Visiting my brother Rene who is – by coincidence – working on a business project in Changshu, was a very welcome deviation from my current round-the-world trip.
This small city (by Chinese standards) is neither featured in the Lonely Planet nor the Guide du Routard guidebooks. There was little information about how to get there, but my hostel in Suzhou eventually figured out that there are inexpensive buses (16RMB/2.3 US$) running from the North Station to Changshu every half an hour or more. The one hour trip is beautiful, since the main road runs along dozens of small canals and rice fields.
Once arrived in Changshu, I boarded a taxi that would take me to the five star hotel, where my brother did reside during his business trip. It looked a bit odd, arriving at the shiny, fancy “Crowne Plaza” hotel in a backpacker gear with dirty hiking boots and a rucksack that clearly has seen better days. But staff was very friendly and I was able to rejoin Rene whom I hadn’t seen in months. We exchanged gifts. Well – he actually gave me presents from home. I gave him the useless stuff I wanted to get rid of to make my backpack lighter. He’ll carry the plunder back home when he leaves back for Switzerland.
The city itself consists of a huge hill with an even larger lake, surrounded by busy downtown areas. It is actually a very lovely place and one wonders, when the Chinese (and the Lonely Planet) decide to put this place on the tourist map. We had no problem to fill two days with plenty of activities, such as visiting temples, pagodas, Shang lake and the downtown district which is separated by an old town set alongside a small canal and the newer shopping district – which the locals call the “walking street”.
Surprisingly, entrance fees to these attractions are as high as anywhere else, so you have to expect to pay 30 to 50RMB for visiting any of these places. However, there are next to no tourists in Changshu and we had all the places for ourselves.
Living in a five star hotel was also a very welcome change. My brother had to pay for everything, since this lifestyle is somewhat beyond my budget. The evening buffet would cost about 450RMB (70 US$). Same goes for the breakfast buffet or any kind of drink I had. But I enjoyed every bit of this splurge, which my brother financed entirely. 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.
After two days in this luxury bubble, it was time to return to my world. It is hard to say what I prefer. I definitely enjoyed the 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 way back to the hostel through 30 degrees wasn’t exactly fun – but somehow I am used to this. After a shower I met a German student who put me right back into the price segment to which I belong. We ate dinner together at a Chinese place for 15RMB (2.2 US$) each – including the drinks.