Monday, September 6, 2010

A Dummy's Guide to Hang Zhou

Hang Zhou West Lake

My recent trip to Hang Zhou- Shanghai was a very last minute booking. I had always wanted to pay a visit to the World Expo which Shanghai is hosting this year till 31st October 2010. Got the AA flight booked and accomodation arranged a month before July and the next thing you know, we're off to HZ! My previous only experience with the Chinese (aka 'Tong San' as our politicians would call it) territory was HK and Shenzhen when I was about 7-8 years younger.

Now I've really 'balik Tong San'! (literally meaning "went back to China"... where the M'sian Chinese should belong, if we're not happy with the country, said our circus-politicians).

1. Accomodation

My Inn Hang Zhou (我的客栈)- budget rooms on offer at as low as 99 Yuan (RM50/night)

As we are on a tight budget (especially when this is an unplanned trip! and since we were going to Bandung in August and Bali in September), we opted for a budget hotel- nothing fancy schmanzy, just enough to put our heads to rest and shower. My Inn HZ is a very affordable budget hotel, clean and is quite popular amongst the younger travellers within China itself as besides ourselves and a Korean boy, the rest of the check-in occupants were Chinese. The first 2 nights we got a small room (big enough to accomodate a double bed and some space for luggage and an ensuite bathroom). The final night when we rechecked-in upon returning from Shanghai, we were lucky to get a much bigger room (about 3 times the size of the initial room) for only 99 Yuan. Internet is available at 20 Yuan/day and there is a computer in every room.

My Inn Hang Zhou (我的客栈)
Address: 264, Qiutao Road (opposite of South Long Distance Bus Station or 'Chang Du Qi Che Nan Chang' 长度汽车南站)
Address in Chinese: 杭州市上城区秋涛路264号

2. Getting Around Hang Zhou

Motorized bikes are a norm on the streets, but despite that the air still feels stuffy and polluted

Cars- yes alot. People- yes alot. Bad air- yes alot. Rude cabbies- yes alot.

Just like another other cities outside your own country, the best and most convenient way to get around is by taxi/cab. There are plenty of cabs available and easily spotted (usually in Hyundai Sonata or Volkswagon) and they have a green light flashing 'For Hire' if they are available. Be mindful though that you cannot flag down cabs whereever you want as there are designated taxi stands in some areas. Most cabbies cannot speak English and cannot read road names translated into English (i.e. My Inn Hang Zhou (我的客栈- Wo De Ke Zhao) is situated at Qiutao Road or 秋涛路 in Chinese- you have to tell them in Chinese 'Qiutao Lu'). The cabs do charge by meter but there are some instances where they will charge at their discretion.

Don't be surprised if they start to scold you for not speaking Chinese! I don't think they understand the concept of 'looking like a Chinese but I am a tourist who can't speak your putong hua goddamnit!!' but lucky for us, we can hear/ speak enough to scrape through). Oh and point to note, even in hot scorching summer, the cabs don't turn on their air cond- you'll just have to be patient with hot stuffy air blowing your face.

3. Getting Out of Hang Zhou

Hang Zhou Train Station

The cheapest, fastest and most comfortable way to get to Shanghai from Hang Zhou is by train, or at least this is what every travel website would recommend. It is important that you do a little bit of homework on what travel time, train class, and destination you want to head to before going over to the train station ticket counter to get your tickets. As they have so many people to service to each minute, the attendants will not be too happy if you hog the line by not knowing what you want. Moreover, customer service in China is generally non-existant even if there's obviously someone dedicated to answering enquiries.

Not wanting to compromise on the level of comfort and hygiene, we opted for the most expensive train class at 64 Yuan/way (RM32) to Shanghai. It is recommended to get the Dong Che Zhu (动车组), as it is the fastest, clean and most comfortable, so do lookout for trains that carries the 'D' initials, for i.e. D5668. The journey to Shanghai takes about 1.5 hour and takes off/ arrive very punctually, so remember to be early at your departure gate!

Points to remember:
1. Ask for Hang Zhou Railway Station (Hang Zhou- 杭州). The other railway station in HZ is called Hang Zhou East (杭州东) which is known to be run down and old- so try to avoid arriving here if possible.
2. Ask for Shanghai South Railway Station (Shanghai Nan- 上海南).
3. At Hang Zhou Railway Station, there is a counter window that can be easily differentiated as it has a English signboard that says "Ticket Window". If you cannot speak Chinese, do queue at that counter instead as it is dedicated to tourists.

Hang Zhou Railway Station ( Hang Zhou Hua Che Zhan- 杭州火车站)
Located at Shangcheng District

Shanghai South Railway Station (Shanghai Nan Zhan Hua Che Zhan- 上海南站火车站)
Located at Xuhui District

Train timetable-

4. Food at Hang Zhou

Local streetside delights- pan fried dumplings and rice noodles

Much to our dismay, food is not as easily to come by in Hang Zhou, perhaps we were a little picky on the level of hygiene at some stalls. Dumplings are a common staple for the Chinese and it's something we would love to give it a try too! Food is generally cheap though.

PTime Dessert: Red Bean Ice with Condensed Milk- oh yums; Mango Dessert; Guilin Gou with fruits and milk

Looks very much like a homecook meal- available at Intime (Yintai) Department Store food court

Hotpot option?

The Chinese love their hotpot or steamboat. So if you're a fan of swishing meat, boiling soup and dipping meatballs into the many types of sauces, then you can try Paradise Hot Pot as it offers decent hotpot and clean establishment.

Paradise Hot Pot
Address: 501, Qingtai Road
Address in Chinese: 清泰街501号

Mini lobsters; Steamed prawns; Fish and toufoo soup

Steamed scallops; Grilled lamb in skewers; Octopus; Bamboo clams

This is a seafood dinner place that we stumbled upon by chance while taking a walk near the hotel. It is known as Jinjiang Seafood Street and as the name suggests, one whole street dedicated to pick-your-own seafood. While we are not sure which shop offers the best deal, there just seems to be equal distribution of diners for all the shops. Food is good and cheap here, so remember to put this in your list if you're looking for something local.

Jinjiang Seafood Street (近江海鲜美食街)
Address: Jinjiang Street (next to Jinjiang Trust Mart)
Address in Chinese: 近江路 (近江好又多超市旁边)

5. Shopping at Hang Zhou

For grocery or convenience:

Trust Mart (similar to Wal-Mart)
1-3 Fengqi Road (凤起路1-3号)
1, Jinjiang Street (近江路1号)
Huang Long Sports Centre, 138 Shuguang Road (曙光路138号黄龙体育中心)

For shopping:

Intime (Yintai) Department Store
530, Yan'an Road (延安路530号)

Hang Zhou Department Store Mansion
260, Yan'an Road (延安路260号)

Hang Zhou Tower Shopping Center 杭州大厦购物中心
1, Wulin Square (武林广场1号 )

6. Hang Zhou Scenery

Hang Zhou Night scene and the famous West Lake

Hang Zhou is famous for the West Lake (西湖 Xī Hú) and have been immortalized in many poets', painters', artists' works. It is best to come at night when the city lights are up and the dark background exudes more feelings than a bright sunny day. See the famous pagoda across the lake and the one that I love most is the lighted hills at the background of the lotus lake. It's quite nice to take a walk after dinner here and you will see that even the locals love it here.

Point to remember: Do your research on where you want to visit. If you can't speak Chinese, it's best to print along travel cards with the Chinese name of the place so that the cab driver knows where you want to go.

Next up....

* awesome photos from calvingsc
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