Soaking up History and Culture (and Nature) in Hangzhou
With roots as far back as 220 BC, Hangzhou is thought to have been the largest city in the world during the Song Dynasty in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. It has been an important hub of culture, commerce, and politics, partly due to its location at the southern end of China’s Grand Canal (which runs north to Beijing and is the longest canal in the WORLD) and also a result of its stunning natural beauty. Its most well known attraction, undisputabley, is Xi Hu (West Lake).
Because of Hangzhou’s rich cultural history, West Lake is surrounded by temples, pavilions, pagodas, and ampitheatres. You can’t walk far before another photo worthy piece of architecture pops out from behind a tree, or another bench beckons for you to sit and take in the scenery. And for this reason, Hangzhou and West Lake have been described to us as China’s number one honeymooning destination.
Another quintessential feature of Hangzhou is that it’s a biking town and whether you’re single or a family of 4 (though, sadly, no bike seemed to exist for two adults and two small children), there’s a bike to fit your needs. There is an AWESOME bike program (I believe it’s only for singles) where you can obtain a card (showing ID and paying a deposit) and then rent out bikes from one of the many spots throughout the city. What’s best is that they’re free for the first hour, so you can theoretically just keep returning them within the hour and getting a new one. However, they are between 1 and 3 Yuan for the next three hours of renting, so either way, it’s a very economical.
We stayed at the High Regency Hangzhou, which is located on the west side of the lake, in what may be the most bustling tourist area. Walking through the promenade out our door found you skirting alongside thousands of [mostly Chinese] tourists. Oh, and seriously people, the day WILL come where I tell you of quaint, dingy little guesthouses, I PROMISE. The Mister’s Hyatt points and business travel WILL subside. For now, I’m not going to complain about having a beautiful, more-than-comfortable, big-enough-for-the-kids-to-do-laps-around room to come back to at the end of the day. As far as Hyatt’s go, the Regency Hangzhou wasn’t anything to write home about, but the location is great and if nice hotels are your thing, it’s worth a stay. Though, the Regency Club staff were a bit more fidgety than normal about the kids [rolling around and the ground and such].
wasting spending our first two and half hours in town on nap time (which were honestly also productive, researching what we’d do for the next two days), we headed out to the promenade to [possibly] find a rig on which to explore the lake a bit. We thought that our rig would be a wooden boat powered by a paddle, but SOMEHOW, we ended up on this.
The kitschiest boat of them all, the kids were pretty stoked jumping aboard (until it began to move and they realized that slow moving scenery WASN’T actually all that entertaining). We were even presented with boiling hot Longjing Tea in thin plastic cups, mmmmm, phthalates.
When we returned from our sunset cruise, the light show had just begun. Dazzling us with a colorful water dance, the light show definitely captivated our little weary dragon boat sojourners. Set to a symphony of music, this water and light spectacle rivals the best of them; score another point for the Hangzhou tourism bureau. We later realized that there is a beautiful outdoor terrace adjacent to the Regency Club at the Hyatt – which would be a great spot to catch the show, FYI all you Hyatters that don’t read this blog.
The next morning we set out to explore as much as we could squeeze in with two withering kids in tow. Our first stop was the Su Causeway. One of two man-made causeways that bisect the lake, these areas are more like parks jutting out through the water. We passed a group of people singing under a pagoda, elderly Chinese people doing their morning Tai Chi (which is certainly NOT unique to this area – you find this EVERYWHERE, every morning), and dozens of perches just waiting for us to relax on them beside the lake. We managed to get across the 3km causeway by 10am, with plenty of time to take on another adventure.
SO, we hopped in a taxi, with only a slight idea of where we were headed. I had read about an area near Longjing Village called 9 Streams and 18 Gullies, but wasn’t able to get a great read on exactly where to find it. We ended up, quite by happenstance, getting dropped off near the entrance to Longjing Village, with little knowledge of what walking down the hill would bring. Perfection is what was given. We meandered our way through the sweet little town surrounded by hills of growing Longjing, being asked if we wanted to drink tea the entire way, hoping that the stream I saw on Google Maps was the key to the area I hoped to find. As we neared the end of the road, we realized that we had indirectly walked ourselves directly to my intended destination. Along with hundreds of tourists (though not thousands like near West Lake), we enjoyed a leisurely walk through Longjing Tea country and through the first four of the “9 Streams”, playing in the fresh water to cool our steaming hot bodies.
Before we left Longjing Village, we knew we had to drink tea fresh from the source, but it was HOT, we were hungry, and the kids were getting tired. We decided to say yes to the next person who offered us tea and were happy we did because it brought us to a little cafe on a hillside, with great views of the surrounding hills. After being given a menu solely written in Chinese characters, we communicated that we did indeed want food (we asked for tofu, vegetables, and rice… in Chinese), but were far from certain about what would be coming our way. Honestly, we didn’t care, we just needed FOOD. What we ended up with was a yummy potato dish, a slightly odd egg and tomato dish, and a whole cooked fish in broth (didn’t see that one coming). And of course, Longjing tea.
There are at least 10 other sites we would have liked to fit into our short weekend trip to Hangzhou. A zoo, a children’s park, a handful of temples, and more walks around the lake, but I’ll take what we got. It was so refreshing to get out of the city (which is where my heart belongs) and explore more of China’s rich cultural history. When in China, and most especially if you’re visiting Shanghai anyway, a weekend in Hangzhou is in order.
We grabbed some soup just before leaving, a random recommendation from a travel blog I’ve been following, HoneyTrek, that just so happened to be just behind our hotel. Pictured above are the kids just before eating, pictured below is the little guy sleep eating, literally, sleep eating (just before I grabbed him). All the fun he had in Hangzhou had him tuckered out.