Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden and the Grand Canal

 Finally, after sixteen hours on a sleeper train, a metro ride, and short walk, our G Adventures group arrives at Suzhou Overseas Chinese HotelA beautiful garden with a gazebo and small pond surround the hotel entrance. 

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Starbucks and Chicken Noodle Bowl in Suzhou

Master of the Nets Garden

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Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou

The Master of the Nets Garden is the smallest but most impressive of the Suzhou residential gardens. In the eleven hundreds it was known as the Hall of Ten Thousand Books, because the studies in the central garden were bursting with reading material. Then, in the sixteen hundreds it became known as the Fisherman’s Retreat.

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Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou

In nineteen ninety-seven, the Master of the Nets Garden was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization encourages preservation of irreplaceable cultural and natural heritage while providing life and inspiration around the world. 

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Yinjing Bridge in the Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou

The garden is divided into three sections: the central garden, inner garden, and residential section. The central garden is filled with pathways, vegetation, and buildings surrounding a pond. Each rock, tree, and structure is perfectly placed to create a tranquil retreat. As we explore the main garden, we notice all of the rooms in the surrounding buildings lead to the pond, including the Ribbon Washing Pavilion, Peony Study, and Moon and Wind Pavilion. One of the structures in the garden can only be accessed by Yinjing Bridge, a small stone bridge less than twelve inches wide .

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Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou

Enjoying the many shaded areas and a break from the heat, we follow the maze of pathways to another area of the garden. Walking into the residential section, we hear beautiful singing. Thinking it is a recording playing in this area of the garden, we are surprised to find the sound coming from a security guard. He shows us how to use a touchscreen menu to learn the history behind some of the paintings and artifacts found throughout the garden.

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Entrance to Shantang Street and a Bridge Over the Canal, Suzhou

The Grand Canal

As our time in the tranquil garden comes to an end, we walk back to the bus station. Our next stop is the “Venice of the East” or as the Chinese refer to it, a traditional water town. Walking over a small bridge, we look down the canal lined with houses before arriving at the enormous entrance announcing the beginning of Shantang Street, also known as the Seven Mile Shantang.

Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, Suzhou

Following the sidewalk to the water’s edge, we reach the Grand Canal, running one thousand two hundred miles from Beijing to Hangzhou. The sidewalk surrounding the ornate red building is etched with Chinese symbols.

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Shantang Street, Suzhou

Excited to explore, we walk by shops and restaurants. Lanterns hang from the store fronts above the stone paths. Tour boats awaiting passengers and umbrellas floating above outdoor tables line the edges of the canal. Seeing an illuminated sign for beer in the window of Echo Coffee Bar, we walk inside. We quickly learn coffee bar means alcoholic beverages are available. Passing the dimly lit bar we walk through a glass door. Seating is scattered throughout an outdoor garden surrounding a small pond. Looking quite small from the outside, we are amazed at the amount of seating areas inside the restaurant.

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Canal Along Shantang Street, Suzhou

Exiting the restaurant, we walk by  more store fronts before entering a small bar filled with strings of lights, memorabilia decorating the walls, and a small stage at the far corner. We have a seat at a table near the entrance and point to a picture of dumplings and a Chinese beer. We enjoy the eclectic atmosphere while a mix of English pop and Christmas music fills the air.

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Shantang Street at Night and Inside a Bar on Shantang Street, Suzhou

Walking farther down Shantang Street, we enter a less crowded restaurant and sit on a bench covered in decorative pillows at a table as rain begins to fall outside. Not being prepared for rain, we finish our meal and walk quickly to find the closest shop selling umbrellas. Among many other items, we find a plaid umbrella for fifteen Yuan, about two dollars and fifty cents in US dollars.

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Shantang Street at Night, Suzhou

We join our group members at an outdoor table protected by a giant umbrella and watch the changing scenery of the canal. As the sunlight begins to fade, red lanterns flicker on one by one. The reflection of the lights shimmer in the water. Nearby shops illuminate the stone walkway with their glowing signs. We notice very few restaurants and store advertisements are in English, as we listen to the rain fall.

As our group members leave to take a taxi back to the hotel, two new customers occupy the table next to us. Neither the young man or woman look away from their phones while sitting down or ordering. The waitress returns bringing five beers for the man and chicken wings for the woman. Putting on clear plastic gloves from her purse, she carefully begins eating her chicken wings. Never looking away from his phone or speaking to the woman across the table, the man finishes his five beers in record time. The waitress returns and the woman orders a giant bowl of ice cream for herself as they continue dining without speaking or eye contact. Amazed at this social encounter, we decide it’s time to end our evening at the canal and begin the walk to the metro station.


*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.

  1. Day 1: Fly into Beijing
  2. Day 2: Beijing: Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
  3. Day 3: Great Wall Mutianyu and travel to Xi’an
  4. Day 4: Xian: Terracotta Warriors Guided Tour and travel to Suzhou
  5. Day 5: Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden Tour and overnight train to Shanghai
  6. Day 6: Shanghai: Orientation Walk of the Bund
  7. Day 7: Shanghai: Carte Blanche
  8. Day 8: Fly out of Shanghai

September 2017

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Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

My fiancé, Mitch, and I have been traveling together over four years. Living and working full-time in Pittsburgh, PA, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. We cram each adventure with activities, tours, and experiences to maximize our time. Any time we travel, we try to visit to a local brewery and can't walk by an Irish pub without stopping in for a pint of Guinness. 
 In Tokyo, we laughed every time we saw someone talking on their large, animated phone case. We had to buy one. Having an obsolete IPhone 5, the selection was limited. We purchased a gingerbread off a neglected rack in Shinjuku, Tokyo and The Traveling Gingerbread was born. You can purchase your own adorable gingerbread friend here! The Traveling Gingerbread is an entertaining account of our travels, fun facts, and tips we learned along the way.

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