I usually like to claim that i do not plan any of my trips, but infact usually the opposite is true. When i came to China this time, i had decided that if i stayed here till april then i'd visit the Shanghai GP, till august then its off to the Litang Horse festival and to top it all, if i stay here till oct/nov my plan is to go to Bayan Olgi, Mongolia for the annual eagle hunting festival. Fingers crossed.. i'll be writing about that trip sometime in the near future.
I had first been to Shanghai in 2004, that time to see the first ever Chinese grandprix. I missed the next one in 2005, the year where some of my friends went on to watch the race from the expensive K and H stands at throw away ticket prices (paying 300RMB for a 2500RMB ticket). I've been kicking myself ever since and i was not going to make the same mistake again this time.
For this trip, i was joined by two other friends from work. Both of them are huge F1 fans and, after a few hellish months in China, they were really looking forward to Shanghai. We had all been to Shanghai before (at different times) and were not really big fans of the city. So when i told them about my plan to go to Hangzhou on saturday, they also wanted to come along.
The first thing we did on arriving in Shanghai is to go book the tickets for Hangzhou. The super fast D trains running between Shanghai and Hangzhou cover the 180km distance in little less than 1hr20 mins. But apparently these trains are really popular and we couldn't get any tickets till 13:45hrs in the afternoon. In hindsight, i probably shouldn't have booked those tickets, but i did and i booked the tickets for all 3 of us.
It was still 8:30am and we had a good 5hrs to kill before the Hangzhou train. So after a quick breakfast at a Burger King joint nearby we went to book a hotel room (my friends didn't want to stay the night at Hangzhou and i was in two minds about staying there myself). Getting a hotel should have been an easy thing, but it wasn't to be. I had somehow decided not to take my passport along.. thinking that since im not flying i won't need it. It was such a dumb thing to do, especially after having been around China quite a few times. None of the hotels we went to would give us a room and finally we ended up taking a double room for my 2 friends and worry about my hotel room later. Maybe i could sneak in later or one of my friends can check me into a different hotel using his passport.
After lunch, we caught boarded the train to Hangzhou. We got the soft seat (first class) tickets on the D-train and it was a very comfortable journey. Outside our windows the sights were all green.. there was water and vegetation everywhere. Effortless greenery.. that's the term i'd like to use to describe it. Effortless compared to Beijing where the local administration spends a lot of time and water to make the city 'look' green.
At around 4pm we reached Hangzhou and discovered that there were no return (train) tickets to be had the same day. Luckily bus tickets were available, nearby and my friends took them. I booked the next day morning train and planned to spend the night in Hangzhou.
The departure time for the bus was 7:30pm and it was 4:30pm already. That didn't leave us much timeÂ explore the place. My first order of business was to find a hostel nearby the West Lake and stay there. Once again i did not bother to write down the directions for the hostel, thinking that 'nearby the west lake' means that it would be easy to find. It wasn't and after 15mins of searching in vain i gave up and decided to return back with my friends. If i had my passport with me then i would've stayed and tried my luck later but without one, i was at the mercy of my friend's passport to get me a hotel.
After hearing numerous praises about the Hangzhou west lake, my first impression of it was one of disappointment. It didn't look any more special than some of the lakes in Beijing. Typical Chinese hype i thought, but the hype also came from many of my friends who've been there. So something was'nt right. We lingered around the entrance for a while.. thinking about taking a boat ride but later realizing that it was a little bit too late in the day for one. It was then i suggested that we go over to the west side of the lake and check out the interesting looking pagoda in the distance. Running short of time, we paid 10RMB and took a golf cart like electric buggy to take us to the pagoda.
It didn't take much to change my impressions of the place. Soon we were zipping by the lake (a bit too fast..) past well manicured lawns, charming little brooks and numerous flowers. It was green everywhere and the grass especially was the fresh slightly yellowish green which i love so much. It would be great to leisurely stroll by the lake and take in all the scenery.. without all the rush. When we reached the pagoda, it was already becoming dark and the lights started to come on. It was a beautiful sight but there was no time to linger.. the traffic looked horrible and we instantly knew that there would be trouble getting a taxi back to the railway station.
Luckily another Xian didn't happen and we caught the bus in time and reached Shanghai. We should've all turned in for the night, but we decided to check out the local bar scene. A quick google search pointed us to Hengshan road and the night turned out to be a flop. The drinks were ridiculously expensive and the touts were irritatingly persistent offering massages, 'blew' jobs and everything else that one might be game for.
It was one long.. hectic day with nothing going as planned. Hopefully the next day would be better..