February 17, 2018


How I visited the capital of the Zhejiang province during my journey through East China.

Coming from the rural areas of Yi County in Anhui Province, the most convenient way was by bus – which was, um, adventurous at places..

Sometimes, the pavement simply ended, leaving a muddy surface with sharp rocks.

There's no direct connection, so I had to transfer in Tunxi. But everything went smoothly, leaving me just enough time for lunch. Also, spending the hottest part of the day in an air-conditioned environment was welcomed. Speaking of local buses, they have surprisingly generous legroom, but dear me, they can be loud! However, having noise-cancelling headphones, I did enjoy the journey, and when I arrived in Hangzhou, I was excited to experience it.

The first thing was to drop my backpack at the accommodation I booked. As it was some 7 km (4.4mi) from the bus station and there was no subway stop nearby, I used those lovely rental bikes conveniently just behind the station's entrance. "That'll do!" As I started riding, I was impressed by how tidy the city was – there wasn't any litter lying around. Most Chinese cities are well-kept from trash, but Hangzhou took it to a yet new level. Unfortunately, the air didn't reflect the cleanliness of the ground: plenty of ongoing constructions whirlpool dust everywhere. And as the air temperatures were still close to the boiling point, breathing all that was not fun.

Three tunnels and plenty of drinking water later, I arrived at my hostel. After a welcomed shower, I made my way towards downtown, and the gift named Hangzhou started giving.

Hangzhou West Lake with the Leifeng Pagoda

West Lake with the Leifeng Pagoda

Before the darkness fell, I walked on the promenade next to the West Lake, around which the city was built. I was told that Hangzhou, together with Shenzhen, has the biggest concentration of billionaires in China, and the promenade reflected such. It was packed with luxury stores; Ferrari, Omega, and that sort.

The waterfront, though... I expected a lot of people, but the crowd was mind-blowing. Individuals rudely pushed each other; some argued about the bikes, and others fought for a spot to stick their tripod to take a photograph.. Like if it would matter. Hassles were frequently interrupted by whistling police officers, and then they repeated. "Oh, not again," I didn't miss this aspect of the city.

So, I escaped to one of the fancy restaurants nearby and, in contrast, got plenty of personal space; the temperature was just right, and the music was nice. "Please enjoy," they said, and I did. When I recharged my comfort level, I went out to see what all the fuss was about.

Each hour, the city had a singing fountain show. The place was filled to burst, except for a spot behind one large sign – nobody around was tall enough to see over it. Nobody, but me. That was my chance. Happy that I could utilize my height to see and not obscure anyone's view, I watched the show for a moment. Then I thought to use the sign as a tripod to take a long exposure picture of the fountain. However, as soon as someone standing in front of the sign saw a camera sticking on it, they put a hand up in front of the lens, just to ruin my view. "Seriously?" I mean, it didn't annoy me because of the picture – but it upset me that people commit actions with no other purpose than to harm others. Again, like if that one photo would matter. Pff. So I walked away and relaxed with picture taking elsewhere. A simple thing, taking pictures, but it's like therapy to me.

Hangzhou West Lake at night.

Eventually, I went to check out another point of interest, the Global Centre building – that tower in the 2/3 of the photo below:

No close-up pictures, as in my eyes, the tower looks better from a distance. But getting there was fun, with fewer people and some colorful scenery to admire.

Then I turned around and started making my way back home. I decided to complete a circle around the lake, which also offered some beautiful views.

By the time I got back to the hostel, it was almost midnight, and I happily went to bed.

Unlike the previous days, the following morning, I slept in. While it felt good, it also meant that by the time I left to see more of the city, it was 38c /100f, and the humidity was at levels that weren't going to make things any easier. My first stops of the day were the Taiziwan and Hua Gang Parks, good-sized green areas at the southwest corner of the West Lake.

Since the distance I covered across Hangzhou yesterday was over 30 km, I took it easy – enjoying a stroll under the shade of trees and gradually the buildings around.

At one point, I crossed Yan'an road with the City God Pavilion in the background:

The City God Pavilion was on my to-do list for the day, but before getting there, I went to see the Baochu Pagoda located on the hill north of the lake.

The pagoda is neat, and the hill offers a class view of the lake...


...and the north side of the city (note the Global Centre building in the centre).

The view was also the main reason I wanted to visit the City God Pavilion – I read that there should be an observation deck there. The site had two surprises waiting for me: While the pavilion presents itself as an ancient structure complementing the pagodas around, it is actually a modern building.

But the biggest surprise was that I had the whole thing to myself. Very cool!

Looking at the busy city from a vantage point was calm, the colors of dusk were pretty, the temperature pleasing.. this was a good call.

As the night fell, I was already tired, so I went to get some rest afterwards.

The next day I started in a similar fashion as the previous one, I checked out another local garden within the Xi Hu Feng Jing Ming Sheng Qu district.

The garden included a few caves, with interiors filled with Buddha sculptures. This was interesting and convenient, as it started raining.

As I browsed the caves, the light rain beefed up into a proper storm. The weather radar indicated that these conditions would last for a while, so I sat down in one of the garden's pavilions and typed notes for this story. About an inch of rainfall later, the storm backed off, and I went to the Jingci Temple.

It is a good-sized complex which, besides being a temple, is also a museum – at the time of my visit, there was an interesting exhibition of Chinese Buddhist statues.

This was the last ancient point of interest I had here. Later, I got lunch and explored bits of the city centre.

Colonialist influences are apparent across downtown.

The most exciting aspect of this neighborhood was its street culture, lots of local food and crafts.

My plan for the rest of the day was to enjoy some cool modern architecture – particularly, I had in mind the duo of freshly completed, 256m/840ft tall Raffles City Towers.

the two in the centre.

...but getting towards them was appealing as well, as my path was lined with other structures worth a look.

Well, the Raffles towers didn't disappoint; conversely, I would call them one of the highlights of the modern architecture I had a chance to see in China so far.

The towers are designed by the Dutch UNStudio, the same that's responsible for London's Canaletto. They offer tons of sweet angles to enjoy their elegant curves.

The facade looks like a reptile skin.

The whole area has a lot to offer.

Hangzhou Grand Theatre at night

Hangzhou's Qianjiang Xincheng Citizen's Center (left) and the Grand Theatre (right).

InterContinental Hangzhou

Hotel InterContinental (Carlos Ott)

It's just a couple of yards from the edge of the Qiantang River, which was colourful as ever.

Once more, an excellent way to end a day. The riverfront was the last item on my to-do list in the city. Then, I went to get some food and experience the local subway system. It appears the same as pretty much every underground in China I've seen, but the one in Hangzhou had the best English instructions of them. The subway took me to the Hangzhou East Station – a giant, good-looking railroad terminal. A different adventure was waiting...

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy my stories about other Chinese cities I visited:



Suzhou, China


You can also visit my Blog Archives for more categories and topics. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories