China, Day 17: Marco Polo’s Top Pick: Hangzhou

Sunset over West Lake, Hangzhou

Sunset over West Lake, Hangzhou

Sunday, April 28 – Hangzhou


Bus ride is about four hours. Expecting it to be full to bursting. Last four partial days and three nights of our my vacation. Hard to even imagine traveling back home. I get used to living out of a suitcase. I don’t miss my complicated routines back home. Check email, Facebook, make calls, make appointments. I stopped thinking about those things. My mind is only filled with planning and getting to the next destination. Packing and repacking. Hailing a taxi. Getting the next bus. Feels awesome to unplug.

Well, unplug but perhaps not “unwind.” I hear yelling through the vast building. Everywhere, people. People waiting, walking, buying. As usual, the weather is mild but I’m the only one in shorts and a sleeveless blouse. How can I be the most warm-blooded person in town? Even last night, everyone’s bundled up like it’s January in Moscow!

I don’t know how I’d find my way around by myself. I see no English anywhere. I guess just constant asking. It would’ve been better had I been more interested in learning Mandarin before I came, but it seemed too overwhelming. Now that I’ve spent time here, it’s apparent that I would need the basics if I were I alone.


The bus ride this morning only took 3 hours instead of the estimated 4. Whoo-hoo! We got a cab, luckily. The throngs of people! Welcome to Hangzhou, the perpetual holiday city. Our hotel was not exactly in the thick of things, and was quite far from West Lake. That area would’ve been too expensive had a room even been available. The cab driver even got lost on the way here.

After checking in, we dumped our crap and immediately set off walking towards West Lake. We got very turned around after a detour down an alley. We ended up in some bamboo park, a major attraction in town. The park itself was tidy and beautiful, but it was very hot and there were a ton of steps, so Chris was really having a tough time. He’s still sore from Mt. Huangshan.

We didn't mean to end up here, but lovely bamboo park all the same

We didn’t mean to end up here, but lovely bamboo park all the same

After a long time, we did reach the lake. Frank headed to Starbucks and Chris and I went on a boat tour, the quintessential thing to do in town.

When in Hangzhou, you must take a boat ride on West Lake - just like Marco Polo

When in Hangzhou, you must take a boat ride on West Lake – just like Marco Polo

We thought it would go to several of the little islands, but it only went to the largest one and back. It was lovely, although we tried to imagine how it was hundreds of years ago, when Marco Polo first saw it. I preferred the views opposite the city skyline, the line of willows. The afternoon sunlight glistened on the water. We found some rocks to sit on for a while, strange there were no benches to chill out on.

The view from an island in West Lake, Hangzhou

The view from an island in West Lake, Hangzhou

The town itself is clean and reminds me of Chicago, oddly enough. There’s a lot of hubbub, a ton of tourists, a little bit of the urban pomp of Shanghai. Women seem to dress more fashionably overall here. Impractical, of course, those ridiculous heels. We’ve also seen some young women with older, unattractive men. Global truths.


A bit before 21:00. I’m back in the hotel room alone. Chris and Frank are downstairs in the lobby, trying to get on the Internet. Everyone says they have wifi, but it usually never works in the rooms. Hangzhou Hua Yuan Hotel. This place is something else. Nice, but I noticed the rooms are available by the hour and there are condoms included in the customary basket of things like nuts and soda. They bring breakfast to your room in the morning, there doesn’t seem to be much of a lobby. It’s a smoking room. The ceilings on this floor are absurdly low. Even I feel like they’re looming close to my head. I get the feeling the triple rooms are not utilized much.

You can't see the condoms and the post for hourly rates in this picture.

You can’t see the condoms and the post for hourly rates in this picture

I also realized we never had to use community bathrooms and we never cooked. We eat out all the time. It’s been a luxury for us. Usually we’re always trying to plan to get to a supermarket, living on instant oatmeal and beans and rice.

Feel full from the sweets. We saw a bakery on the way back to the hotel. We stopped in for Chris’ sweet tooth. I got these mini-pancake things. Turns out they’re filled with the sweet aduki bean filling which I like. It was funny how the shop filled up after we went in. Frank pointed out foreigners are always good for business. I would’ve assumed the opposite, but he says it makes people curious and draws them in.

Dancers in a park in Hangzhou. You haven't seen it all until you've seen a ballet-dancing soldier.

Dancers in a park in Hangzhou. You haven’t seen it all until you’ve seen a ballet-dancing soldier.

After we got our sweets, we sat by the canal and watched the ladies’ dance practice. Calming.

Tomorrow we are going to the famous Buddhist temple and to the tea plantations.

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