I had just barely settled into my study abroad life at Shanghai when my new friend invited me on a weekend trip to Hangzhou in early March. This was my first out-of-town trip, and I was excited to explore another city while learning the ins and outs of traveling in China.
The six of us in the group were pretty much all China traveling newbies, and we thought we would just figure things out as we went. So, with minimal planning (And I mean… really minimal…), we showed up at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station on Saturday morning and bought gaotie (high-speed) tickets to Hangzhou at the window. Like everywhere in China, the lines at the train station were massive, so we had to wait a while before we could reach the front of the line. Luckily, Hangzhou is not that far away – about 1.5 hours away by train, and there are plenty of trains departing throughout the day, so we weren’t too worried about not being to get there. However, because we did not buy tickets ahead of time, and we were a fairly large group (6 people), we didn’t get seats next to each other, or even in the same car. I think we were split between two cars, so at least we all had some company.
We finally got an 11:40 high-speed train to Hangzhou.
We had booked an Airbnb for the night (literally the only planning we did for this trip), and we decided to get there via metro. I was very amused by the fact that the Hangzhou metro looks almost exactly like the Shanghai one haha. I guess it amused me because I find most American cities to be very different? In any case, this made it a lot easier for me to navigate, not that metros are hard to take in general or anything, but I didn’t grow up in a city so they still confuse me sometimes 🙂
Hangzhou, the capital of the Zhejiang Province, is known for its most popular tourist destination – the West Lake, or 西湖 in Chinese. Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the most beautiful and magnificent in the world”, and there’s even a Chinese saying that goes something like: “Up, there is heaven; down, there is Suzhou and Hangzhou”.
So, I imagined Hangzhou to be some lush green wonderland, and was kind of bewildered when I stepped out of the metro and into a very bustling city center.
We headed to our Airbnb, which was conveniently located next to some historic/cultural streets, which we decided to explore the next day. After dropping off our stuff, we decided to get lunch at this questionable noodle shop located a block away from our Airbnb.
The general consensus was that the food tasted okay, but the hygiene standards of the chef are still in question. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say, he had really gnarly fingernails. Anyways, nobody got sick, and we decided that we should eat at a nicer restaurant for dinner 🙂
After lunch, we decided to check out West Lake. We got there via taxi, which is honestly the easiest way to get around in China if there is someone in your party who can speak Chinese – taxi rides are cheap! The lake was beautiful, and probably would have been even more so if the weather was nicer and the skies were clear.
There are a number of small gondolas that you can take a ride on; we decided against it because they only took customers in 1 hour increments and it was cold and getting dark, and we didn’t want to sit on a boat and freeze for 1 hour.
The lakeside offers some truly beautiful views of the water, and surrounding trees, hills, and pagodas. I heard it’s even more beautiful in April, when the flowers are in bloom. So maybe we should have waited one more month to visit????
Remember how I said we wanted to eat somewhere nicer for dinner? We chose a restaurant called 新白鹿 (xinbailu, or translated into English, “New White Deer”). I decided to test out my new Baidu Translate app’s menu translation functionality. Apparently Chinese does not translate well into English because this is what came up:
That being said, we ordered some fish and other things off the menu and we had a pretty nice meal!
We decided to go back to Shanghai the next afternoon, so we still had Sunday morning too enjoy in Hangzhou. Unfortunately, Sunday was extremely polluted, to the point where I actually felt uncomfortable walking around outside and started to feel a little headache-y. So we strolled through the museums that were in the little cultural streets next to our Airbnb. Conveniently, there are several museums right in this neighborhood, and we went to 3 – the Umbrella Museum, the Fan Museum, and the Knife and Scissors Museum. If you’re into history, these streets are a great place to check out. It’s also located on the Grand Canal, so if the air was clearer, we could have walked outside alongside river and streets lined with little cafes and teashops.
After we ate lunch, we headed back to the train station to head back to Shanghai. After buying our tickets, however, we realized that our tickets were 无座, or standing tickets. In other words, we didn’t have seats!! 😦 Fortunately, the ride is only 1.5 hours, so it wasn’t too bad. But it would have sucked to buy standing tickets for a longer trip! The worst part is that standing tickets are the same price as 2nd class seats, and the cashier at the train station didn’t even tell us we were getting standing tickets when we bought them! 😦
So, I learned some things about traveling in China on this trip, and here is what I learned:
- If possible, buy train tickets ahead of time or online so that your seats are guaranteed. Don’t end up with standing tickets like us!
- If the pollution is really bad, just stay indoors. Don’t overexert yourself because you will feel the effects.
- Taxi is a convenient and cheap way to travel within cities, especially if you share a ride with friends. But there were a few times on this trip where we could not find a taxi for the life of us. Also, taxi drivers don’t speak English! So the metro is an option too.
- Airbnb is not as popular in China, but there are a few hosts, so it’s worth checking out. Because mostly foreigners use Airbnb, most hosts can speak English since they are trying to attract that sort of crowd.