Off the beaten track in Changshu

Off the beaten track in Changshu

This small city (by Chinese standards) is neither featured in the Lonely Planet nor the Guide du Routard guidebooks. Getting there is therefore a bit of a challenge.

07 July 2008

The purpose of going to Changshu was to meet with my brother who is - by coincidence - working on a business project there. Seeing him and gossip would be a very welcome break from my current round-the-world trip. There was little information about how to get there, but the receptionist at my hostel in Suzhou eventually figured out that inexpensive buses (16RMB/2.3 US$) are running from the Suzhou North Station to Changshu every half an hour or so.

This one hour bus journey is beautiful, since the main road runs along dozens of small canals and rice fields. Once arrived in Changshu, I boarded a taxi that would take me to the five star hotel, where my brother did reside during his business trip. I looked a bit out of place, arriving at the shiny, fancy and clean "Crowne Plaza" hotel in a full backpacker gear. My dirty hiking boots and my rucksack have clearly has seen better days.

Park entrance at Changshu

However, the staff ignored my shabby appearance and were helping me in a very professional manner to locate my brother's room. Therefore, soon we could rejoin and exchange gifts. Well - he actually gave me presents from the family back home. I gave him the useless stuff I wanted to get rid of to make my backpack lighter. He'll carry the plunder back home when he leaves back for Switzerland.

The city itself consists of a huge hill with an even larger lake, surrounded by busy downtown areas. It is actually a very lovely place. I wonder, when the Chinese (and the Lonely Planet) decide to put this place on the tourist map. My brother and I had no problem to fill two days with plenty of activities, such as visiting temples, pagodas, Shang lake and the downtown district which is separated by an old town set alongside a small canal and the newer shopping district - which the locals call the "walking street". Surprisingly, entrance fees to these attractions are as high as anywhere else, so you have to expect to pay 30 to 50RMB for visiting any of these places. However, there are next to no tourists in Changshu and we had all the sights for ourselves.

The great wall in Changshu

Living in a five star hotel was also a very welcome change. My brother had to pay for everything, since this lifestyle is somewhat beyond my budget. The evening buffet would cost about 450RMB (70 US$). Same goes for the breakfast buffet or any kind of drink I had. But I enjoyed every bit of this splurge, financed by my brother.

For the first time in months, I was having a Muesli which deserved its name, with plenty of fruit, fresh yoghurt and "crunchyness". Also, I was able to see other television channels, than the Chinese government ones. Something which seems to be possible only in this kind of luxury hotel. Having a British, American or French news broadcast definitely adds a welcomed window to the world - although I consider myself being quite up-to-date thanks to the Internet.

In the scenic park of Changshu

After two days in this luxury bubble, it was time to return back to my world. It is hard to say which of both worlds I do prefer. I definitely enjoyed the five star service and the pampering a lot. Really a lot. But having to elbow my way through the crowd at the bus station's ticket counter to get the bus back to Suzhou was as much as fun.

Sweating the rest of the bus journey back to the hostel through 30 degrees Celsius wasn't exactly fun - but somehow I am used to this. After a refreshing shower at my hostel, I met a German student who put me right back into the price segment where I belong. We ate dinner together at a Chinese place for 15RMB (2.2 US$) each - including the drinks.

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