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krisek Hangzhou - A travel report by Krys
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Hangzhou,  China - flag China -  Zhejiang
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krisek's travel reports

Hangzhou. Supposedly a place with a perfect lake.

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There are over 3 million people living in Hangzhou. The city is famous for its lake, which is considered to be perfect. And although the city has grown massively, the lake definitely gives it a pleasant feel. And makes the city much cooler.

Hangzhou travelogue picture
A large, three million inhabitants city that grew around the shores of the West Lake, had much more appeal than the impersonal and hyper-commercialised Shanghai. It was cleaner, quieter, better organised and even the ladies appeared prettier.

The lake had been receiving a reputation of a perfect one, but this is so exaggerated! There was not much to see around the lake and the islands on it, when I visited, apart from a few moderately attractive temples and residences of former dignitaries. The boatsmen hunting for tourists asked standard prices ranging from ¥80 (€8) to ¥120 for one hour ride on the lake. So if you were a group of four, then it might made sense. Otherwise, the larger state-owned vessels charged ¥45 for the transfer to one of the islands and back. The price also included the alleged fee to the sights of the island, but I have not seen anyone checking any tickets.

However overadvertised Hangzhou was with regard to its sights, the lake definitely had a cooling effect and light breeze was a bliss. So much better than the sticky hot Shanghai. I might have felt a little disappointed with the city when I saw it, but now, from the benefit of a hindsight, I think it was actually quite nice. I wish I had spent more time there, rather than staying almost a week in Shanghai. There were a few temples around, some of which were a fair distance away one from another, so it would have made more sense to stay a couple of days in the area and explore them. Hiking in the mountains (or hills actually) would have also been nice, although I am uncertain about any official trails. At least a couple delicate-looking temples stood on the top of the hills... I bet views of the lake from them were great.

Favourite spots:
Hangzhou travelogue picture
If Hangzhou had a nice historic district with traditional architecture, then that would have been my favourite spot. Still at my planning stage of the China trip, I was hoping that I was going to see a nice, typical, centuries old buildings and temples packed in a nice compact area. That was not the case. The only traditional sino-architecture present in the city were a collection of villas on the lake's islands. They were built for state dignitaries, who decided to retire at the lake there. The villas were great, although there were not that many of them. Still, it was a very pleasant part of the metropolis.

What's really great:
Hangzhou travelogue picture
The islands on the lake offered rather nice views of the city around. Both the new American-inspired skyscrapers and the traditional Chinese temples stood there. The rolling green hills in the background created a nice addition to the picture, almost erasing the conscience that one was still in a large, modern city, replacing it with a feeling that one was somewhere in the mountains. Yet, it was enough to turn one's head in the 'wrong direction' and the forest of the steel-concrete-and-glass sky scrapers loomed on the horizon, erasing the hills, which might have stood behind them.

Walking along the lake or taking a ride in a boat was very pleasant indeed. It was always cooler by the water than between the structures of the city-proper. And that was great.

Hangzhou travelogue picture
Despite the first impression Hangzhou projects upon disembarking at one of its train stations, there are a number of interesting sights that bring one back in time with their traditional architecture dating back to times when the city was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty. However, since the wooden structures burnt so easily, swathes of the city were regularly incinerated. Over 30,000 households were destroyed in 1237.

One of the monuments still standing when I visited were the Liuhe Pagoda, from 1160s, the Lingying Temple (Soul's Retreat), the Jingci Temple, the Baochu Pagoda on the Precious Stone Hill, the Leifeng Pagoda, and the Yue Fei Miao Temple (aka Yue-Wang Temple) - all around the West Lake, apart from the Liuhe Pagoda, which was located on the Yuelun Hill.

In the city, other interesting places were the residence of Hu Xueyan, built in 1872, the Confucius Temple, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral (one of oldest Catholic churches in China) and the Fenghuang Mosque.

Hangzhou travelogue picture
I travelled to Hangzhou from Shanghai for a day trip, and therefore did not stay overnight by the lake. The Blue Mountain Hostel in Shanghai (¥180 double ensuite, ¥140 single ensuite) was a great choice indeed. It was very conveniently located opposite the Luban Road metro station, just a few stops from the Pudong and Shanghai Old Town, and the South Train Station. It was clean and well organised. The rooms were good size and had air conditioning. Bathrooms were fairly well scrubbed, hot water all day long, a selection of toiletries (excl. toilet paper, incl. toothbrush & toothpaste), and clean towels. The common room featured a bar serving all types of beverages and a fair selection of good value meals (¥12-¥25), had a pool table (free), free access to 3 computers connected to the net and free wireless internet, playing cards, a few games, and books. And was packed with true travellers!

Hangzhou travelogue picture
Not in Hangzhou but in Shanghai, the choice of places to go out at night was great, and the choice was difficult. Obviously the places ranged from super expensive lounges, bars and clubs located at or near five-star hotels to funky open-air venues attracting young, bold and beautiful to ordinary if drab local bars catering for less wealthy and developed-in-years men.

Cloud 9 at the 87th floor of the Hyatt hotel in Pudong was famous for its jazz and blues nights attracting the über rich and businesspeople. Not necessarily requiring one to take a second mortgage to order a couple of beers, but definitely requiring appropriate attire.

Soho Club with hyper decor and music could be placed on the world scene with its 0.33ml beer for ¥40. But the staff attitude could not!

Wandering along the pedestrianised Nanjing Road and dodging swarms of sellers and touts was fun only for a few minutes, but, thanks heavens, there was open-air Chez l'Ami cafe right in the middle of things.

Small temple on the top of the mountain
Small temple on the top of the mountain
If strolling up and down the surrounding hill to kill time at the small temples and contemplate views from above, was not one's cup of green tea, then many tea houses and cafes offered seating and hot drinks to snooze and socialise with friends, travel companions and locals, if one was lucky to find someone, who spoke English. Or French, actually! As I did at some point. Some of the best, and most expensive, were located right by the lake, with their tables on the pavement overlooking the giant lilies floating on the surface of the lake.

Another hanging out scenery were obviously the lake and its parks, and bridges. Floating in a boat on the lake and sipping teas or beers was good enough as well.

Hangzhou travelogue picture
Right by the lake, on the ground floor of a large structure was a little pizza place serving a range of both Chinese and western dishes, which were really, really good. It was also very popular with the local scoffing mainly the burgers, chicken wings and pizzas. The restaurant was an excellent value and their beers were delightfully chilled.

By the City Station (Hangzhou Railway Station in the centre), there were a string of cheap local eateries serving regular Sino-fare. What I found remarkable was that although the personnel did not speak much English, they were incredibly keen to have foreigners dining there. Many dishes were displayed on pictures, so it was easy to order. However, their sizes were not provided. I ordered a nice spicy paprika soup, and it came in a 20 litre bowl! I might have eaten about a tenth of it, and I was full. I later found out that almost all soups in China came in this size, as there were meant to be shared.

Other recommendations:
Hangzhou travelogue picture
Hangzhou was connected by direct trains with over twenty large cities, some of which, including Shanghai, with China's High Speed Trains, CRH (China Rail High-speed), an equivalent of France's TGV, Spain's AVE or Germany's ICE. These trains were more expensive than other services, but also much faster, of course. The carriages were modern, air-conditioned, had wide reclining seats, and well stocked bars. From Shanghai to Hangzhou the train was taking just about 1.5 hours.

The city has also a large Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport with direct flights to Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and many Chinese cities.

Published on Thursday December 24th, 2009

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Tue, Dec 29 2009 - 11:03 PM rating by gloriajames

nice report but not as whoomph as the earlier reports i rated. perhaps u missed a couple of other sights hangzhou is famous for.

Fri, Dec 25 2009 - 03:21 AM rating by pesu

Superb report again. For me, water always helps to make a city more enjoyable. 20 l bowls for soup, eh???

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