Posted by: Brian | May 22, 2009

Hanging in Hangzhou

In the middle of my recent trip to Shanghai, we took a one-day, one-night trip to Hangzhou, a city perhaps 200 km outside of Shanghai that is famed for its natural beauty. I can’t recall the exact words, but there is an old Chinese saying that goes something along the lines of, “above is heaven, and below are Hangzhou and Suzhou.”

That saying was a bit of an exaggeration. Hangzhou is nice, but by no means does it qualify as “heaven on earth” in my book. While there, we had some fairly unpredictable weather. It kept switching from overcast and chilly to hot, sunny, and humid. Without fail, I brought the wrong gear each time we went out for a while – sunglasses during the poor weather, and a hoodie when it was hot. I’m just that good.

The most famous area of Hangzhou is West Lake, a nice but slightly over-rated park centered on – you guessed it – a lake. Believe it or not, the entrance of the park is the nicest area, with neatly landscaped areas and cobblestone paths. When I went, some Chinese pop singer was shooting a music video there (nothing too exciting, she was mostly just standing there and lip-syncing something).

The market is rather reminiscent of the one I’ve visited in Dali, with pedestrian-only streets, new buildings constructed to look old, and shops jam-packed with various knick-knacks. Most sell the same generic souvenirs you can find anywhere in China, but a few have special products. I picked up some of the local green tea, called longjing (dragon well). 100 grams, 100 kuai. Tasty stuff.

Beggars are a little more aggressive here than in Kunming. While purchasing a coke, I had one come up to me and start jingling his cup, a clear request for my change. None of that, Mr. Beggar! You’ve got more money in your cup than I do in my pocket, thanks very much.

My friend and I didn’t actually end up doing all that much while in Hangzhou – it was more a period of recuperation from the craziness that is Shanghai than a destination in and of itself. Like many medium-size cities in China, Hangzhou is torn between maintaining its rich cultural and historical identity, and taking on the “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” attitude that larger cities in China have adopted. Was it a fun trip? Yes, although I must admit that my favorite part of going was finding out that our hostel actually had speedy internet. It was more luxurious for me than any amount of hot showers or air conditioning could possibly be.

Getting into Hangzhou is quite easy, with a high-speed train departing from Shanghai three or four times per day for just 54 yuan (about $8.00). At a top speed of about 170 kph, it took just one hour and twenty minutes to reach the city.

I wouldn’t personally stay here for long, but a short trip of one or two days is a great way to spend some time in the region outside of Shanghai.



  1. Brian, thanks for some great posts! Your one about ‘breaking point’ brought back a lot of memories of Africa. I had a couple of breaking points there. I think what you are experiencing is common with any third world culture. Write down as many memories as possible, because with time they will fade in the distance.

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