Su Zhou city in Zhejiang Province in China is known for its gardens and waterways. It is a more traditional city, with ancient architecture and traditional gardens.
There is a saying in Chinese that goes Up above there is heaven, down here on earth there is Su Hang (Su Zhou and Hang Zhou).
One of the most popular gardens there is 拙政园 Zhuo Zheng Yuan or the Humble Administrator’s garden. Having researched many of the attractions in English, I wasn’t aware of what they were called in Chinese, so I have used both versions here.
Zhuo Zheng Yuan was a private garden and home to a government official during the Ming dynasty in the 16th century. The garden was opened to the public as early as 1911, when the then-owners could no longer support the running of it financially. There were tea houses, music, Shuo Shu (which is a type of story telling by one person, in an enthusiastic and animated way) and other entertainment.
The garden went through repeated and ongoing restoration and maintenance throughout the last century; parts were still under restoration when I visited in July (Summer) 2016.
In 1997, Zhuo Zheng Yuan became sister gardens with Yi Yuan in Vancouver, Canada, and in 2004, it became sister gardens with the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California, USA.
Enough of the history for now.
What’s on offer here:
There is a large lotus pond throughout the garden. Fish and turtles can be seen in the water.
There is plenty of vegetation, the pond stretches from one end of the garden to the other and can be seen from any place.
There is a covered bamboo walkway with seats. This is the cooler part of the outdoor areas, in the summer, water mist is sprayed from the top to cool down the visitors.
Most of the buildings are open for viewing, one of them has seats and a short (about 10 minutes) video of the history and preservation of the garden. It was a great place to have a rest and break from the hot and humid summer atmosphere outside.
The garden is unique in that apart from the traditional Chinese aspects, there are some western aspects that were imported from European countries when the garden was first being built. For example there is an imported wrought iron bridge, and a small ‘sun room’ with windows made with imported stained glass.
There is a pond of 36 pairs of Mandarin Ducks (see if you can spot them all).
This is the duck perch set up especially for the Mandarin Ducks.
The stone mosaic pathways throughout the garden are the original pathways, and have intricate and amazing designs.
Inside the buildings you can see traditional Chinese furniture and artwork.
If there are fences or barricades around something , don’t be tempted to try out the furniture, as sturdy as they are, there are security cameras in all the rooms so you will probably get into big trouble for tampering with historical objects.
This is the detail in a carving in the timber door frame, now covered with glass for protection. I think the detail is amazing, you can see the facial expressions as well as the representations of the leaves in the trees.
In one of the rooms you can see a display of (and buy) absolutely exquisite hand embroidery, my favourite are the reversible embroidery, these are not placed in an ordinary frame and hung on the wall, but instead are embedded in a wall itself with glass on either side so you can enjoy the artwork from both sides:
The tickets are ￥50-70 depending on if it is peak or off peak season. Summer and spring are peak season. Tickets can be bought at the garden or online. Click here for their official website. I think this is a great deal. I visited in July which is school holidays season, and there weren’t that many people compared to other attractions.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden 拙政园 is located right next door to the Suzhou Museum, on Dong Bei Street Pedestrian Road 东北街步行街 (This is not accessible by vehicles except briefly on either end of the street near the main streets). Both are accessible from the main street (catch a cab), where 2 streets meet, Qimen Road 齐门路 and Lindun Road 临顿路.
Suzhou does not have an airport, so the closest airport is in Shanghai, both international and domestic.
Address: 178 Dong Bei Street, Suzhou.
The entry ticket price depends on the season. In the high season (April, May and July to October inclusive) the ticket is ￥90 per person. The other months are the low season (November to March inclusive and June) is ￥70 per person.
The garden it self does not sell food, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby.
Recommended stay time:
I stayed there for 3 hours (Google review results say people typically spend 1.5 hours there. Never trust google’s generic results! I have noticed their phone numbers, addresses and general details for various businesses are inaccurate) with a friend accompanying me, there was no hurry, we strolled around the garden and took rests when needed (it was really hot) and we saw everything. If you really like real Chinese gardens, with authentic architecture, artwork, and just want to relax, I’d recommend the same.
If you come during the summer, be sure to bring a bottle of water!
Toilets are available (squat and seated). Tickets can be bought on site. Places to sit for resting are located throughout the garden, in the form of actual seats like under various walkways, indoors, stone table and seats outdoors, and along the stone bridges which I was told aren’t actually made for the purpose of seating but rather to stop people from falling into the pond, but people still sit here.
Most of the garden is flat, including the stone bridges, however might be bumpy since the paths are paved with pebbles. Also there are places that are not wheel accessible, these include stone steps (natural or man made) if you want to climb to the top of a pergola or a slope for better views.
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