After experiencing a chilling Beijing winter, we were looking forward to a southern and warmer side of China. While planning our trip to China we made the decision to visit Hangzhou after reading how it has been for centuries a culturally cherished spot by China’s own poets and scholars . We read that there is a high concentration of tourists in Hangzhou all year round. What guide books will not tell you is that the “tourism” refers mostly to Chinese citizens as tourists and not foreign tourists. Either way it wouldn’t have mattered to us, but for your information you will not be running into very many “Westerners” if that was your intent for travel.
(I really must stress how easy it is to travel from city to city in China. It’s much easier than anything I’ve ever experienced in the USA. To get from Beijing to Hangzhou by train (equivalent of a trip from Chicago to New Orleans) in under 6 hours is absolutely amazing.)
We arrived in Hangzhou by train in the early afternoon. Just as we expected the weather was great! It was time for vacationing in Hangzhou’s West Lake area.
To our surprise there was even less English speakers in Hangzhou than in Beijing. It wasn’t a huge deal, it just took a bit to adjust. Even still, I liked Hangzhou right away. The first thing I noticed aside from the weather was how clear the air was. Although, Hangzhou experiences smog we wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Our hotel room was tiny, but we had water, heat, and a bedbug free bed. Our hotel did allow smoking in the room, so the mattress smell was annoying. (The grandest hotels do not allow smoking. If cigarette smoke is a hazard to you, you may want to pay a little more to ensure that you don’t have to deal with it in your living quarters.)
My wife loves to play it by the book. We thought we knew what we wanted in Hangzhou, but little did we know our real culture shock would come in Hangzhou and not Beijing. Most of our planning went by the wayside when guidebooks proved to be unreliable. The rate of growth and change in Hangzhou is spectacular and fast-paced. Something that was said to be there a year prior might not be there present day. Fortunate for us, we are walkers and we got lucky with a hotel deal in an area just a 7-minute walk east of West Lake. We were also very close to markets and restaurants.
We would end up having a great time… in routine. I found a breakfast place that I loved to go to each morning called “Xie Xie” just east of West Lake. It is a modern style of cafe. Their menu was a perfect combination of traditional Chinese and Western style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The service was great! I dislike most cafes, but Xie Xie was my place. It was around the new year when we found Xie Xie and they had a Christmas playlist on repeat…the same playlist. My wife hated that part of it, but I didn’t mind it. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is embedded in my long-term memory.
We did a full walk around West Lake. It took us about 4 hours to walk it excluding our stop at a couple of places in between. (Bikes are available for rent. If you don’t like walking then bike it! It would be just as beautiful.) A great workout. Very romantic. We had a lot of “fans”. We took a lot of pictures with the Chinese along the way. I must be on so many people’s Chinese “face” pages. (I wonder what the captions are?) The attention a foreigner will receive shouldn’t feel so strange. It’s mostly cool, and people are mostly just excited to see you. It’s very rare for this attention to turn dangerous. One thing is for sure, the sights along the lake are quite beautiful and unique. I could’ve stayed around that lake for a good while.
One of our notable stops just north-west of the lake was the China Tea Museum. This museum has a nice setup and one can learn a lot about tea culture essential to Chinese culture and as an export. The museum was very well manicured and its front law is tea plantation. Very beautiful with a nice rocky hill at its backdrop. There was a restaurant nearby (which I forget the name) that we wanted to eat at, but it was packed. The wait time to be seated was over an hour. Lines out the door some 200 feet (60m). Next time.
One of my favorites and a Hangzhou gem for relaxation is the Hanyan Coffee House located just east of West Lake. The best rose tea in town. I even got the chance to try a fruit salad. Nice delicious fruit spread… with mayonnaise sauce! “Ewwwww…” I couldn’t do it. I got weird looks from Hanyan staff when I asked for the fruit without the mayonnaise, but the sweet and sour is just not in my tastebuds. Sorry Hangzhou! We went to Hanyan Coffee House every night before trekking back to the hotel for sleepies. A beautiful and unique place to chill.
Other notable restaurants for Hangzhou are the “Fat Duck” which is located a 15 minute cab ride north of West Lake, and “Dong Yi Shun” located on the very popular Goayin Street. Dong Yi Shun features a blend of Middle Eastern and Western Chinese dishes that are no less than yummy. If in town give these restaurants a chance! You won’t be sorry.
There was so much more that we wanted to do in Hangzhou, but fortunate for us we found a routine that we liked as far as eating was concerned. We we enjoy the places we weren’t able to fit in on the next trip.
To be continued…