Sunday was my last full day and I got up super early to catch the metro to Hongqiao on the other side of the city. A bit of a forward planning fail meant I only looked up where the train left from at 10pm on the night before. Anyway after an hour’s uneventful train ride I arrived, seemingly along with half the population of China, in Hangzhou. The crowding I’ll address later but for now Hangzhou is famous for exactly two things: tea and a massive man-made lake.
There might be other things in the city. But I didn’t see them because my stay there exclusively involved an extended stroll around the lake. It’s called 西湖 “West Lake” and was dug out and landscaped over 2000 years by various dynasties. And is surrounded by gardens and pagodas and little temples. Due to it being a sunny weekend day and one of China’s top tourist attractions the paths around the lake were clogged and progress was very slow. Also there was over an hour of queuing to get into any of the lakeside attractions. So my advice to anyone going would be to visit on a weekday. I think it may have been particularly bad that weekend as unbeknownst to me Hangzhou was hosting the G20 summit so all the roads were gridlocked.
Anyway I eventually made it to the west side of the West Lake and the crowds had thinned out a little. Around here is the start of the famous tea growing area. There’s the Chinese National Tea Museum which is quite good. And outside there are some plantations you can wander around and see tea being grown in the traditional way.
The most well known local tea is 龙井 “dragon well” but it’s normally just transliterated to Longjing in English. The tea picking and processing is still done by hand. By luck I had arrived just at the end of the 2016 harvesting season so all the tea was super fresh. I wondered idly what effect the recent pollution has on tea flavour.
I bought some for a slightly extortionate 180元 for 50g in a small small shop. But the staff were friendly and they dished it out of a big sack which seemed pleasantly rustic.
By the time I’d completed my circumnavigation of the lake and returned to the city it was time to go back to Shanghai. I said to myself “well it’s an hour and a half until my train so I have plenty of time to collect my ticket and maybe eat dinner at the station”. Oh-my-god I had never seen so many people. Queuing for the metro, packed into the metro, and then queuing for nearly an hour at the ticket counter. I barely made it onto the train in time, which would have been awkward as I had to fly home the next day. I think I learned an important lesson about travelling in China at the weekend. At least it wasn’t Chinese new year.
Anyway, Hangzhou seems like a decent enough place. Apparently there is good hiking in the hills nearby, and some tea producing villages you can visit. So maybe worth another extended trip in the future.