The main attraction in Hangzhou is West Lake. At almost 6 kilometres square and surrounded by cultivated gardens and buildings and it has inspired Chinese poets for centuries. Revered as a paradise by many, it is a UNESCO world heritage site and its carefully cultivated and maintained beauty is still evident today, there isn’t even a blade of grass out of place. There are lots of sections and small little islands with poetic names like ‘Three pools mirroring the moon.’
It is renowned as a place of tranquility and meditation, according to all the guidebooks. But they mustn’t have had to deal with the crowds of chattering people struggling to take picture after picture and the miles and miles of meandering pathways it is easy to get lost in if you don’t speak the language well enough.
The hostel I stayed in was really friendly, they came and found me when I got lost, they had good cheap beer and people just randomly lay about playing guitars. Not many foreigners though, which meant that there were few people to have a proper conversation with (which turned out to be a relief after Shanghai, where it seemed like everyone I met spoke English). I was in a room with five guys so there was a lot of snoring going on. When I woke up one Chinese-Canadian medical student was astounded I had slept at all, he had spent the whole night awake listening to them because he suspected one had sleep apnoea and was worried something would happen to him. He was off camping though so I got up, had breakfast and decided to go to see the renowned West Lake. I promptly turned in the exact opposite direction to west Lake and ended up climbing a large hill by accident.
But I could see the lake from the top so I eventually made it there. It was lashing rain, which was great, because everybody I met warned me that it would be too hot and humid to stand. So I sat in a starbucks and looked out at the lake. The gold water buffalo, according to legend, lives in the lake and fills it up if the water level ever falls. There’s a legend that locals, trying to impress the emperor with their buffalo, drained the lake on purpose. The buffalo showed up, was furious, filled the lake and drowned everybody. He hasn’t been seen since.
Once the rain cleared up I spent most of the day wandering around West Lake. It’s huge. You can rent a bike (which I didn’t think to do) or island hop on little boats (the cost of the boats add up after awhile though). You can also catch a lift on little golf buggys that drive around. There’s loads to see but there isn’t much to eat so I recommend you bring snacks if you’re going.
I recommend going to the Impressions of West Lake show. It’s a bit expensive but it’s really cool. It’s a whole dance, play, musical, and light show combined, preformed at night on the water. The performers are either in boats or on a little platform just below the water and while I couldn’t follow the details of the plot beyond “They fall in love, she’s kidnapped on their wedding night, he rescues her, the end” it’s still a really cool show.
The other attractions in Hangzhou include the tea museum, (i didn’t have time to make it out there but longjing tea, the local brew, is very famous and really good), the Chinese medicine museum (which was supposedly closed for rennovations, but I still had a wander round. No English signage so I didn’t know what I was looking at, but the huge old-style apothecary attached was pretty cool) and the silk museum.
The food was also excellent, I didn’t have one bad meal in Hangzhou. However, beware of insects. I wore loads of insect repellant the whole time I was travelling yet I still managed to get 33 insect bites on one leg (I lost count of the rest) while in Hangzhou. It was difficult to find a pharmacy that stocked anything useful or recognisable so eventually I just bought toothpaste to soothe the sting and I attracted quite a large audience as I was putting this on the bites in the bathroom of the silk museum.