For the May Day holiday, it seems like most of the city dwellers in Shanghai take to the country side. This year, it was the perfect spring weekend to get some fresh air, and we decided to go with the crowd to Hangzhou. The five of us took the early train Friday morning, stayed two nights, and headed home late Sunday night. The weekend was perfect despite the rain on Saturday and the hordes of Chinese tourists.
We spent our three days doing three completely different things, and here are the highlights in roughly chronological order.
Friday : West Lake
- 9:14am Train #D5689 arrives at Hangzhou Train Staion from Shanghai (Train: 53rmb)
- Check in to the Hangzhou Tower Hotel (Hotel: 500rmb/night)
- Morning coffee at *buck’s across the street
- Lunch at a place on the way…Nik said “We’re allowed one unremarkable meal, right?” (Lunch: 25rmb)
- Walk to West Lake to find it completely packed with tourists, and very few are foreigners. This was amusing because that meant everyone stared at us even more than normal, and we certainly heard several refer to us as “laowai” (the casual Chinese word for “foreigner”) as we passed. (West Lake: Free)
- Afternoon coffee at *buck’s on the lake
- Took the ferry where we were the only ones excited about sitting in the back open area, which invited even more stares and a few photo opportunities. Meaning that the Chinese tourists were taking photos of us, the crazy laowai that were sitting in the sun. (West Lake Ferry: 45rmb for the day)
- Circled the island which was a little less crowded than the main path
- Took the ferry back to the perimeter
- Drinks at the tea house
- Visited the Leifeng Pagoda where my camera battery died on the 4th of 5 levels. (Admission: 40rmb)
- Walked across the Su Causeway at dusk where a crazy man driving a handicapped motor-tricycle with three passengers flew by. Then we saw him 100meters down the road and his bike was on fire. Everyone was okay, and we’re not sure what exactly happened, but it did cause quite the commotion. Wish I had my camera.
- Dinner at Louwailou Restaurant where Dominic, who acted as our translator for the weekend (Thank you Dominic!!!!), patiently waited near the hostess stand for almost an hour as she called out the numbers auction-style. Everything we ordered was amazing, especially the Beggar’s Chicken. We were not shy and ordered several dishes and drinks, so we were extremely impressed when our bill came out to be 500rmb. (Dinner: 100rmb/person)
- Walk back along the lake to the hotel at night. Beautiful.
- Sleeping by 10pm
Saturday : Tea Fields
- 9:30am meet in the lobby
- Morning coffee at *buck’s across the street
- We were an indecisive group and took a good hour to decide what to do for the day. Tea fields? Wet Lands? Temple? Bicycles? Taxi? Grandma’s for lunch? Dumplings? and what about tomorrow? Mogan Mountain? Driver? Bicycles? Wet Lands?
- We finally decided on Grandma’s Kitchen for lunch, where we would decide the rest while we ate. The lesson here is that it is always better to make decisions when everyone is full. The food was delicious, and we were able to avoid the crowds by arriving at 10:30am. By the time we left there was at least an hour wait. (Lunch: 35rmb/person)
- Taxi to Lingyen Temple. When we arrived, the temple was as packed with tourists as West Lake, so Nik and I opted to go directly to the tea fields hoping that people would at least be more spread out. (Temple admission: 35rmb)
- When we told the taxi driver to take us to the tea fields, he was a bit confused. We tried to talk our way around it, and thought that he was telling us he couldn’t take us, so we started to walk away. As we did, he made hand motions telling us to “Get in, get in, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” We got in. It turns out that there are dozens of mountains/hillsides covered with tea fields, so no wonder he was confused. We drove a little ways in and had him stop at a place that looked interesting that turned out to be the Dragon Well Temple. (Tea fields: Free)
- After wandering through a few smaller fields, we found a stone path that led up the hill and followed it. Then it started to rain. We found shelter in a small pavilion and were joined by a Chinese extended family of aunts, uncles, parents and grown children. The older family members were very curious to talk to us, so they had one of the young men ask us a few questions. After the introductions, we all settled down to watch the rain and the elder uncle pulled out a harmonica. I have never been so close to a talented harmonica player, and watching his mouth move on the inhales and exhales to create a complicated rhythm was impressive. Nik and I lingered for a couple songs, and then said our goodbyes and headed out in the rain, up the hillside.
- A little while later, it started to rain even more so we found shelter under another pavilion. This time, we shared it with a younger Chinese family with two young kids that were playing “JiÇŽndÄoÂ BÃ¹ ShÃtou” otherwise known as “Rock Paper Scissors”. The winner of each game would step forward a tile, making it a race to the oposite end of the pavilion and a fierce competition. The two were so adorable and would jump up and down each time they won. They never made it to the finish line because their parents decided it was time to go.
- The guys called so we met them at the bottom of the hill, and each was sporting a new umbrella. Dominic had red plaid. Mike had blue plaid. Andy had yellow wheat grass that was already broken.
- We searched for food and protection from the elements, and found it in a little attic of a fairly large restaurant. Dominic did the wheeling and dealing for us, and said we were lucky to get the table because you normally have to have a reservation. We’re not sure how that works because the tables were almost completely empty, but the food was good, the tea was extremely fresh (as in picked this morning) and our seats were dry and warm. We were happy. (Dinner: 30rmb/person)
- Taxi back to West Lake for another moonlight walk. Unlike Friday night’s perfectly warm and comfortable weather, Saturday’s was slightly chilly and raining. Nik and I purchased a new green umbrella (to round out the color spectrum) and we sauntered along the path watching the reflections on the water and the steam rising from the landscape lighting.
- The walk was longer than we expected so we found an ice cream shop and another lakeside *bucks for dessert, and loaded into a taxi to go back to the hotel.
- Sleeping by 11:00pm.
Sunday : Bike Wandering
- 9:30am check out of the hotel and store our bags with the concierge
- Once again, we were indecisive and hungry. Breakfast? Rent bikes? Dumplings? Grandma’s? Wet lands? Omelets?
- Nik found a street on the map that looked to have several restaurants, so we started walking in that direction. Along the way we found dumplings, coffee and pastries. Everyone was satisfied and we made the decision to rent bikes.
- Taxi to bike rental station. Several cities in China have started “free bike” programs, and Hangzhou is one of them. To take advantage of this, we had to go to the main bike station and purchase a swipe card for 300rmb. 200rmb of this is a deposit on the bike, and 100rmb is credit used towards your rental fees. The first hour you have the bike, it’s free. The second hour is 2rmb, the third is 3rmb, the fourth is 4rmb, and so on. We ended up using the bikes for five hours, so each of us was charged 14rmb for the day. Not bad! (Bike deposit: 300rmb)
- Once on the bikes, we decided to take a “flock of geese” approach. Each person would lead for five minutes, then switch. Basically, we got on our bikes and went. No destination. No idea where we would end up. It worked out perfectly.
- Hangzhou Botanical Gardens. We didn’t mean to go there, but were happy that we did. They do allow bicycles in the gardens, which is really just a big park with a few species labels on some plants. There were very few people, so we were able to ride at our leisure, and we did for about two or three hours. (Garden Admission: 10rmb)
- More random riding and the vague idea of having lunch somewhere scenic led us to a little restaurant on the east side of West Lake. We had one last amazing meal sitting by the water watching rowers and kayakers practice surrounded by fields of tea. Yep, it’s official. Hangzhou is worth it. Even on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. (Lunch: 25rmb)
- After a long lunch we made our way back to the bike rental to retrieve our deposits. (Bike Deposit: -286rmb)
- Picked up our bags from the hotel, and took a taxi to the train station.
- 7:47pm Train #5688 departs Hangzhou Train Station headed to Shanghai (Train: 63rmb)
If we had to do it again, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. None of us did very much research beyond knowing the most famous dishes and printing out the Wikitravel Hangzhou Guide before we arrived, and it worked out.
When we go again, I will try to find a hotel on the western side of West Lake closer to the mountains/hills that has a good breakfast. I will also plan to rent a bike for the entire visit, and might even look into camping.
Total trip cost: 977rmb/person (about $150 USD) + taxi fares and snacks
All five of us were taking photos along the way, and I certainly took the least. So if you want to see better photos including amazing night shots, you can visit Nik, Mike and Andy’s blogs. They probably won’t have photos posted for a few days, but I’m sure they will soon.