by Roaming Panda
Ever heard of a city in China called Hangzhou? Yea, me neither. Hangzhou is the first destination on our 8-day tour of China. Really wasn't sure what to expect but was looking forward to exploring a new city. We flew from Shenzen directly to Hangzhou which was about a 2 hour flight, maybe even a little less. My aunt and uncle booked us our own personal tour guide and a van to take us around everywhere.
Our first stop in Hangzhou was to the famous West Lake. This lake has been around for thousands of years and it's natural beauty has been a source of inspiration for poets, painters, and scholars way back in the dynasty days. The weather was perfect when we arrived. It was slightly cool and overcast which put this haze over the lake and gave it a really misty look. The lake and the surrounding areas and walkways cover quite a bit of distance so there is a lot to see. You can take a boat and do a lap around the lake to catch a different perspective while a guide provides commentary on the history and facts of the lake (in Mandarin of course so I didn't understand anything).
There are a number of temples and other attractions you can see but none standout quite like the Leifeng Pagoda. For a small fee, you can actually get up close and go inside the tower and climb to the very top for a bird's eye view of the entire lake. Those who are physically challenged can choose to take the elevator to the top (although the line is pretty long) or for those less patient or looking for a workout, you can choose to take the stairs. Since I'm impatient and lazy, I just took the stairs to the second floor and called it a day. You still get a pretty amazing view so I didn't feel like I lost out too much.
The history of the pagoda is really fascinating. The lore is based on a forbidden love story between a mortal man and a snake demon (a lot of Chinese mythology is based on weird demons that take the form of humans) and the evil monk that imprisoned the lovers in the depths of tower. In reality, a lot of pillagers and invaders have attacked the tower hoping to find stockpiles of weapons and even locals have stolen bricks from the tower thinking the bricks hold the power to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. Ultimately, the original pagoda collapsed and the tower you see today is built over the foundation of the original. When you go into the base of the pagoda, you'll see the bricks from the original tower as a monument to it's former glory. Pretty neat.
A short distance from West Lake, we found ourselves at the street market of Qinghe Square. This ancient city block somewhat reminded me of St. George Street in St. Augustine. You'll find a variety of vendors offering anything you want really. Cheap souvenirs, expensive trinkets, street food galore, tea, etc. I picked up a few souvenirs here myself, just don't forget to haggle because you can ALWAYS get away with a cheaper price or a better deal. A lot of vendors sell the same things so you can walk down the block find it for cheaper and pit stores against each other for a better price. And if you catch a whiff of the infamous "stinky tofu" as you're walking about, test your might and try one of these fermented nuggets. Stinky tofu is a Chinese street food staple and it doesn't taste as bad as it smells.
Our final stop in Hangzhou was to the Xixi National Wetlands. The skies were again overcast and rainy. It had already been drizzling all morning before we arrived, but it all added to the experience. The cloudy skies set the tone for the backdrop, the water droplets that were so perfectly stuck to every leaf and flower petal was unreal, and the milky glaze of the water looked inviting (although I would never jump in). This place was enormous and I don't think we came close to exploring the entire wetland. I thought this was going to be one of the more boring attractions on our visit but was proven thoroughly wrong. If we had more time, I would want to spend a full day here.
I've seen some shitty areas in China but I was truly surprised by the beauty of Hangzhou. 10/10, would totally go back again. A day and a half was enough to get a taste of Hangzhou, but not nearly enough to dive into the heart and the culture of the city. China is so big that there are so many idiosyncrasies in each little city you visit. This was a great start to our trip and made me look forward to what was to come. If you want to see all the pictures of Hangzhou from my trip, click HERE to go to the gallery. Next stop will be Suzhou.