toilet star rating = 4 star
After Yangshuo we were in a quandry. We had wanted to go to Fujian province to see the mountains and round houses but typhoon Meiji was expected to cross the coast there any day. Probaby not the best destination under the circumstances. But where to instead? The travel agents in Yangshuo only organised local travel so we hopped on the bus back to Guilin. At Guilin bus station we were admirably assisted by the young girl at the tourist office who not only helped us choose our next destination but also booked us the tickets. We decided to fly to Hangzhou, a city east of Shanghai. Hangzhou is famous in China for its lakeside scenery, especially the West Lake, which has featured in Chinese poetry and paintings for millennia. So it was another midnight horror flight for us.
We'd booked accommodation at Hofang Hostel, but as we were arriving so late we'd not be able to check in until the next day so we booked a flash hotel room on www.lastminute.com. It was a real change of pace for us, but arriving around 2.30am we didn't have much of an opportunity to enjoy the luxury. After a wonderful night's rest and huge breakfast, we took a taxi to the hostel. The taxi driver was a young woman but she had all the road rage of her male colleagues. Throughout the drive she was abusing other drivers, the traffic and the difficulty of finding the hostel, which was off the main road on a pedestrian side street. It got to the point we thought it best to get out of the cab and try and navigate our way ourselves, but the driver insisted we stay in the car until she'd got us as close as she could. Of course we couldn't actually follow any of this at the time.
It took us a little while to find the hostel as we didn't have a detailed map or clear directions but once we were in we were very impressed. The hostel was in a restored Chinese shop house and our room opened onto a small interior courtyard. The room itself was small, on two levels with all modern fittings. What's more, the bed was SOFT, which was a godsend after the rock hard mattress of Charming Inn. The staff there were exceptionally helpful too, especially Xin, who provided us excellent assistance.
After checking in we headed down to West Lake. This huge lake has been used for recreation by Chinese emperors and their courts for millennia. This was because Hangzhou is only a couple of hours from Nanjing, the southern capital. The lake shore and islands is littered with little temples and pagodas. To simplify transport around the lake, a causeway was built right across its centre in the 10th century. It's still used today. The lake is best viewed on an overcast day when the mists of the surrounding mountains give the lake a pleasant aspect. It was certainly overcast today. In fact, not long after we arrived it began to drizzle. As the day wore on though the drizzle became rain and by sunset we were quite damp and disillusioned.
We wandered back to the hostel, changed into dry clothes and headed out for food. Sadly it was now pouring with rain and after visiting and rejecting several restaurants (mainly due to the number of dubious dishes on their menu), we settled for fast food. Not the western kind mind you, fast food Chinese style. We encountered many fast food restaurants in China which follow the western model of cheap, quick meals and set menu deals. Most were pretty good. We had two different noodle soups, which were fast becoming our staple meal. When we set off on this trip Shelly had commented that she didn't know how she was going to go with the food as she's not a big fan of Chinese, but during the whole trip we only ever ate Chinese. We also became somewhat adept at chopsticks, simply because we had no other choice. Many restaurants don't even have knives and forks.
The next day we headed out early for a quick walk through the old town area (we were right in the heart of it). This was a tiny sliver of 'character' amongst the modern metropolis of new buildings. Then we went back to the hostel to arrange our next destination. Between Hangzhou and Shanghai is the canal zone (more on this later). There are several canal towns that are popular with tourists. Xin recommended Xitang as the best to see and then booked us a bus, accommodation for the night in a local guesthouse, and wrote out our travel instructions in English and Chinese. She was exceptionally helpful and we can't thank her enough for her efforts. When she'd finished making all the arrangements she looked at her watch and said "It will be beautiful for you to go right now I think", meaning we'd better go now or we'll miss our bus. And with that we said not goodbye to Hangzhou, but au-reviour!