By Elizabeth McKie
After spending just about five weeks in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, it was about time to head out and get a change of scenery. My Chinese roommate had told me about Hangzhou, describing it as China’s most beautiful city. An ancient Chinese proverb corroborates, saying, “Heaven Above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below”, essentially calling the pair of cities “Heaven on Earth”. Only an hour and a half by train outside Shanghai, Hangzhou makes for a perfect weekend trip.
What to Do:
The West Lake is a must see. Take a walk around the lake at night as well as in the daytime. We made it just in time to watch the sunset over the West Lake and take in the fresh air. Heaven on Earth indeed. For RMB 80 per hour, rent a motorized boat and float around the placid water for an hour or two. There are a number of stands located along the Nanshan Lu side of the lake that sell for the same rates, so take your pick. Bicycles are also another popular mode of transportation through the city, and with the Bicycle Share- System, it is easier than ever. Just know that there is a steep deposit (RMB 600), but it will be returned to you once the bicycles are dropped off.
For those looking for some exercise and great views, take a hike across the mountains bordering the West Lake. CNN Travel’s article on Hangzhou’s best hiking trails is a great guide – we decided to combine all four of the shorter hikes together for one epic trek and slightly more, but that may not be the best idea for everyone. We began at Zhejiang University, but we may or may not have missed the turn off that the article suggests and continued our hike to the very end of the trail. My hiking buddy so eloquently pointed out, “Don’t worry – we are definitely still in the Zhejiang Province.” After eight hours and over 25 km of hiking, I couldn’t be sure exactly. My recommendation: follow CNN’s directions better than we did!
But for adventurous hiking enthusiasts, it was well worth the pain burning through our calf muscles at the moment. During our hike, we ran across a handful of Buddhists temples, a few tea fields, stunning views of the West Lake and beyond, three wild pigs that we had the good sense to run from and a mild rain storm that was definitely welcome on a 95°F (35°C) degree day. Make sure you stock your pack with water and snacks. At some of the temples there are people selling bottles of water for RMB 2 so take advantage of that if you feel like you may run out.
If souvenir shopping is on your list of things to do, follow the crowds of Chinese and foreigners alike to the Hefang Pedestrian Lu, just a short walk down Nanshan Lu, which borders the West Lake. Stalls and shops full of silks, a commodity Hangzhou is famous for, bags of tea, pearls, jewelry of all kinds, prints of the West Lake, plates, tea pots, flutes and more line the street. Watch out for men swinging wooden large hammers; they will be singing along as they pound out some sort of peanut candy, which is definitely worth a taste!
A quick trip filled with great food, friends and views, we will definitely be back – if only to go to Grandma’s (外婆家), a famous restaurant chain in Hangzhou serving up local specialties. Make reservations if you don’t have time to wait an hour for a table. If you don’t speak Chinese, your hotel/ hostel can help you with this. Order the fragrant dragon well tea chicken (longjing chaxiang ji 龙井茶香鸡) , a favorite of all who dine here.
Grandma’s 外婆家. 3 Hubin Lu, near the corner of Nanshan Lu and Jiefang Lu. 3 号湖滨路， 离南山路和解放路 近
Where to Stay:
We consulted our guidebook for inexpensive, yet comfortable hostels to stay at, and, of course, both of those were completely booked for the next three weeks. One good sign was that Hangzhou was definitely the place to be this summer. So we blindly Googled hostels in the area and settled on the Inlake International Youth Hostel. At RMB 80 a night, this place seemed just right for American students on a budget. And to our surprise, our hostel sat about 20 feet from the West Lake, smelled of fresh flowers and was just as clean as any hotel I had stayed in. Definitely a win. Friendly staff, comfortable beds, and a private bathroom were simply bonuses to my first hostel experience.
Inlake International Youth Hostel. Phone Number: 0571 8682 6700. 5 Lvyang Lu, near Nanshan Lu, near the Chinese Academy of Art. 绿杨 路 5 号 离 南山路 近， 离 中国美术学院
Take the train from Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai, just off metro lines 2 and 10, to Hangzhou Railway Station, which is only about fifteen minutes from the West Lake. Do not go to the Hangzhou South Railway Station; it is about an hour from the West Lake and train ticket prices are about the same.
Good things to know:
- You can purchase train tickets online now from CTrip.
- Bring your passport (or a clear copy of it) to purchase train tickets at the station.
- The D train is about half the price of the G train and only take about 20 minutes longer to Hangzhou.
- Hangzhou is great for cycling – here’s how to lug your bike from Shanghai via train.
- For train schedules in basic Chinese (or if you have a handy online translator), try Huochepiao.com – we’ve set up the link so it should take you directly to the schedule for the Shanghai à Hangzhou train.
- Give yourself at least 30-40 minutes at the train station to get off the metro, make it through the short security line, locate your gate number (which is both on your ticket and on the departures board) and grab your free waters that they pass out around the station. Be aware that you will begin to board about 10 minutes before your listed departure and there will be a large crowd, so be patient.
Taxi is the easiest way to get around if walking isn’t an option. (Hangzhou’s tourist area is small enough that most places are within walking distance.) We hailed a taxi outside the Hangzhou train station, and within 15 minutes arrived at our hostel. Give your cab driver the closest intersection or a large landmark. We told our driver to bring us to the China Academy of Art (Zhongguo Meishu Xueyuan – 中国美术学院). If your Chinese is not great, it helps to have the location written down.