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Suzhou By Night

Stepping out in the evening onto Pingjiang Road after an excruciatingly hot summer day is magical — the entire length of the ancient canal towpath comes alive with townspeople, tourists and merchants of all kinds.

Our table with a view.

Suzhou at night came as a very pleasant surprise. The old town is beautiful by day of course, but we had no idea what was in store for us when we emerged from our air-conditioned oasis after the sun had gone down. It was a fantastic find right at the doorstep of our hostel — lining the entire length of Pingjiang Road (about a half-mile or so) was a night market which seemed to be targeted at both tourists and locals alike (rarely the norm). To read more about Suzhou, click here to read our post on Suzhou by Day.

Pingjiang Night Market with our hostel (Mingtown Youth Hostel) in the background.

Night markets seem to be quite popular in China. In Suzhou in July it only makes sense given the incredible heat and humidity. This particular evening, the humidity remained high but temperatures were quite bearable (actually bordering on pleasant!). It was great to see life happening in the streets of this ancient town and one does get the sense that this is indeed a real living, breathing community with or without the tourists (though tourism undoubtedly constitutes a great majority of people’s livelihoods here).

Even by night, the canal garbage collectors keep the canals virtually trash-free (no easy feat in China where people seem accustomed to depositing whatever, wherever).


A LULL IN ACTIVITY :: The area right outside of Mingtown Youth Hostel during a break in the crowds of people, bicycles and scooters.


STREET DINNER :: Dumplings and potstickers served hot, fresh and cheap!

Food prices in China for travelers are far from cheap, but fresh, hot street food at these sorts of night markets seems to be a pretty good bet for getting inexpensive, tasty, and relatively safe evening fare. This guy [above] was conveniently located directly in front of our hostel serving up hot, fresh (and huge) dumplings and potstickers. The two of us filled up for about $4.75. We carried our dinner across the small stone bridge nearby and perched ourselves on a set of old crumbling stairs overlooking the canal and the night-time activity.

Lori perusing the night market along Pingjiang Lu.

After dinner, we strolled the cobbled lane lined with vendors and curiosities, certainly one of our more memorable experiences thus far in our trip through China (speaking in retrospect three weeks on). Below is a sampling of photos from that evening:


This guy is actually making large custom lollipops before a sea of curious onlookers. The process involves drawing a design on wax paper using a squirt bottle full of hot liquid that dries quickly and very hard. After he draws his creation, he lays a skewer on top before the liquid hardens, then carefully pulls the sucker away from the wax paper and BAM! instant lolli. The most fascinating part of the process is watching how quickly and skillfully he squirts out a number of different designs.

Fruit on a Trike (with a Smoke).


SCORPION MAN :: Hard to tell, but this guy is selling a number of exotic critters in plastic containers, from spiders to snakes (as he plays on his iPhone with cigarette and live scorpion in hand).


SCOOTER PARKING :: The ubiquitous scooter finds a resting place (and friends!)


CARD SHOP :: Also ubiquitous in China, the random (and always packed with teens) postcard / birthday card shop. Young people love to sit for hours and customize their cards, then send them to their friends.



Lori trying to break through the language barrier to find out what each food item is (much easier said than done).


UMBRELLAMAN :: The Chinese LOVE their umbrellas, employing them equally rain or shine.


ANCIENT BEND :: This corner of the canal at the entrance of a hotel struck me as one particular place in Suzhou that may look much the same as it did a century or two ago.




Mobile lychee vendor. Mmm.






Through the window of a famous Suzhou opera house.


Two small boys playing video games.


Canal-side cafe.





A rare photo of the photographer…


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