China – Country No.2 – Hangzhou

The nicest overnight train yet brought us to Hangzhou. Having travelled south west, back towards Shanghai, it was noticeably warmer here.

We arrived at the hostel early, finding ourselves unable to check in, we stowed our bags and headed out in search of breakfast. A Starbucks presented itself as the easiest option and we decided to treat ourselves.

As a group, we ventured to West Lake. We took a boat ride to an island that plays host to a landscape garden area with arrangements of plants, trees, pools, flowers and ornate windows. It’s quite lovely and is also home to the stone pagodas that are immortalised on the 1 Yuan note. They are know collectively as ‘Three pools mirroring the moon’. The pagodas can be lit by candles, reflecting in the water with a similar candesence to the moon.

Back at the hostel we took our leave of the Dragon Trip and take a taxi to our hotel. Here we will spend our last 4 nights in China. We ate at a family mart the first night, both trying to save money, and we didn’t see much in the way of restaurants with English menus or even reliable pictures to order with.
The next day we braved the buses and made our way to a tea museum, it was remarkably easy and as usual, for China, incredibly cheap.
H finally got some free samples to try, however, there was nothing out of the ordinary, except the jasmine tea opened up like a flower once it started to brew.

Jasmine tea flower

The rest was green tea, oolong tea and black tea. I was excited by the oolong tea as I’ve never gotten round to trying it before.
We learned all about tea trees, the rise of China’s tea industry and Yu Lu. Yu Lu wrote tbe first comprehensive book on tea earning him the title of ‘tea sage’. He thoroughly enjoyed a decent brew if his statue (below) is anything to go by.

Ju Lu, Tea Sage

After making our way back to the hotel, we ventured into town for dinner. We found a decent looking restaurant attached to a book store and chose a tasty looking meal from the photos outside. Unfortunately, the woman at the counter was adamant that we order from a small selection on a laminated menu instead. I ordered pork and noodles in soup. It turned out to be pork colon. I really wanted to try it. I really, really did. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Next day we went back to West Lake for a longer walk around. It’s a beautiful scenic spot. We watched people flying large kites attached to huge, fishing reel like, devices. The kites go so far up and away they’re hard to keep track of.

We found a restaurant that had some English on the menu and ordered stewed duck and rice. The picture looked amazing as did the dish itself, once it arrived. The duck was tasty but it was sadly mostly bones. It’s just how they seem to like their food here.

We spent the evening walking to a Drum Tower local to our hotel. It turns out, the road we are staying on is a tourist hotspot. Had we walked the opposite way for food the previous night we would have had our fill of interesting shops, stalls and restaurants to choose from. It was reminiscent of Yangshou, back near the start of adventure in China. There was a wax work display. We didn’t go in based solely on this depiction of Mr Bean in the window.

The next day we ventured to the botanical gardens. It was sadly a little disappointing. The first part we saw was just trees really. Not even nice ones and the flowers the information boards spoke of were clearly not in season. We persisted and found, not only bonsai trees, but also gardens celebrating China’s 70th birthday that were very well done. A stroll round a pond or two made it all the more satisfying and made up for the dubious start.

We had KFC for lunch. The food in Hangzhou seems to be quite traditional and whilst much of it is probably amazing, we wanted to make sure we were spending our money on something we knew for sure we would eat.
We walked back along the lake until we were too exhausted to continue, catching a bus back to the hotel to rest.
We manage to gleam, from what little of the internet we have access to, there is a coach we can catch to the airport for a reasonable fee. We decided to do a dry run to find the right bus stop. Instead we found an office in which we needed to buy tickets. The self service machines only accepted the various forms of QR code payments that are incredibly popular here, making them redundant to us. A helpful chap, who appeared to work there told us that it was the only way to pay but he would get us a cab for merely five times the price of the coach. We turned him down and returned to pack our bags.
The best way to reach the airport would be by the metro. Cheap and reliable. At least it would be if the line to the airport were not still under construction. We decided that the man offering us a taxi was probably a taxi driver trying to get extra business. A second visit to the coach office proved us right and the desk this time was manned and more than happy to take our money and point us to the correct stop.
Our research was not perfect, making the journey time was much shorter than we anticipated. Combine that with everyone insisting that, in China, you need to get to the airport four hours before take off due to excessive crowds, and you have us arriving at the airport three hours before the check-in desk opens. Hong Kong and Taiwan flights are in the same terminal as the domestic flights so only require you to be there two hours early. Still, better safe than sorry.
That’s where our adventure in mainland China ends. Or next stop is Hong Kong which is a Special Administrative Region of China. We are counting it as country number four as we need to pass immigration, getting an exit stamp from China in our passports.
China is both a crowded and polluted place but also a beautiful one, abundant with dynamic landscapes, history, and culture.

We spent three weeks in China and not once did we see either a prawn cracker or a fortune cookie, which I can only assume were invented in the west.

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