Officially, the Yunyan Pagoda, but also called “China’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
Last weekend, we took an overnight trip to Suzhouz, a city north of Shanghai. The city is known for silk and its gardens. The gardens of Suzhou are a Unesco World Heritage Site. After seeing them, we understand why. Suzhou was about a 30-minute train ride from Shanghai, and once we arrived, we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and set off to see the sights. Our first stop was the Tiger Hill where the leaning pagoda was. Known as Yunyan Pagoda, it’s basically China’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Tiger Hill has a large garden around the pagoda with rock formations, elaborate gardens, bonsai, gazebos and pavillions. You aren’t allowed to go up in the pagoda since they don’t think it’s safe enough.
Beautiful brickwork and ornate details 1,000 years later!
Mom: The pagoda was built about 1,000 years ago on ground that was a mix of rock and sand. Within a few years, the pagoda began to lean. In the 1950s, the Chinese pumped concrete under the base to stabilize the pagoda, but are leaving the lean. It’s actually a very beautiful pagoda with ornate brick and stone designs. For me, it was interesting to see the deterioration of a building 1,000 years old rather than 100 or 200, which is what I’m used to working with in the U.S.
The canal encircles the garden with old apartment buildings in poor condition.
A canal encircles the garden at Tiger Hill and we took about a 30 min boat ride in a wooden boat made to look like historic pleasure boats in China. It was a nice way to relax for a few minutes, and see more of Tiger Hill. Just before we left, we had one of the more intrusive, aggressive people wanting pictures (plural!) with Jenna. She practically grabbed Jenna and pulled her over to pose for picture after picture. I asked Jenna before she got started if it was okay and Jenna, as always, said yes. The lady was quite friendly, outgoing, but borderline rude since she didn’t really give Jenna a chance to refuse!
Twin Pagodas in the background with the building ruins in the foreground.
Jenna was particularly fond of this stone statue, a horse, complete with mounting blocks.
Next, we took a taxi to the Twin Pagodas. The taxi driver dropped us off and directed us straight and then left. Unfortunately, her directions were off. It was straight, but on the other side of the canal and a right turn! After a bit of walking and finally asking someone, we were able to find it. It wasn’t as big or significant as we had thought it might be. It was just two simple pagodas that were built and painted the same way. The gardens were fairly simple. What had been an elaborate building in the courtyard adjacent to the pagodas was now in ruins with pieces just lying around. We don’t know exactly what caused the building’s destruction. However, we often hear about restoration and reconstruction of China’s cultural relics after they were damaged or destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution.”
The Master of the Nets Garden
David and Jenna pose on a rock formation at the Master of the Nets Garden
Mom: Our last stop of the day was at the Master of the Nets Garden. This garden is one of the smallest in Suzhou, but its size does not diminish the beauty there. Just the names of the different buildings were colorful: “The Sedan Chair Hall” (yes, there is a sedan chair on display there); “The Beauty Within Reach Tower”; “The Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”; The Moon Comes with Breeze Pavilion” (probably a nice spot for an evening breeze) and, my personal favorite, “The Washing my Ribbon Pavilion over the Water”. Although we did not find that pavilion, I can imagine that someone once washed ribbons there. The names are quite descriptive.
The “Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”. There are paintings in the studio and pines outside. Some paintings in the studio are of pines.
Meandering through The Masters of the Nets Garden
Most gardens in China, we have found to be quite peaceful, beautiful places, reasonably well maintained and with elaborate landscaping, rock formations and always water. Tiger Hill was really too crowded to fully enjoy, but Master of the Nets was better. In any of the gardens we have visited, you are free to take a seat almost anywhere and relax for a few minutes or a few hours. Gardens here are a peaceful oasis in the chaos of the big cities of China.
It had been a busy morning, so we decided to head back to the hotel, and relax for a couple hours before dinner. The rooms were pretty nice. Jenna and I had a king size bed, so there was no issues about kicking each other!
We had dinner at a restaurant in the hotel. We thought we’d be doing the Mexican buffet, since an advertisement in the elevator and a menu outside the restaurant door talked about the Mexican Fiesta through May 31st and we were there on May 27th. But, this is China and advertisements often don’t mean what they say. What day did it end? Several days before. Honestly, that’s rather typical here. So we had the regular dinner, and though it wasn’t the greatest, it wasn’t too bad.
Land gate and guard house at Pan Men Scenic Area
Jenna and a cannon at the Pan Men gate
We got up leisurely the next morning, packed our stuff, and had breakfast at the hotel. It was a buffet, and everyone was able to find something tasty. The day was sunny, and nice, so it was a good day for sightseeing. The first stop was Pan Men Scenic Area, which used to be an entrance to the city. Like most Chinese cities, Suzhou was surrounded by a massive wall at one time. Most of the wall is gone, but a small section remains here. There was both a land gate and a river gate in the same area. A river or canal went under it, and you could see an old gate that would drop down if people needed to be kept out. After we finished up there, we took a taxi to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
Humble Administrator’s Garden
Jenna’s reaction to seeing the incredibly large koi in the pond below.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is anything but humble. It is the largest in Suzhou, was built hundreds of years ago, and about half is water, ponds, streams, etc. Originally this was someone’s home. There were old buildings, bridges, gazebos and lots of garden scenery. The place was huge, especially considering the fact that it used to be someone’s home. There were many rock features that you could climb on, and lots of stone pathways. The ponds had koi fish, turtles, ducks and lily pads.
The garden is so large it could be hard to find your way back out because you can wander and meander all different ways, up, down, through buildings and around the ponds. It took us a little while to find the exit, there were so many small paths you could go down, and not all of them were on the map. But we finally made it out, and back to the pedestrian road.
Bonsai at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It was interesting to see the wide variety of trees used for bonsai.
Silk Worms at the Suzhou Silk Museum
We tried to walk to the Silk Museum, but couldn’t find it and took a taxi, only to realize we had been going the wrong direction. The museum was pretty neat, with silk and other artifacts dating back hundreds of years ago. They even had live silk worms, and if you leaned in close enough, you could hear them crunching on the leaves. The museum seemed like it was built to be something pretty significant that a lot of people would go to, but because the location isn’t very good, it didn’t look like it had been doing as well as people had hoped. There was hardly anyone else there.
North Temple Pagoda
We made an unplanned stop at the North Temple Pagoda. It wasn’t far, and we still had plenty of time left, so we decided to go up in it. It was a bit of climb to the top, but well worth the view. You could see all across Suzhouz, and we could even see the Leaning Pagoda sitting on top of Tiger Hill. At a distance, the lean was pretty obvious. We took lots of pictures, and then climbed back down.
The last stop of the day was the Arts and Crafts Museum. It took a few minutes to find, but we finally saw it tucked back on a small street. We’re finding as we tour in China, that signage is not really that important, unless it’s reminding you to stay off the grass. Only the biggest, most significant sights have directional signs for you to find places. The museum had several rooms filled with old paintings, pottery, and sculptures. We were able to watch a lady carving a sandalwood fan. She used a thin wire and carved the designs by moving it up and down in the wood.
Laura climbs the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area
Laura and Jenna at the Arts and Crafts Museum
After wandering through the museum, we decided to call it a day. At an unplanned stop in a fan store, Jenna got one of her favorite keepsakes, a flower fan with wavy ribs. Then, we grabbed a taxi, picked up our luggage from the hotel, and headed to the train station. It hadn’t been a long trip, but it had been enough to see a bit of what Suzhouz had to offer. Everyone was tired, and after buying tickets, we hopped on the train, and headed back to Shanghai. This was mine, Jenna’s and Mom’s first experience with trains in China and overall, it was a pretty good one. It’s not always easy to find the ticket desk to buy the tickets, but the trains were quite nice. They had big comfy seats, foot rests and were pretty smooth rides. We would definitely travel by train again!
Climbing down the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area