Suzhou, a city of just over 5 million inhabitants, is the historic silk capital of China, and lies about 1 hour's drive northwest of Shanghai. As one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze basin, the city has a rich history going back over 2,500 years. It is the home of Sun Zi, and the setting for his Art of War. European explorer Marco Polo called Suzhou "Venice of the East". The Chinese call it "Paradise on Earth".
Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens, which are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for its canals. The gardens embody the harmonious principles of Chinese garden design, which dictates that gardens should attempt to create a microcosm of the universe in a confined space. Amongst the most charming are the Garden of the Master of the Nets and the Humble Administrators Garden. The intimate gardens here are particularly pleasant on a misty day, and Suzhou's narrow streets and lanes can be very intimate and relaxing.
Suzhou's cultural sites and temples are also worth a visit. Hanshan Temple's distinctive atmosphere and construction are unforgettable. The Temple of Mystery and West Garden Temple are both excellent examples of Taoist and Buddhist tradition respectively. Also, Tiger Hill is a great spot to explore and spend a lazy afternoon in a historical setting. Suzhou's profound cultural and historical background as an ancient capital has helped make this one of China's premier tourism destinations.
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