We took a high speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou (in Chinese the ZH is pronounced as a J, so it’s HANG JOE), a comfortable journey lasting 1hr 40m. Hangzhou is 120 miles inland from Shanghai and is famous for its lake, West Lake, which is supposedly an area of outstanding natural beauty. We were on our way to judge for ourselves just how beautiful it is!
Hangzhou has a small metro system, but it does link the railway station with the centre of town, near the hostel we had booked. So it wasn’t long before we were in the hostel and cooling down. The heat had been picking up for a few days now. We thought that going about 1,500 km north of Hong Kong would be cooler but it was just as hot, if not hotter. Luckily it wasn’t as humid, but it was still sticky hot and we were very wet with sweat after only a short walk from the metro to the hostel.
Our first task was to eat. We walked down one road and found the sister hostel to ours and the restaurant. But hostel restaurants feel more like a punishment for been lazy, they usually serve western food at western prices. We’re not here for that and avoid them most of the time, unless we do actually want western food or we are been lazy. That isn’t very often. We walked back up the street and saw nothing but a Costa Coffee. We then walked about half a mile down a road without seeing a single food place! In China that’s a very rare thing. There’s usually food everywhere! This was the main road between the centre of town and the lake, it was packed with tourists. We walked back up and checked a bit further in the opposite direction. Finally we found a narrow alley of food selling rice, every animal you can name, a huge selection of fish (or other aquatic things). It was very hot, very cramped, unappealing or simply inedible to us. In disbelief that we couldn’t find any street food or restaurants we gave in and ate in McDonald’s. It was air conditioned which we really needed and had food we’d eat. Yes, we felt like we’d failed! Our punishment for this failure came swiftly. About 5m away from us was a woman who kept hocking huge amounts of phlegm out of her throat and spitting it into a food bag. This she did in an incredibly loud manner and continued doing so for over 15 minutes! It was enough to turn my stomach. Well, I think that was our punishment, we later found that one street to the north (where we didn’t look) was known as restaurant street and was filled with fooderies! Argh!
After lunch we went to the Xueyan Hu’s House. This guy was a business man who rose from nothing to great heights, becoming known even to the emperor. With his wealth he built a huge house in Hangzhou. The house is more like a maze, tens of courtyards, many with small ponds, and indoor and outdoor passageways linking different parts of the house. The house is finished to a very high standard and looks impressive. There’s even a large garden and rockery within the grounds. The rockery is large enough the hold a reasonable sized cave which is about 20m long and high enough to walk through without fear of hitting your head. All of this is contained within the perimeter walls, high enough that from the street you’d never know what’s on the other side.
Then we went up the bell tower. From here on the third floor we could look down into a 3 lane motorway, a small section of the one town and some very green hills. The nice looking bit was in the sun and very hot so we stood in the shade which annoyingly faced the motorway. The heat was getting to us and Annemarie felt very tired, so we went back to the hostel and Annemarie spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping. That evening we ate in a Thai restaurant next to the hostel. Very nice but a bit pricey…
The following morning we had two tasks. The first was to buy bus tickets for the next day to Tunxi and the second was to visit the West Lake, which Hangzhou is so famous for. The first task seemed easy, bus tickets could be purchased at the China Post Office which is just up the road from the hostel. We decided to post a few items to New Zealand while we were in there. We were in the post office about 45 minutes!
We were going to cycle around the lake but in the end we decided to just walk around it. We weren’t sure how big the lake was. After all, everything we read described the lake as the centre of Hangzhou, but it was easily more than a mile from the hostel to the lake and took us about 25 minutes at a reasonable pace to get there. From the shore it looked pretty large and I estimated maybe as long as 6 hours to get round it. In the full heat of the midday sun we set off. The haze was bad and we could only just make out the opposite side of the lake. The humidity was also incredibly high and we were very sweaty after just 5 minutes.
10 minutes in to our walk we reached a group of restaurants and decided to stop for an early lunch. We didn’t know how long the walk would be or how much food there was on the other side of the lake so this seemed like a good idea. We chose Starbucks. Our usual lunch of noodles and a bottle of water costs 75p each, plus 25p for water. In Starbucks we paid £11.50 for a sandwich and a coffee each. Nice though!
It was 12:30pm before we finally set off properly on the walk around the lake. The first section of path was very busy, wide enough to allow 8 people to walk side by side, and we were still weaving our way through the crowds. There were a few tour groups milling around to, just to make it busier and louder. A few electric buggies (the ones with something like 4 rows of 4 seats to transport tour groups around) came zooming down the path. A bit dangerous we thought… Up here were a few boats which take people to other key points on the lake.
We rounded the top corner and started heading down the west side of the lake. It was nice down here, nothing spectacular, but it was green and pleasant enough. But the heat and humidity was making this walk far less pleasant than it should have been. We were soaked, my arms and legs were literally sweat covered and wet and our clothing was getting damp. And this was mostly in the shade!
We continued on. The heat, humidity and haze was taking away most of the enjoyment of this walk but it was still OK. In autumn this would be really nice. Around us we could just make out the hills in the distance though the haze and on the other side was the city, also just visible through the haze.
We reached the Su Causeway, a long man-made causeway running for much of the length of the west side of the lake. To think it’s man-made is pretty impressive. It’s at least 25m wide and a few miles long! Walking down here was nice enough (ignoring the heat) but every few minutes an electric buggy would drive up and nearly kill a few pedestrians. They are driven by lunatics who will drive straight into a crowded footpath and expect everyone to move. I did attempt to see if they would stop, or at least slow down if I stayed in the path. Nope! I had a few near misses! This is ridiculous, you just can’t drive these things in a pedestrian zone in that manner.
Rounding the bottom of the lake the path got narrow, down to about 4 people wide. The buggies still drove on the path though. And they still drove with a total disregard to other people! A couple of times I found myself struggling to get out of the way in time because of all the other people also on the footpath and trying to get to the side. The buggies narrowly missed me each time. A cyclist was less lucky. The buggy hit him when there wasn’t enough room for both the bike and the buggy on the path. Driving on the footpath is stupid enough, but these drivers are idiots with no regard for other users of the footpath. They don’t slow down or take actions to avoid people. They will run you over if you stay on the path (deliberately or as accidentally).
We saw the another pagoda but we were so hot and sweaty that we gave this a miss.
From here it wasn’t too long before we were back at the place we started our walk. The walk had been OK but nothing amazing. The lake looked nice and there was plenty of trees and bushes and bridges and pagodas and we were surrounded by the mountains on most sides (although almost invisible from the smog). In autumn this would be far better, in mid June it was a hot and sticky walk.
We walked 7.8 miles, shorter than expected, in 3h 40m. Average walking speed of 2.7mph isn’t bad considering the heat.
All our photos from Hangzhou can be viewed here.