We had a holiday break this week. The Qingming Festival is meant to honor our ancestors – in a way it’s like the Mexican “Dia de los Muertos” or the North American “Halloween.” Because of the festival, a group of us decided to head over to Hangzhou, a city about 1 hour away from Shanghai by rapid-train. The main thing I learned from this trip is to NEVER travel on a public holiday to a touristic center – there will just be TOO many people all over the place.
I felt like a salmon swimming upstream
To stay hydrated, the Chinese eat Cucumbers?
We started out heading over to the Hongqiao Transportation Hub to catch our train. Enough said, it’s yet another Mammoth-style building (in the previous post, I mentioned how it’s 3 metro-stops long… so just imagine). Just try to compare the size of one human being to the scale of the structure…Despite its size, it was rather easy to find our train. You get kind of used to the fact that Chinese people cut lines, push you, and yell quite a bit at each other. For a morning voyage it’s a bit overwhelming. The train travelled an average of 185 km/hr, and about 1.5 hours later, we were in the city center of Hangzhou.
Take note of the scale of one person in this space….
Our vehicle for the voyage
Hangzhou is a city that grew by 16.7% in 2009. The city itself has about 3 million people. If one includes the surrounding area, it’s about 8 million – still a small city in Chinese standards right? Because tourism is one of its strongest industries, the people of Hangzhou are used to having visitors. Just like any other tourist city, the service industry, in a way, treats you poorly. No taxi driver wanted to drive us to our hostel; and after 30+ minutes of trying we finally gave in to taking the public bus to our place of rest.
Waiting for the bus…
This bus wasn’t too full… it could be worse.
The hostel was incredibly nice, especially for 55 RMB/night (about 6 EUROS). The only downside was that 6 people shared a room, but the beds had actual mattresses, rather than the paper-thin mattresses we were expecting. The greatest thing was that we were about 2 minutes away from West Lake, the main attraction of Hangzhou.
Our hostel – (I wonder if the guy noticed I was taking a picture…)
Once we settled down, we decided to head to the lake. We expected to see many people, but man, it was on the verge of unbearable. When you simple have so many people, it’s hard to take nice pictures. Every scenic spot is just splattered with people wearing bright colored jackets. It somewhat detracts from the natural beauty of the space. We were stared at, photographed, talked to… At first it’s pleasant, but I can imagine, especially for girls, that it gets somewhat overwhelming. Our Italian counterparts had the idea of dressing up in traditional Chinese clothing, and were celebrities for a few minutes.
The pathway to the lake from our hostel
A nice sculpture of a couple doing Tai Chi
First sight of the lake in Springtime!
I think this was the Emperor’s docking spot
I took this at sunset, but this bridge links to the Hangzhou’s version of Xintiandi
Us imitating the Chinese people taking pictures of us…
Celebrities for a Day
Hangzhou is famous for its lake and for the surrounding greenery. The park was at a different scale than that of what we saw in Suzhou.
Fields of Lillies (the photo doesn’t do this place justice)
Willow Trees and PEOPLE
This kinda felt like a golf course (people weren’t allowed to step on the grass)
View of the Pagoda
SO MANY PEOPLE
One of the trends we noticed were all the people taking close-up pictures of flowers. Chinese people really enjoy taking pictures of flowers. They also like to hold the branches as someone takes pictures of them. I tried to see what the effect of it was, and here’s what it looks like:
Girl taking picture of flower
She was really focused (she spend a good couple of minutes doing this)
And.. this is the picture she took
On our way to the Leifeng Pagoda (the Sunset Pagoda), we noticed a few people walking away from the main path and into the mountains. I thought it would be a shortcut (I thought they knew too), but instead we walked adjacent to a wall most of the time…. It turned out to be a pleasant uphill walk in nature. Many people had the same idea and followed us – it was rather amusing.
A nature walk – people seemed to take this as a shortcut (it wasnt a shortcut)
And I think we convinced a ton of people to go on this walk with us!
We finally escaped the mountain, and were able to meet with the rest of the group
Once we got to the foot of the Pagoda after our nature walk, we caught up with the other 4 members of our group. We were 11 people at first (the other 4 people stayed at a different hostel, up in the mountains). It was rather hard to coordinate with both groups; perhaps the best thing to do next time is to book the same hostel so we are all together. While we were waiting for our tickets, Chinese children would come up to us and practice their English; other people just simply stared at us.
These people wanted to take a picture with us
Kids really like to approach us and speak to us in English
We made it to the Pagoda right at sunset (because of its name, the Sunset Pagoda). Sometimes I think to myself, “What were they thinking?” when I see a full escalator heading to the Pagoda… It seems to detract from the poetry and beauty of the space. I ended up taking the escalator myself simply because it was there – but I wonder whether it’s really about the progression and challenge of climbing your way up to the top that really matters.
The scale is a bit off, right?
What were they thinking?! Silly escalator
The pagoda is a reconstruction…
View from the lake
Old lady teaching young lady about prayer
The scent of incense
It was really nice to see 360 degree views of the lake and of the surrounding region. The place was incredibly Zen as the sun went behind the mountains. I am beginning to understand why Hangzhou is a hub to Chinese poetry.
View of the lake (i promise to get a greater resolution image soon!
The sunset is a bit exaggerated… thank you photoshop!
That evening, Josie, a friend of my sister’s, recommended us a stellar Indian restaurant. It had been almost over a year since I eat Indian food. And it was delicious.
Mmmm… Indian food
As the day drew to a close, I made a promise that I’d wake up early to see the lake without people. At 5:50 AM, I was out and about – and apparently so were all the elderly of Hangzhou. Many men were jogging and the women were practicing Tai Chi. With morning fog upon us, the place seemed more peaceful than ever. The lake was a reflection pool… there was barely any wind. Simply put: it was perfect.
Old lady doing Tai Chi between the Tigers
No Wind – the lake was a giant mirror
Old Lady stretching before her workout
Sword-version of Tai Chi
Tai Chi sculpture 2
Panorama of the Lake
Our hostel was right beside this place
No boats in the water
Getting close to the “Long Bridge”
When I crossed the “Long Bridge” I stumbled upon a guy doing Tai Chi – in full costume; with the background of the Sunset Pagoda in the background. Perhaps when the summer comes, I’ll take on a martial art. Right now, I don’t think I have the time. By 7:30 am, the place was already crowded with people, and all the elderly doing their business were gone.
So much better when people aren’t around
Even better when you come across stuff like this!
Kung Fu Shaolin
Panorama of the Long Bridge
By 9:30, we were on a bus heading over to the Lingyin Temple region, up in the mountains of Hangzhou. The bus itself was funny; the interior was made of wood – something I don’t think I’ve seen in years. Because of the lake, the main avenue wraps around the circumference of the lake, and as a result there’s constant traffic. It took us 45 minutes to get to the Lingyin Temple area. The ticket to get in cost us 45 RMB, and that included visiting 2 Buddhist monasteries and stone carvings on the foothills of a mountain dating back to the 12th century.
The most famous: the Laughing Buddha
Legend has it that the monastery was founded by an Indian monk, Huili. The monk saw a rock flying from India and being placed at the top of one of the mountains (the name of that mountain is called “Flying Peak from Afar”). Due to this, you can witness many Indian-influenced pieces of religious art, contrary to the traditional Chinese modes of representation of the Buddha.
Travelling Buddies posing in front of the rock that flew all the way from India
Hindi-Influenced? I don’t know much about this stuff..
How did this end up here?
It seemed that the further up the mountain you went, the less people were around. The only issue your mind needs to get across is that after you see the first monastery, every monastery looks the same – similar figures, similar colors, and similar metaphors. It was nice, however, to go up the mountain and get a breath of fresh air from the crowdedness below. We eventually got to the living quarters of one of the Buddhist monasteries (I don’t think we were allowed there), and we saw a badminton and table tennis court, contrary to the stereotype we get taught in Hollywood movies.
Of course, really nice landscaping
the degree of detailwork is amazing (but reconstructed)
Firewalls (a construction style)
The Day was simply perfect for this trip
After climbing 3 mountains-worth of stairs, we ended up at the most remote temple in the complex. The view was somewhat foggy (so I bet on a clear day we can see the modern Hangzhou). I wonder how much work/effort was put in to bring all these construction materials to get these places built. The level of detail is stellar. We were all thirsty by then, and there was a natural spring where we would refresh ourselves.
Living quarters for Buddhist Monks
Teamwork to get some natural spring Water
We were pretty far up after climbing upstairs for over 30 minutes
How did they get all these materials up here?!
Inside the Pagoda
By 2:30 pm, we needed to make our descent back to our hostel (where our bags were) and to the train that departed at 6:29 pm. The Italians’ train left at 4:30, but, due to traffic, they missed it. The traffic was unbearable. While we were on the bus, I began to get anxious; as we weren’t moving anywhere and we really needed to get our train back (all other times were sold out). I made the decision to get off the bus while we were on the lakefront (without knowing that we were 3+ km away from our hostel). Rather than waiting inside a bus and not moving anywhere, I decided to walk. By this time we were only 4 of us left (the Italians had left, the Germans had left, and only Aubrey (American), Annie (Canadian), Fabian (Swiss) and I were left).
While we were walking, Aubrey and I saw this one street bus with 3 empty seats in the back. Aubrey and I seemed to have the same idea at the same time, and we started running after the bus. We ran until we caught up, then jumped onto the moving vehicle without regret. Annie and Fabian, who were a few paces behind us, shouted “Are you kidding me?” but eventually started running as well. All the Chinese people around us were taking pictures of 4 frantic foreigners running after a bus.
These buses had probably the most annoying music you can imagine,… but they were our salvation in the end…
The guy charged us the equivalent of 2 Euros each, and we successfully made it to our hostel with plenty of time to spare. Because no taxi wanted to drive us anywhere, we had to settle on one of the clandestine people that overcharges you… regardless, we made it with plenty of time to spare at the train station, where we met up with the Germans randomly, at a Burger King.
All this happened in less than 48 hours. I felt I ran throughout the entire tour; almost as if I was a character in the Amazing Race. Nonetheless, it was an awesome experience and would recommend these places to anyone visiting Hangzhou. Personally, I’d like to go back there with more time on my hands, as I figure there’s a lot more to see, eat, and drink.