A Chinese friend once asked why when foreigners come to China, they would always and most often only wanted to see the Great Wall in Beijing. My response and explanation was rather simple – because when you’re outside China, you’re only aware of The Great Wall because it’s dubbed as one among the Seven Wonders of the World. Inside China however, critics place Hangzhou’s West Lake in the number one slot for tourist destinations.
Our decision to visit Hangzhou (as opposed to visiting Beijing) has been a rewarding experience. Of course, there were a lot of things that we may have missed in Beijing (the Great Wall, the Great Pandas, et. al.) however, the beauty of Hangzhou, the West Lake and the so many sites around it are more than enough to compensate for what the China’s capital may have in store for us.
Due to the fact that railway tickets are usually being released to the public as early as ten days prior to the actual departure and the fact that May 1 is one of the major holidays in China, the tickets were almost depleted when we went to buy our tickets at Shanghai railway stations a the weekend before the Labor Day. Fortunately though, the supposedly smiling but already frowning English speaking ticketing staff has managed to find us seated tickets bound for Hangzhou at 3:00 in the afternoon of May 1.
Since our train tickets were issued in Shanghai, it only follows that we should board the trains in Shanghai. So Wednesday afternoon, I went to buy our Shanghai-bound tickets from the Kunshan Railway Station. I managed to secure us tickets scheduled at 7:30 in the morning of May 1. Perhaps there has been a little misunderstanding between me and the ticketing staff since I asked for 10:00 AM tickets (pronounced as SHI in Chinese) but maybe the lady heard my words as CHI (which means seven). Anyway, I thought it would be alright. At least we could avoid the holiday rush by leaving the place earlier.
The train left a few minutes later than scheduled so it was already past 8:00 in the morning when we arrived in Shanghai. We thought we could visit the Oceanarium in the Pudong Area so we went to buy our subway tickets. It was then that we encountered a tremendous stampede which took us almost an hour just to secure two subway tickets from the ticketing machine. The people were so barbaric (pardon my words, I’m not being a racist here) and so lacking courtesy.
Should a person press the touch screen to pick his destination, another one will cancel the transaction just so he could have his ticket first. There was no line, only a mass of barbaric people which only delays the ticket acquisition more than anything.
Anyway, we got our tickets and proceeded to take the subway line 1 train to People’s Square station where we are supposed to interchange to subway line 2.
Upon arriving at the station, we bought our tickets not only for LuJiazui station (the nearest stop to the Oceanarium) but also return tickets to Shanghai Railway Station. (At this point, we’re still unaware that we could interchange subway lines without exiting to buy a new subway ticket, more details later).
We arrived in the area at around 10:00, we thought we still have a lot of time so we just had our quick late breakfast from the street eateries and proceeded to buy our tickets to the Shanghai Oceanarium. If not for the Penguins and one Pinay Mom experience, that visit to the Oceanarium wouldn’t have been a satisfying trip.
Seeing that kind of crowd would make you want to be a shark on one of the aquariums and chomp off everyone outside the tank.
Sunset at the West Lake.
Bikes are available for hire around the West Lake for 10RMB per hour though we’re not sure how the hiring system went so we didn’t tried it.
It’s still early so we stopped by The Brand Mall, a 10-floor department store near the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, to have our breakfast at McDonald’s. When you’re in Shanghai, you only have a few choices if tou want to have your meals – KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. There also are Häagen-Dazs but the prices are just so unbelievably expensive. The rest couldn’t be in your choice because the crews couldn’t understand English, the menus don’t have pictures and everything is written in Chinese. You may spend the rest of your day pointing out your order only to realize there’s no point in discussing because none of your words would be understood. The crowd is huge (even in the other fast food choices) so my wife had to watch out for tables to be emptied while I’m taking a very long line to order our meals.
We only had less than an hour left so we hurried to finish our meals and left for the Subway Station. Half an hour left but we still had to interchange subway lines. We realized that the interchanging lines are on the same place so we just took the other train and just find our way to explain to the subway crews what happened if we couldn’t get out of the stations later. A few more minutes and we arrived at the Shanghai Railway Station (still in the subway). I tried inserting the unused ticket (the ones we’re supposed to use for interchanging lines) but an error message appeared. I tried the one I used to enter Subway line 2 and voila! – it was accepted. I asked my wife to do the same and we both found ourselves outside the exit gates. We hurried to get to the train terminals because we really can’t miss this train, otherwise the Hangzhou trip would be postponed for another eternity. We were literally panting when we arrive on the right waiting rooms in the train station only to realize than the train would be delayed for another 15 minutes. Great!
One of the tourist boats carrying tourists to the islets at the center of the lake.
Three pools mirroring the moon.
A flee market along Wushan where you could buy everything you need and everything you don’t.
We arrived at the Hangzhou station three and a half hours later. We tried to buy our return tickets to Hangzhou but we couldn’t understand what the ticketing personnel was babbling about so we just called our friend Elmer to inform him that we couldn’t buy our return tickets. We agreed to meet near the Music Fountain along Hubin road at 7:00 PM. We took a taxi and in a few minutes and a few neurotically understandable complains from the taxi driver, we arrived at the Hubin Rd.
Elmer is my friend who works in Hangzhou for more than two years now. The last time we went to visit Hangzhou, we also stayed at his apartment. We don’t know how could we ever enjoy Hangzhou and its magnificent sites if not for him. Additionally, we don’t know where else we could stay if not for his being accommodating. Yeah, nothing in the world is free but some things could be if you have wonderful friends scattered all over the planet.When we are still planning to visit Beijing, I have been checking for hotel reservations over the internet and I found out that at least in Beijing, prices of hotel rooms usually starts from 350RMB (around US$50) and goes higher depending on the room types and other added amenities. I suggest you book your hotels at least two weeks from your actual trip to ensure a good place to stay specially on long holidays and peak seasons, . If you don’t have anyone in your destination to personally book the hotels for you, you may want to check a few hotel reservation websites online. Don’t be afraid to do online transactions, there are many of these kinds of websites that you could trust you credits cards with. From our experiences, it’s better to book online than to take chances in bombarding the hotel reception areas and end up sleeping in the parks or bus stations instead. If you’ll visit Hangzhou, you could check the Hangzhou hotel rates from the website of Hotels Combined. Hotel rates from their list starts from 347RMB per night. Check Yahoo finance for currency coverters.Fortunately for us, we didn’t need to book our hotels. A big big thanks to our good good friend, Elmer. We stayed in Hangzhou for four days under his custody. For free!
That lit tower on the left is the Leifeng Tower.
Seeing a crowd like this makes you want to be a shark inside the tank and swallow them whole.
We realized we couldn’t enjoy our site-seeing if we would keep thinking about our return tickets so before we proceed to Day 1 proper, we asked Elmer to accompany us to the nearby central railway ticketing station. Elmer has been studying Mandarin Chinese for more than a year now so he was able to discuss properly with the ticketing personal. If my wife and I could only utter “Ting Bu Dong” whenever someone dare speak to us in Chinese, Elmer’s Chinese was really good enough to gain applause not only from the ticketing officer but also from the gawking bystanders. Our original plan is to go back to Kunshan on Saturday afternoon but due to unavailable train tickets, we could only leave early morning the next day. Elmer was able to book our train tickets to Kunshan which would leave at 9:00AM of Sunday.
Our day ended with a dinner at a Japanese restaurant along Hubin Road. The menu has pictures along with English and Japanese translated words but Elmer’s Chinese still came in handy. We finished our meals but before we go back to Elmer’s pad, we proceed Va Bene, an Italian bar/restaurant catering mostly to foreigners within the vicinity. There we met a band of four monstrous Filipino singers performing. People like those four made me realize how lazy I was when God was showering talents in the Philippine archipelago. When God was spreading talents, those four people must have been catching the talents using gigantic reversed umbrellas while I was still sleeping soundly under the pillows.
After being in Hangzhou for the second time, we realized the stores around the sites would cost at least double the usual price so we stormed a nearby convenience store to pack our bags with munchies and drinks.
Hangzhou is just a rather small city in Zhejiang Province but there are too many tourist sites that perhaps even a week’s stay in the city would not suffice to visit them all. Or maybe you could if you’d only want to visit all sites just for the sake of having to visit them all – no gawking, no resting, and no picture-taking. Counting our first visit in Hangzhou with our then eight-month old daughter, we’ve been in this city for five days but we weren’t even close to visiting half the number of attractions.
On Day One, we walked along the half side of the West Lake and checked some sites along the way until we reach the Leifeng Tower. On our way back, we tried to check the boatmen to see if they could take us to some of the islets on the center of the lake. Unfortunately it was already past 5:00 in the afternoon, the tour boat counters were already closed so we just had to try our luck the next day. We thought we could just walk the path to the broken bridge but our feet were already complaining for having walked a few miles already so we couldn’t anymore walk more farther. We just headed back and had our dinner at Papa John’s near the sports center where we would meet with a few fellow Pinoys to play blowling later.
The next day we took a bus and went to visit the Wushan temple. Upon knowing that we had to climb a stiff hill to reach the entrance to the temple, I thought I wanted to back out. It’s boiling hot that day and I’m already melting after just reaching the first flat road but there’s yet another one to climb. Fortunately, with strong will power, we were able to reach the temple gates. We battered a temple bell and climbed the top of the Wushan pagoda. On our way down, we watched a live Opera show but the exceeding high-pitched voices of the two Opera players were nearly hurting our ears so we went down the hill and watch a acrobatic performance at a cultural stage downhill. Alongside the Wushan hill, there’s a flee market selling artifacts and other souvenir items. So check a few stores, took a lot of photos and went back to the West Lake. Fortunately we have managed to secure our boats tickets so we were able to visit two islets on the center of the lake.
The day ended with the three of us feasting ourselves on multitudes of dishes in an eat-all-you can restaurant inside the Western Hotel. Then we went straight to a night market and haggled at almost every trivial item we set our eyes on. We’re still halfway into checking every stall and store when the rain started pouring. To which the vendors started to pack their things up like hell has unleashed the most fearsome monsters called policemen.