Hanging in Hangzhou

Like Xian and Beijing, Hangzhou has long been promoted as a pin-up for Imperial China. Pagodas, pavilions and curved eaves by the bowlful in a setting so stepped in history you’ll think you were wondering through a 12th century scroll painting.

I couldn’t help but feel a little cynical when I decided to include the former capital on my itinerary. A town can only receive so much rep before it becomes warped into a seedy hub of insincere domestic tourism. Nevertheless I pressed on, my naive hope of catching just a glimpse of old China outweighing any feelings of apprehension.

I spent stifling four days in Hangzhou with temperatures topping 40°C and levels of humidity that made me wonder why I even bothered showering (but then again this is Asia Pacific in August what was I to expect?). The West Lake certainly lived up to it’s reputation of being breathtakingly beautiful. You can rent bicycles here for as little as 1元 an hour (the first hour is free), which is a good way to get around as the old town and lake are huge. Let’s not forget that this is a city of over 8 million we are taking about here. There are so many monasteries dotted around the shore it takes at least 2 days to see them all (if you can stomach seeing that many pagodas and/or paying the entrance fees). For 50元 you can get a ferry to the islands in the centre of the lake (one ticket is valid for two of your choice) but I don’t recommend this as these tiny spits of land were so rammed with tour groups you couldn’t properly enjoy your surroundings.

Anyway on to the photo of the day. This is not actually found in Hangzhou but the small village of Meijiawu, just on the other side of the mountains that back West Lake. Together next door neighbour Longjin (which is a little more touristy), Meijiawu produces Hangzhou’s local brand of green tea which is apparently quite famous amongst the Chinese. A hiking trail takes there you there from the Qiantang river in the south of Hangzhou. I want to say this is a slightly tough climb but I saw an eighty year old manage it in 6 inch heels so that either says something about tenacity of the Chinese or I’m just really out of shape.

All in all Hangzhou was a pleasant place to visit, if rather crowded. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone wishing to see someone wanting to see some authentic Chinese history and culture but don’t expect to get the place to yourself. And if it grinds your gears to see a cluster of tour group flags, well that’s what you sign up for when you visit a major point of interest with major train links to just about all of eastern China!

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