Published: July 29th 2012July 29th 2012
Prior to the trip, the city was described to me in one word, “lush.” This word kept sweeping through my mind as I partook in the activities around the city of Hangzhou's West Lake.
Dense greenery and an abundance of trees isn't usually on the agenda in China's major cities, however, Hangzhou was luckily out to prove it was an exception to the rule. The majority of the West Lake is surrounded by pagoda-topped hills infested with foliage. Trees line the roads around the lake towering even over the buildings and concrete. The air feels fresher. The haze that encompasses most Chinese cities seems to be absent from Hangzhou's skies. It's clean. It's tranquil. It's fantastic!
A handful of my friends and I stayed next to the lake at Hangzhou West Lake Youth Hostel located just a few minutes walk from the beautiful Lei Feng Pagoda which hugs the lake and offers 360 views of the whole area. Oddly enough, the pagoda has elevators and escalators that rob you a bit of the authenticity, however I'd say it's still worth a look for the ancient aspects that surround the more modern ones. After a stunning
view on each floor, and a gander at the carvings and artwork inside, we strolled out of the pagoda and up to the nearest food stand for a taste of everyone's favorite snack: tofu on a stick. No really, I actually kind of love it.
Because I've lived in China for the past year and a half I found myself indulging mostly in Hangzhou's non-Chinese food options. I ate the “American breakfast” every morning at the hostel. Indian food at the lakeside restaurant, “Haveli.” Mexican food at “Pancho's” downtown. And Italian at Angelo's near Baochu pagoda. All were surprisingly authentic tasting according to their represented country. Haveli was easily my favorite with its extensive menu, and their Indian and Bollywood style dancers that left a spinning array of color lingering in my mind all night.
Each corner of the lake has something different to offer, so I found renting bicycles for a day allowed us to cover more distance, and gave a comforting light breeze on a rather hot summer's day. The bikes literally costed us two dollars each for a whole day of cycling (about 7 hours). There's a pedestrian causeway that consists
of seven arched bridges and twice as many stellar views. My friends and I leisurely rode over the causeway and around the lake for the better part of a day, stopping for photo-ops, cat naps in the shade, pagoda inspecting, a cold beer or an ice pop! Lotus flowers occupy the banks of the lake and offer great foregrounds for photos of the lake boats and distant temples.
Past the lake views and sacred temples exists a taste of nightlife, too. We ended up at this place called SOS club, that also had the word “Gaga” in large bright neon letters stamped on the building's exterior about six times. A rather large and surprising tribute to the pop icon whom which the government refuses to let tour in mainland China. Oh, irony. The place was HUGE and was blasting Gaga songs and other top 40 beats all night. The club was drenched in blinking lights, bouncing bodies, and thirsty clubbers. This frenzy of fun was fueled by tequila shots throughout the night for me and my friends. One too many 'agave nectars' led to an incredible night's sleep back at the hostel, followed by a slightly sluggish
hangover the next morning. Certainly didn't stop me from making the most of the next day though.
Now, what am I forgetting:
Cafe on the lake. (Charges 2x as much for drinks inside with AC than outside with none).
The silk museum. (Informative. Ancient clothing was brilliant... lots of worms, though. Hehe).
Tea village. (GREEN! Hiking through the tea terraces (cousins of the rice terraces).
Dragonflies hovering above the lake.(I may or may not have pretended they were tiny real dragons while gazing across the water. *I have my moments*).
...And finally meeting an incredibly kind traveling family from Denmark.
After four vibrant days we were on our way back to the train station. As the taxi driver drove us away from the lake and to the other side of town, the trees started to become more scarce. And as the train departed Hangzhou station, the greenery became even scarcer. A short two hours later and the train spat us back out in the industrial urban city of Wuxi... but not without the image of the “lush” West Lake
burned permanently into our minds.
There are more photos below