We woke up before the morning call. The instruction was to leave our bags outside our room and then go for breakfast and thereafter wait to board the bus. Our bags would be taken care off by the hotel porters. However, we always prefer to use the toilet before leaving so we would leave for breakfast early and then return to our room again and thereafter leave our bags outside the room.
So we went to the restaurant very early and the staff were just getting ready. Nevertheless, all the food were already placed at their respective stations. Although the food items were not so warm, we were happy to have an early breakfast. Despite this hotel being not up to par in our opinion as far as our room was concerned, the breakfast spread however was pretty decent.
Most of the food items of course were local food. There were some western food items as well. Although the food was not fantastic for a five-star hotel, we were quite satisfied, especially on a cold winter morning having hot food was definitely something to look forward to. Soon some of our tour members began to show up for breakfast. We chatted a little and continued with our breakfast. After two rounds of helping we left the restaurant to return to our room.
It was good to be back in our room to brush up and make ourselves comfortable with the toilet at our disposal. When we were done, we left our bags outside our room but we rested a little more in our room. It was getting brighter outside and from our room window, we could see our tour bus below. Soon it was time to get going to start our tour for the day.
Everyone was waiting at the lobby and looked happy and satisfied after breakfast looking forward to the tour for the day. Our tour guide Jackie having counted the tour members and checked to ensure the porters loaded up all our bags requested that we board the bus. We had a long day ahead firstly to tour Suzhou followed by driving to Wuxi for afternoon and evening tour activities before we could check into our hotel over there that night.
It was cold outdoor but when we got up the bus, it was very comfortable with the heater turned on. Our bus driver Mr. Zhang was in a good mood and greeted us as we boarded the bus. The lady local guide who briefed us about Suzhou the night before was at the hotel as well and boarded the bus with us.
Suzhou used to have thousand over rivers in the city, a Venice of the East in mega proportion. This was much earlier than Venice became famous for its unique beauty in Italy. There are still many rivers remaining in Suzhou even though the main mode of transportation in this city is no longer by boats on the river. This city is famous for their beautiful ladies and their soft-spoken tongue and manner of life.
As the bus pulled out, she continued her work to introduce Suzhou and the famous local silk product where we would be visiting a silk factory later. Our first stop was to visit a museum in Suzhou. This museum was designed by a world renown Chinese architect from the US who gave this last piece of work to Suzhou so the museum has a unique design where the East and West would complement nicely into a piece of artwork like building.
Not long after her introduction we arrived not far from the museum where we had to alight to take a short walk to the entrance of this museum. It was still quite cold in the morning and the streets were not crowded. The walk to the entrance didn’t take more than five minutes. At the entrance, we were briefed about the interior of the museum and the time allocated for us to explore the place and then we would meet again at a designated spot where we could be easily found.
The entrance of the museum had already caught our attention. A number of us were already busy clicking away with our cameras. Once inside the museum, we continued to explore the interior but most of us were more interested in taking pictures of this unique and beautifully designed museum. Sad to say, we were less interested in the exhibits though they were worthy of their status in the museum. Unless we are Chinese history students, most of the art pieces have little relevance to us.
After about 40 minutes, we were gathered by the local guide again and she brought us next door to Zhong Wang Fu – the palace of Prince Zhong; Li Xiucheng, the leader of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. After gathering us before the entrance of this palace for a short history lesson, we were allowed to roam around to take pictures. This palace wasn’t very big at all. In about ten minutes, we left the place and walked out to the main street to wait for the bus to pick us up for the next destination. We waited not far from the road junction while Jackie called the driver to drive the bus over. Not long after the bus arrived and we boarded the bus.
The next attraction was the Suzhou Silk Factory. The factory wasn’t very far away. In about 25 minutes, we arrived and were ushered into the silk factory. This was our fourth visit to the factory and we were quite familiar with the place and its operation. So we didn’t spend too much time to listen to the explanation from the local tour leader. We walked around following the tour group and took pictures instead.
This is a government owned factory and quality of their silk products is guaranteed. The local guide brought the group along and showed everyone how the silk cocoon was processed and then finally stretched to form the layers for the silk blankets and mattress cover. The products are pretty good. We bought some mattress covers years ago and we bought another piece again this time.
Some members from the tour also bought some products from this factory. One member bought many sets for his family members. The factory also has other silk products for sale including clothing and cosmetic products. Having spent slightly over an hour, we left the silk factory and the local guide seemed happy with the sales turnover and bade us goodbye with good wishes. With that we moved on to our next destination, Yi Ou Lai Suzhou Village for lunch on our own expense. This village was modeled after those premium outlet stores in Europe, so we eagerly looked forward to this place of interest.
After driving nearly an hour, we finally arrived at this Premium Outlet Village. It was cold and raining lightly early this afternoon. The driver drove the bus to the main entrance and seemed like it was the wrong place to alight us. Jackie went down to check with the security guards and were told to drive to another entrance. So we went around the village and finally made it to the correct carpark for the bus to park. We all alighted and walked under the light rain towards the village.
It was already 12.50 pm when we walked to the village and we were cold and hungry. However, the peaceful and beautiful village that appeared before us took away all our miseries. We quickened our pace, enjoyed the nice view of the surrounding and the buildings as we approached this European styled village. Before we went separate ways, Jackie gave us a time and the location to meet before we leave for the next attraction.
After this we went to look for lunch at the village and we went to the Hong Kong Restaurant at the corner near the main entrance. The staff warmly welcomed us and ushered us to a table. There were already quite a number of dinners in the restaurant. The manager from Guangzhou spoke with us in Cantonese and we wasted no time to pour over the menu and quickly ordered our food.
The food came and the lunch was great for our first lunch in Suzhou on our own expense. This was indeed the right place for us. The quality of the food was good and the price was reasonable as well. We saw another family or two from our tour group also having lunch at this restaurant. We could also use the free wifi at the restaurant which was an added bonus. We caught up with the children and got updated on their day’s activities.
With lunch done, we went to explore this European Village. The architecture of the whole place was indeed European style, very beautiful and enjoyable to roam around. It was a raining wintry day and we hardly saw any other visitors. Shops of course were selling branded stuff and we were in no shopping mood yet. Our fingers were busy with capturing the nice and beautiful scenery of the village as a top priority.
We also crossed over the main road to stroll and take in the sight at the beautiful park with fountains and rivers as well as resting places. We have been to Europe several times and China has indeed successfully copied this expect of Europe and brought it to China. Visiting this European Village was very enjoyable. The reason why we took up this Jiangnan Tour package even though we had been to this part of China a few times was because of the slightly different itineraries offered by Dynasty Travel. This is definitely one new item on the list we enjoyed and treasured.
While capturing beautiful pictures under the cold slight drizzle, we made our way back to the carpark to board the bus. With the absence of the crowds of shoppers and tourists, we had fantastic opportunity to take pretty pictures all over the village. Indeed this trip to the village reminded us of Europe which we also longed to tour some parts of the continent again at another convenient time.
It was nearly 2.30 pm as we waited at the carpark where everyone was slowly returning after lunch and sight-seeing at the village. So everyone boarded the bus tremendously happy and satisfied with lunch and the sight of this pretty village and we then made our way to Wuxi. Jackie spoke a while and gave us more information about the city in Wuxi and its history. After the history lesson, he allowed us to rest and nap during the journey. It was slumber time in the comfort of heated environment in a cold and wet winter day which was really good.
After about two hours and having rested during the journey, we arrived Wuxi. Our first stop would be to visit Li Garden where pictures of flowers in four seasons are painted on the pillars of Four Seasons Pavilions inside the garden. Li Garden lies by Li Lake and Fan Li was a prime minister of the Yue State during Spring and Autumn Period. When we alighted at the entrance of this garden, we were met with another local guide who brought us into the garden.
It was still wet and cold and drizzling as we walked into the park by the lake. We were on our way to take a boat ride on Li Lake. Unfortunately when we reached the lake, the ticket office informed the local guide that all boat rides were cancelled due to the fog and rain. It was a pity but it was better safe than sorry.
So our local guide walked us through this beautiful garden park and stopped from time to time to explain certain facts about the garden and its famous history. Visiting China is always time for history lesson. Sometimes this may not appeal to some people, especially foreigners though Chinese, are not really interested because their connection with China has been severed so long ago. That is why our children are not very keen to visit China with a tour group. They would rather go on their own free and easy to do what they like. Notwithstanding, the Chinese tour guide still expects Chinese foreign visitors to have emotional ties with the mother land, the land of their ancestors. Hence, this constant lesson on Chinese history to rekindle our interest in China and Chinese culture and to feel as one of them.
After touring the beautiful park, we exited just in time for the staff to close the park. It was time for them to go home and they were waiting for us to leave. There wasn’t any other visitors on that wet winter day during this late afternoon. It was a pity the weather wasn’t in our favour. This garden park is no doubt very beautiful. Our visit was cut short with the boat ride cancelled and so we were preparing to head to a restaurant for dinner. Our dinner that night was a feast for the king, the Qianlong Banquet.
We boarded the bus again and this lady local guide took over and addressed us and gave us more interesting happenings in this city and its local products. The restaurant was supposed to be nearby and we were cold and hungry again. While talking with us, she felt agitated that we had still not arrived at the restaurant. She turned back to remind Jackie and the driver and gave them directions and she continued to talk with us. The driver replied that he knew where the restaurant was and continued driving.
After a while when we were still not in the right direction and having caught up in some traffic in the city, she turned back to scold Jackie and the driver. It was embarrassing. But the driver was at fault too. He kept telling her he knew the way but in fact he didn’t. Jackie was checking the maps on his phone feverishly to direct the driver to the restaurant. The local guide gave up trying to talk with us leaving Jackie and the driver find their way around the city. She turned around to direct them until they were in the right direction before turning back to address us.
Eventually, we reached the restaurant and we were glad. We settled down at the two designated tables just like the day before and we took our seats with the other five tour members. The food came and the whole table was full of dishes of different varieties. The main dish was supposed to be the steamed fish. Seemed like none from our table was keen to go for the fish as we all knew fresh water fish in China had lots of bones. My dear wife had a fish bone stuck in her throat during one of the previous tours and had to drink vinegar to dissolve the bone. We took the fish to our driver and tour guide Jackie eating by themselves and they didn’t have the fish dish. They were of course appreciative.
During dinner, the lady local guide came over to check whether all was well and then bade us goodnight and she would see us in the morning to continue with the tour of Wuxi. The dinner was pretty good but don’t expect the same standard had it been served to kings in time past. The hot meal was great and we were reenergized. After dinner, with the lady local guide gone, Jackie took over again. Our next attraction would be a night tour of the Qingming Bridge Cultural Area.
We arrived near the bridge in about 30 minutes and we didn’t get lost this time. We all alighted the bus and followed Jackie and walked towards the famous bridge in this area. It was still raining lightly and was quite cold. The surrounding was nicely lit up and was pretty. We walked up the bridge after listening to some information about the place from Jackie. We were given free time to explore the area, shop and have a drink and were told better not to eat the lamb sticks from the street stalls which were usually rat meats.
The sight on top of the bridge was really beautiful. It was reminiscence of one of those beautiful bridges in Venice at night. The river view was great with boats strikingly lit up plying along the river. It was a sight to behold and those buildings along the river were equally fascinating. The bridge was a busy place with many visitors posing and taking pictures.
After pictures taking and admiring the views around the area, we walked down the street and roamed the area. Both sides of the walking street were nicely lit up with shops, restaurants and cafes. It was a pleasant walk but could be much better had the sky held up and the air not so cold. Tour members went their own way and just soaked in the sight of this pretty area.
We continued walking along the street admiring and enjoying the sight of the area. We came to a tunnel where more shops and restaurants were there where this place was brightly lit up. Having passed through this tunnel shopping area, we were back to the beautiful street with about the same setting like the previous stretch of the street. Finally, we came to a junction where we could walk near the river and walked up another bridge to admire the river view and the surrounding from this side of the river. It was very pretty indeed. Had we been touring on our own, we would probably stay near this area and spend more time here to explore and dine in one of the restaurants here.
Next we decided to walk back to the main road and the first bridge, Qingming Bridge. This area wasn’t very crowded probably due to the rain and the cold. It was a stark contrast with the ancient towns we visited a month ago in Dali and Lijiang where the crowds and the many tourists roamed the area giving those places a very busy and prosperous feel.
Eventually, we came to the end of the street and we went into Starbucks Coffee, one of the main landmarks in this area to rest and take cover from the rain. We bought cakes and coffee to chill out while waiting for other tour members to return. Anyway, Starbucks Coffee was the meeting point for us. We found quite a few families were already enjoying themselves here instead of spending time out in the cold wet street under a light drizzle.
Near 8 pm, Jackie came and gathered all of us and we walked back to the road where we alighted earlier to wait for the bus to pick us up to head to our hotel for the night. We waited about five minutes while Jackie called the driver over the phone to come over. Soon the bus came and we went up the bus glad to be under heater environment again having spent time out in the cold wet night.
In about 35 minutes, we arrived at Veegle Sincere Hotel. It was the same arrangement where we left all our luggage to the hotel porters. We just took whatever we had in the bus and went into the hotel lobby for room keys distribution. Morning call was still the same and the arrangement for breakfast and departure for the next day remained unchanged as well.
Not long after, we were given keys to our room and we approached our room with reservation having experienced an under par hotel room the previous night which was supposed to be a local five-star hotel. Veegle Sincere Hotel is also a local five-star hotel and the first impression we got was pretty good.
We entered our room and was surprised about the size of the room given to us. We had a sitting area after the toilet and then further in was the bed with a wall mounted TV. The room was immaculately clean and of course very spacious and modern too. The toilet was presentable with a nice bathtub and a separate shower stall. We were more than pleased with this room. Moreover, we got back a double bed in a non-smoking room. Wifi worked well and then TV programs as expected, mostly Chinese.
So it was time to settle down to relax and catch up with the children back home. It was an enjoyable day, especially time spent at the European Outlet Store Village. The purchase of the silk mattress cover we made at the silk factory was good. The tour of the museum in Suzhou was interesting as well. It was a pity it was raining when we visited Li Garden in Wuxi this afternoon and the boat tour was cancelled. The night tour of Qingming Bridge Cultural Area could be better had the weather been more accommodating. Nevertheless this nice room we had in the hotel culminated a new high for the day. So this ended our second day of the Jiangnan Tour.
Continue to Day 3 …