings will be expensive, but was told that one set of four paintings (about A4 size each) cost 25 RMB (about 5 SGD). With such an attractive figure, who can resist the temptation not to buy? In the end, we girls bought a few paintings each. 周庄的商业味道虽然浓了一点,但景物都非常漂亮有趣,总的来说还是非常值得一游的地方。  ~伟
No doubt this place is targetted at tourists, but with such beautiful streets and surroundings, for once I don't care if it is too commercialised or too touristy.  ~wei


After conquering Huangshan, the next stop is the other famous half of Jiangnan, i.e. Suzhou. Frankly speaking, although Hangzhou was a nice city, but other than West Lake, it was not much of an attraction for me. As such, I had no high hopes on the beauty of Suzhou. I must say, it turned out to be way nicer than I expected.

Two of the girls from “Little Blackie’s tour group” had included Suzhou as part of their itinerary. I managed to persuade them to tour Suzhou together and then head for Hangzhou, instead of doing Hangzhou first, then Suzhou as they had originally planned. We booked the bus tickets through the youth hostel, only to discover to our dismay that it was a private bus, instead of the government run ones. As it turned out, there were more people than seats. But the bus driver and assistant had the sense to tell those who got on the bus without buying tickets in advance, that we three were tourists and had pre-booked our tickets, and made them gave up their seats to us and sit on the floor instead, sparing us six hours of uncomfortable ride. Still, it was unpleasant towards the end as the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere instead of the bus terminal, causing us much distress before we finally found our youth hostel.

It was a very nice hostel that greeted us. It was located in the protected area; hence it was surrounded by lots of old buildings, with the youth hostel itself being the ancestral home of the hostel owners. It was a small hostel, with only one full time staff and two temp staff, but it emits a real cosy atmosphere. Without doubt, it is the most homely youth hostel I’ve stayed in so far. Right outside the hostel was a small river, with tourists taking boat rides up and down it. It was really nice to stroll along the river, taking in the old streets and buildings on a warm afternoon.苏州因为有很多花园而出名,可是这些都要收入门费,而门票又不便宜,所以我们就没有进去参观,就只在花园外拍照留念。之后我们就到苏州的购物区晃晃。就像其他中国城市的购物区一样,尽是大大小小的商店,五彩缤纷的霓红等招牌。当然,这些霓红灯也出现在小河边。
Suzhou is considered one of the top tourist spots in China mainly due to its many beautiful gardens. But you have to pay entrance fees to enter these gardens and entrance fees are not cheap. Hence, we satisfy our touristy urges by taking pictures outside the gardens. After that, we took a walk in the main shopping district. As all shopping districts in China go, you see shops of all kinds here, with the colourful neon lights lit signboards and all. Of course, it goes without saying that the river beside the shopping district is also lit up with neon lights. 走回旅舍的途中,我们还发现了一个像足了古代怡红院的房子。  ~伟
On the way back to the hostel, we discover a building with bright red lanterns hanging outside it, resembling the high class whore house in olden days.   ~wei