This week’s guest post is from my friend Wendy, a Kenyan currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She takes us on a tour to Hangzhou China, you can read her previous contribution here
“Shanghai is good for culture, but if you really want tourist sights, you should go to Hangzhou. It’s about an hour east by train.”
This was the advice a friend gave as I was planning my trip to China. I wanted tourist sights, and arts and culture, and thankfully for this trip I would be able to do both. Today, I’ll share a little about my experience in Hangzhou.
Population density-wise Hangzhou is a fairly small city; it has population of about 8 million in over 16,000 sq. km. Compared to Shanghai’s 24 million in less than half of Hangzhou’s area, it made sense for me as a China newbie to start small and manageable my forays into China somewhere manageable.
I knew close to nothing about Hangzhou, but I’d repeatedly heard that I needed to see West Lake.
West Lake (西湖, Xī Hú) seems to be at the center of life in Hangzhou. Tourists and locals alike, who’d had braved the single-digit Celsius winter temperatures to enjoy the beauty, filled the park around the lake. Somehow, perhaps because of the number of people out, it didn’t feel cold.
West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage site and according to Wiki, “has influenced poets and painters throughout China’s history for its natural beauty and historic relics.” The entry lists its significance through China’s long history, including modern day. When you are in the park, it’s hard not to see this significance. Describing West Lake as beautiful is an understatement.
While in the park I made a friend – a university student who’d come to Hangzhou for a job-interview. Together we explored different parts of the park. You can rent bikes to go around but most people seemed to be walking, and that’s what we chose to do.
For about US$4, you can take a boat ride to the center of the lake and back. My new friend and I joined a group of four as they were about to get into a boat. It was really beautiful and serene and coincidentally just the perfect time to capture the sunset.
A site within the lake is the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. These are not actual pools of water but, three guard-shaped stupas about two meters high that are at the center of the lake. The best time to see this is after dusk when candles are lit in the stupas and seemingly reflecting the moon as little lights, hence the name. This site is featured on the back of the one yuan bank note.
Chinese poets and painters aside, put me anywhere with open spaces, lots of greenery, water, fresh air, and also still see city sky lines including a convenient 20 minute bus ride to and from town and I’m in heaven.
The next day, my hostess and I went up to Hupao spring, famed as having the third best water in China. Legend has it that a monk, Xingkong, lived in a monastery on Daci hill. He was planning to leave his monastery for good because of lack of water. Before his intended departure, Xingkong had a dream in which he was told that two tigers would bring him a fountain at the mountain. And the very next day, two tigers dug a hole from which the spring sprung. And this is the site of present day Dreaming of the Tiger Spring.
The spring water is potable and there were many people who’d queued near the entrance to fill their bottles and jugs. Hangzhou’s tea industry has flourished around tea that is made using the spring water.
My impression of Hangzhou can be summed in one word is “beautiful.” From West Lake to Hupao and even just the city streets, I was struck by how beautiful and green the city managed to be. I’d definitely recommend a trip to Hangzhou in the spring or summer when everything is in bloom especially around West Lake.
Helpful info: It’s easier and cheaper to book places to stay via local Chinese websites although Agoda and booking.com can also be useful. China has a hostel network geared toward domestic tourism targeting especially the youth so you will get far better deals than international websites. I stayed at the Lotus Hostel () which has private and dorm style (female-only and mixed) rooms. It was quite the cute and hipster-y set up and really clean and well organized.
Getting there: Hangzhou is a 45-minute, 12-dollar train ride from Shanghai Hongqiao Station. There are two stations, Hangzhou and Hangzhou East, and it costs about $1 more to go into Hangzhou East. I’d recommend taking metered taxis, and at the Hangzhou East station, there’s a taxi station where you wait in line. Steer clear of any taxi drivers approaching you with deals (spoiler alert, it’s not). Avoid them if they refuse to use their meter. You can travel by air too the airport is about 30 km from the downtown area. Getting around the city is easy you have the option of buses (<$1 per ride), taxis, biking and walking.
An important thing to note is that a lot of websites don’t work well or at all in China, that includes cellphone apps as well, so my Google and Apple maps were absolutely useless. Baidu, China’s Google equivalent is readily available but only useful if you can read Chinese. Bring a paper map, especially for taxis and asking for directions.
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