Hangzhou and West Lake

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March 22nd 2007
Published: August 9th 2007
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King WusuKing WusuKing Wusu

Born in 932 BC, he established the Wuyue Kingdom making Hangzhou its capital. Under his reign Hangzhou became "the number one city in China."
We decided to take a trip to Hangzhou, a historic city
2.5 hours south of Suzhou. When Marco Polo visited
this city, he called it the most beautiful place on
earth. ¡°Above there is heaven, below, there is
Hangzhou and Suzhou.¡± Hangzhou also has a grand canal
that conveniently links this centralized city to the
north, Bejing. Parts of the grand canal were
constructed in the 5th century BC. It is the longest
man-made canal in the world.

After doing a little reading, we were excited to take
the trip. We bought bus tickets on Tuesday and were
off bright and early at 9 AM Wednesday. Around noon,
we arrived. The bus stop was nothing less than
chaotic. People were coming up to us with
advertisements, trying to get us in their taxis, and
trying to accommodate us for the evening. The general
rule of thumb that we have learned is to not buy
products or services from people who are trying
vigorously to sell you their products or services.
Bartering is often times exhausting.

The most famous attraction in Hangzhou is West Lake.
The only map we had upon arrival was in Chinese. The
circumference of the lake
The Famous silk Street.The Famous silk Street.The Famous silk Street.

Every single store sold silk.
is around 10 miles (close to
Johnson Lake¡¯s size). One would think it would be
quite easy to find. We found that Hangzhounese people
are inadequate map readers. Honestly one taxi driver
we had stared at the map upside down, consequently
taking us exactly opposite of our intended

So we had a method. We would show the map to random
people. The shear sight of the map scared some
Hangzhounese right off. If one was willing to help, we
would point to the lake, and ask them in our broken
Chinese how to get there. We realized this wasn¡¯t too
helpful. They could be describing the directions
crystal clear¡ªin Chinese. Eventually, we gave in and
paid for a cab fare.

The lake is a wonderful site. There are cultural
relics surrounding it. The history of the city¡ªlike
most¡ªis rich and ancient to say the least, dating
back nearly 5000 years. At first glance, we saw finely
manicured parks, forested hills, multiple pagodas, and
many posh estates. So we set off for a walk¡ªa long
one at that. It was fantastic. We considered there to
be loads of people. In actuality, the tourist season
has yet to begin. Hangzhou¡¯s famous export is Longjin
Tea. It is served at the hundred or so tea shops
scattered around the lake. These little shops are
wonderful. Chinese people congregate here for good
conversation, maojong (a special Chinese checker-like
game), people watching, etc. There were also multiple
parks that we passed through. The government of
Hangzhou has obviously spent loads of money to
preserve and develop West Lake as the catalyst of
tourism in the city. The parks are nice, with only one
problem¡ªyou can¡¯t walk or play or sit or eat on the
grass. It is roped off only to be looked at and
admired from afar. You may only walk on the sidewalks
cutting through.

As we were walking through one of the parks, we
stumbled upon a large crowd of people. They were
surrounding musicians, usually old men with cigarettes
dangling from their lips. The old men were playing
some sort of Chinese instrument, similar to a violin,
but longer and skinnier. They had microphones set up
and women sang folklorish songs. No one had their hat
or guitar case out, expecting you to pay money to
listen. It looked as if they just really enjoyed the
The old musicianThe old musicianThe old musician

just smokin' and playin' the music was very interesting, very traditional.
Several of the old musicians were playing with
their eyes closed. It was refreshing.

There are all sorts of cultural relics around the
lake. At the far south of the lake, there is Leifeng
Pagoda. It was originally erected in 900 AD. Did you
know pagodas originated from India? They have become
universally recognized as traditional Chinese life,
but they come from India. Anywways, the pagoda
collapsed in the 1920s. In 2003, the government
decided to rebuilt the structure. The new structure is
far from traditional. They have audio tours, an
escalator, an elevator, and other advanced designs. It
was also a steep entry fee, 40 RMB. Despite the
shortcomings, it was a magnificent view. You must
climb 100 steps to get to the foot of the pagoda. The
new structure is encompasses the old one, so you can
see remnants of the past. The original pagoda is just
ruins. People have thrown thousands of coins and bills
into the ruins. Maybe for luck¡­who knows. At the foot
of the pagoda, you must climb up 5 or 6 stories. The
view was amazing. There are several islands in the
lake that are visible, an ancient causeway, several
pagodas, villas,
Another musicianAnother musicianAnother musician

Crowds gathered to hear the traditional music.
and forested mountains in the

After the pagoda, we walked further around the lake.
Towards the west there was a causeway that we decided
to take. It was built in ancient times. Graceful
willows and manicured gardens surrounded us.
And¡ªironically, on this day we chose to walk
substantial distances¡ªit was the nicest weather we
have had since arriving in China.

After crossing the causeway we decided to get on the
bus. A full day of walking made us quite tired. So we
attempted to find a busy area for lodging and a good
meal. Hangzhou is a big place by our standards, just a
small city of 6 million for the Chinese. It is a busy
metropolis with a good balance of the ancient and the
new, the skyscrapers and the pagodas, the KFCs and
traditional Chinese restaurants. We thought the design
of the city was much better than Suzhou. The streets
and sidewalks were wider, the streets might have been
a bit cleaner, and things might have been a little
more accessible.

Our next job was to find a hotel. We knew that
bargaining for hotel fees is sometimes possible. Our
lack of Chinese would
Boat ridesBoat ridesBoat rides

For a romantic trip around the lake.
pose as a huge problem. We are
budget travelers, so anything with a chandelier in the
entrance, over 20 stories high, valet parking, or
people with suits waiting at the entrance was out of
the question. We located a sign for a hotel. The hotel
wasn¡¯t on the main street, the sign just directed you
down a dark alley. Perfect¡­We entered the hotel. As
we were waiting in line, we were greeted by a Korean
traveler with his girlfriend. He was tri-lingual, and
told us that foreigners weren¡¯t allowed to stay at
this hotel. We were stumped. He then asked us if we
wanted to go with them to find another place. We
promptly said yes, taking all the help we could get.

So we walked several more blocks and found a hotel off
the main street. The standard double room cost $12.
Not a bad price. We were getting ready to pay and
check in¡­Hotels in most of China apparently require
you to have your passport. We both knew these, yet
forgot to bring them. We showed the hotel staff a copy
of our passport and our driver¡¯s licenses, but this
simply would not do. Hangzhou has very
A master caligrapherA master caligrapherA master caligrapher

There are many shops around the lake. Calligraphy is an art form in China, not just a different way of writing. Very few people are considered masters.
strict laws.
The hotel staff directed us to the police station to
see if there was anything they could do for us. We
both knew this could potentially be a huge problem.
Aaron was having visualizations of sleeping on a park
bench or at the train station. Not exactly the way you
want to spend a romantic getaway to Hangzhou. The
conversation at the hotel was all in Chinese. We
weren¡¯t really involved. Our new Korean friend was
taking care of everything. He even offered to go to
the Police Station with us. So we said ok, not really
having any other options. At the Police Station, more
bad news. Without a passport, you can¡¯t stay at a
hotel. Korean argued for 10 minutes or so, but it was
a lost cause. Ely and I offered to take our new
friends out to dinner. They had gone more than out of
their way to help us. We sat down for dinner and
talked strategy. Lee decided that we should try to go
to a spa. Spas can let you stay all night, and they
don¡¯t ask you for your passport. Ideas were running
ramped in our minds. Staying the night

There are villas scattered around the lake. Some great traditional architecture with opulent designs.
at the spa?

So we trekked out to find the spa. Lee did all the
negotiating. The spa had no English speaking staff,
and the signs were not conveniently translated into at
least Pinyin simplified Chinese. Only Chinese
characters, which means impossible to us. So Lee set
everything up. We could either sleep in a common area
with fold down recliners or have our own room (no
bathroom). We decided to get our own private room. He
described as best he could what the spa would be like,
but we weren¡¯t prepared. For my UNL colleagues, I
know you have wondered why, when the Asian professors
and students are in the REC locker room, they always
walk around and sit in the sauna comfortably and
completely naked. Well, after doing a little field
research, I was about to understand this cultural

Ely and I were separated. They was a men¡¯s side and a
women¡¯s side. Lee explained what to do, wrote his
phone number down, and wrote a couple of sentences of
instruction in Chinese. Then we were off. So¡­I
(Aaron) will describe my side of the locker room. I
was directed down a long hallway. Then, there was a
room with lockers. I was escorted by a man in a suit,
possibly the manager of the establishment. He showed
me my locker, and waited for me to undress¡­He
uncomfortably waited for me to undress. His
subordinate was also watching. So I gestured for a
towel. He didn¡¯t really understand me, and I didn¡¯t
really understand why this was a confusing gesture.
Anyways, I got changed and in my towel. He then took
me to the actual bathhouse. After about 5 seconds, I
realized the towel had absolutely no use. Nakedness
everywhere. To my right, there were a couple pools
with spraying waterfalls, on my right there were
showers and shaving stations. In the back of the room,
there were massagers, a sauna, and a steam room.

So I proceeded to the shower. There were workers
everywhere. They seemed to be either in high school or
college. To make the naked more comfortable, they had
their shirts off and were wearing skimpy black shorts.
To the shower I went. They weren¡¯t private showers,
just water spraying down and glass partitions on each
side. The spa conveniently laid out a toothbrush,
toothpaste, and shaving equipment. I brushed

There are many gardens such as this one around the lake. The government obviously spends a lot of time making them look perfect.
up in the
shower and then walked over to the shaving station,
mind you, all in my birthday suit. Next I decided to
sit in the pool with the waterfall¡­still naked. There
were lots of peering eyes. Oh well, what were the
chances of me seeing any of these people again. Next I
was directed by a poolboy to another smaller tub.
There was something different about this tub. Yes, it
had hundreds of minnows in it. So I jumped on in. The
minnows surrounded my Chinese counterparts. I didn¡¯t
understand the minnows¡¯ purpose. Were they cleaning
you, eating your dead skin, who knows? So I sat still.
The minnows gradually surrounded me and started
nibbling on my feet. The Chinese people in the tub
with me were sacrificing their bodies completely to
the minnows. I however, would not, and shoved them off
when they got too close to certain places. After my
minnow pool, I jumped into a cold tub. Then, the pool
boys directed me to the massage table. Most massages I
have gotten in the US give you a small towel to cover
your privates. Before sitting on the table I knew
there was not going to be any towels or coverings. Any
vestige of dignity was left of the table. They rubbed
me down in Hawaiian Tropic smelling oils and bent me
in ways which I don¡¯t wish to go into details. After
the rub down, I was escorted to the sauna, then to the
steam room.

After the steam room, I rinsed off in the shower.
Then, I went to the drying room where two pool boys
dried me off. After getting dried off, the manager
handed me some clean shorts and a shirt. The clothes
looked a little Egyptian. The manager then directed me
to the styling station, where I could blowdry, comb,
and style my hair. They also had cologne, hand and
body lotion, and cotton swaps. I felt like a rock

After getting fixed up, the manager walked me up to
the second floor, where I met up again with Ely. On
the second floor, they had an Internet caf¨¦, full
service restaurant, and movie room, where you could
lay on recliners and watch American television shows.
We hung out at the internet caf¨¦ for a short while,
then explored a little more. Our private room was on
the third floor. On the fourth floor, there were game
rooms for Chinese chess and maojong. Also, there were
some private rooms with flat-screens and couches. On
floor five, they was a workout facility, a ping pong
table, pool table, and several other games.

We decided to call it a day. What a serendipitous
experience. We decided to skip the complementary
breakfast and sleep an extra couple of hours. Total
cost for 2: $25.

West Lake is the main attraction of Hangzhou, so we
decided to spend some more time there. We walked along
the north shores and found a ferry boat tour which
took you to 2 islands, then dropped you off towards
the center of town. We decided to take the tour. The
first island we came to was tiny. We walked around it
in 10 minutes. They spend a lot of time making sure
everything is perfect. The trees are trimmed, the
grass is cut, and the shrubs are neatly kept. They
have little benches everywhere, nice for relaxing.

On to the next island. This is a special island. In
the 1600¡¯s they were dredging the lake out, and
decided to change the shape of the island. They have a
famous saying about this island, ¡°An island within a
lake, a lake within an island.¡± So, the island is
bigger, maybe a 20 minute walk around. The inside is
carved out, and it has four little lakes in the
middle. They are like 4 slices of pie, and you can
walk in between all of them. They had a few little
shops, but it was mostly just a place to relax and
enjoy the scenery. The shape of the island represents
a Chinese symbol¡­not sure exactly what it means, but
I know it is something significant. After wondering
around the island, we were shuttled back to the east
side, near the center of town. We walked around for
another couple hours, did a little window shopping,
and then boarded the bus back home. Pretty fun trip to
say the least.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


A view of the Leifeng PagodaA view of the Leifeng Pagoda
A view of the Leifeng Pagoda

This is the modern temple. Quite a sight.
A view from the topA view from the top
A view from the top

The man made causeway and mountains in the distance. A beautiful sight.
A great view.A great view.
A great view.

A view of the small island.A view of the small island.
A view of the small island.

this is the first island stop. A tiny island.

24th May 2007

Nice pictures
Interesting trips and great pictures.

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