Suzhou is a fine city that stands on the shores of Lake Taihu and has a worldwide reputation for its beautiful silk. The environment created by the lake is said to be perfect for silkworms and the silk produced is of the highest quality. Shopping in the city is fun and Guanqian is its busiest street, partially pedestrianized and with hundreds of shops. Shilu Commercial Street, Namen Commercial Centre, and Fengqio Street are all good hunting grounds for some unusual souvenirs and gifts. The Metro Shopping Centre is modern and sizeable. Bargaining for a better price is normal practice in shops as well as buying from street traders and in the markets.
1. Choose some beautiful silk
It is hard to resist the beautiful silk that is on sale everywhere. Songjin silk is really the best quality and one of the main streets for silk shopping is Shiquan Street. You can buy a length of silk fabric to be made into something special when you get home or you can choose from the galaxy of stylish outfits for men and women. Other gift ideas include colorful silk fans, bags and purses and the best place to buy these is in the shop in the Silk Museum as the prices are lower than in most other places.
2. Admire the Su Xiu silk embroidery
This world-famous embroidery is one of the four best regional embroideries found in China – the others being Hunan, Guangdong, and Sichuan. The intricate embroideries are vividly colored and portray landscapes, traditional life scenes as well as contemporary studies. The embroideries take many hours to complete so they are not cheap. The best to seek out are those made by local craftsmen and these can be found in Xi Upin Road where the craftsmen can be seen at work– cheaper work is not locally made but brought to the city from other parts of China.
3. Buy a sandalwood fan
These lovely fans are unique to the city. Fans have been made in Suzhou since the Ming dynasty and were originally made from bamboo, but more recently, the craftsmen switched to using sandalwood and it is still a craft that is evolving. There are countless fans on sale across the city, but many of them are cheap and aimed at tourists, to find an authentic sandalwood fan, you will need to look out for the small workshops where the craftsmen can be found at work.
4. Relax with a cup of Bi Luo Chun tea (Lo Chun tea)
This very special green tea was first enjoyed by the imperial family more than 100 years ago and the tea is very important in the city’s tea culture. The tea is grown in the Biluo mountains and is picked by hand early in the spring when it has a strong and distinctive aroma. This tea is easily recognized as it has green curling leaves. It can be bought in the Suzhou Tea Market which can be found just south of the old town. The other highly prized tea is Hangzhou – Dragon’s Well. Both can be bought loose by the gram and are easy to fit in a suitcase!
5. Try calligraphy with a Suzhou writing brush
Since ancient times, Suzhou has been home to many fine writers. They used to write using a special brush with ink and this led to beautiful calligraphy. The distinctive writing brush is made from the finest materials and these days, a hint of technology! What better souvenir than calligraphy set from Suzhou?
6. Try tasting the local sweets and candies
Everyone enjoys the local sweets and there are more than 150 different types! The best known sweet shop of all is Cai Zhi Zhai in Guanqian Street. The shop first opened in 1870 and apart from its vast selection of sweets, it sells preserved fruits and melon seeds.
7. Enjoy the sweet dried fruit
A selection of dried fruit is the traditional ending to a meal in the city and more often than not, the fruit selection includes a variety of plums. There is no particular fruit mix to recommend – just try a variety and see which one you like the best!
8. Treat someone special to some pearls
The pearl market is situated about 40 minutes north of the city center in Wei Tang and is a huge market with every design of pearl jewelry imaginable! There are both cultured and freshwater pearls and you can get a good deal if you buy several items from the same trader.
9. Watch the jade craftsmen at work
There is an area of Suzhou where all the jade workshops can be found and this is situated just south of Shi Quan Street. It is a fantastic place with numerous jade workshops where the artisans can be seen carving the jade. You will be warmly welcomed into the workshop and offered a cup of tea whilst you watch the craftsman at work.
10. Find some fun children’s clothing
If you have gifts to buy for children, there is a road that is dedicated to children’s clothing- Gong Yuan Street. Several of the shops have quality branded items but the rest have a wonderful assortment of colorful clothing at really keen prices –take your time to take a close look at the bargains – some of them are really low priced as they are ‘seconds’ with flaws in the fabric or bad seams.