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And, after enjoying one of the larger sightseeing cruises popular at Shantang Street and Pingjiang Road, this is where you’ll want to take your hand-rowed gondola ride.

Bring your best camera: Tongli’s canals are adorned with red lanterns and pass through towering tree tunnels for once-in-a-lifetime photos.

Everywhere you look today, relics of the past commingle with the present: the 1,000-year-old water towns’ ancient canals; the skyscraping Suzhou Industrial Park district’s waterfront fountain shows; a new, sprawling shopping mall that’s one of the world’s largest.

Frozen in time and simultaneously thrust into a smartphone-based future of its own making (read: Di Di in place of Uber, We Chat in place of Facebook, Instagram, and any mobile payment app, in one), Suzhou feels other-worldly.

The 2,500-year-old city was the cultural epicenter and largest non-capital city of China’s Ming (1300s to 1600s) and Qing (1600s to 1900s) dynasties.Most people go to China for its megacities and its Great Wall, but I went for water towns and dumplings.And I was pleasantly surprised to find that by arriving through Shanghai and taking advantage of the region’s bullet trains I’d get to experience much more in the spirit of both history and modernity: Shanghai’s glittering skyline, the former Chinese capital of Nanjing for Ming tombs and other dynastic relics, and the grand finale that is Suzhou.They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas." Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone." Travel Motto: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window, of course." Email Shannon at [email protected]

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