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A Weekend in Hangzhou

sunny 20 °C

My most recent escape from Beijing was to Hangzhou, a city about an hour south of Shanghai, and the southern climate was a welcome break from Beijing's fast-descending temperatures. The journey was a tad on the long side; it took around 6 hours by train to get there but it was so worth it.

Will and I met at the main station before catching the Metro into the centre. From there it was a short walk to the hostel. Initially the city seemed quiet, understandably as it was nearing 11pm. However, as we turned the corner onto the road our hostel was located on, everything changed. Hefang Street was buzzing. There were crowds of people and hundreds of street vendors selling everything from post cards to Chinese flutes. There were flags bunting draped across the old street. We were so distracted by everything that we forgot we were looking for the hostel and walked right past it. We met Anna and Tessa at the hostel and then headed back out in search for something to eat and drink before bed. There were miniature food courts at regular intervals, so we took the plunge and ordered an aubergine stuffed with noodles and vegetables which was really tasty.

Saturday was reserved for Hangzhou's main attraction, The West Lake (Xi Hu). The lake is huge and luckily for us, it was a beautiful day to see as much of it as we could. After a quick breakfast, the four of us headed towards the lake, unsure of exactly where was the best place to start. We struck gold by finding some beautiful gardens which lead us straight to the lake's shore and gave us the opportunity to take in just how big it was. There are several famous sights to see around the lake, including temples, islands in the middle of it and a narrow strip of bridges that crosses part of it. We took a boat over to "The Moon Reflecting in Three Pools" island, which interestingly has four pools... It was a really beautiful space, full of trees and flowers and with bridges between the pools. We walked all around it and from one side you could see the skyscrapers of Hangzhou's modern district which was a strange contrast to the serenity and nature of the island.

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We spent the whole day exploring different parts of the lake and when we got tired, we stopped in a particularly warm spot for a couple of drinks and watched the sun go down. In the evening, we ate at a restaurant near the lake and then went back to the lake bank to see what it looked like in the dark. It was, of course, beautiful. There was an illuminated building near us that reflected in the still water and in the distance, on the other banks, there were thousands of tiny twinkling lights. To finish off the evening we went to a jazz club for a few drinks.

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Sunday morning, we walked up to Wushan Scenic Spot which is a hill at one side of the lake. At the top there are several temples and a huge pagoda which we climbed up. Unfortunately, it was smoggier so the views weren't as clear as the previous day but we could see roofs of other buildings poking out of the tree tops. I felt miles away from my urban life in Beijing, it was so green. For what remained of the afternoon, we took the time to explore a bit of the old part of the town by daylight. The architecture around the streets was not what I expected at all! Once we moved off Hefang Street, suddenly it all seemed a bit less Chinese, and while it wasn't quite European, there was definitely more European influence than I have seen here.

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Walking back to the train station I realised how much I had enjoyed visiting Hangzhou. The city has such a huge variety of influences and atmospheres. I'm not sure a weekend there is enough to really make the most of everything it has to offer. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to go back one day to see some more of the lake and explore the city more.

Posted by amysblog 21:04 Archived in China Tagged nature landscape history travel lake city china pagoda skyline weekend hangzhou west_lake tefl Comments (0)

The highs (and lows) of Zhangjiajie

Mountains and monkeys, caves and canyons.

semi-overcast 6 °C

Spring Festival is approaching which means that we Foreign Teachers have broken up for a whole SEVEN WEEKS - I had already had a week off before Will finished and spent it getting ready for travelling and doing a bit of preparation for next semester, as I’m fairly sure I will have forgotten how to teach after this adventure.

The first stop on our itinerary was Zhangjiajie, a mountain range in mid China, which is growing more and more famous, especially after parts of it were used to film Avatar. We have spent 3 days exploring this little part of the world and it has blown my mind... We arrived fairly late in the city on Sunday night and had ‘made friends’ with a group of women on the plane, one of whom insisted on dropping us at our hostel- something that would NEVER happen in the bigger cities. It was only a short car journey and when we arrived at the hostel, the staff were very helpful in terms of planning the next day. Unfortunately our room was a bit of a let down, it was huge but freezing, with no central heating and an aircon that didn’t work.

So after a chilly first night, we set off in search of the avatar mountains. The day got off to a rocky start because the journey from the city is fairly complicated, involving a public bus and then transferring to a minibus around the back of a bus station which isn’t really signposted and so it took us a fair while until we were settled into our minibus for an extremely bumpy ride up to the National Park. Luckily for us, we met two local Chinese girls on the minibus who happily let us follow them for the afternoon and so made our lives extremely easy. We did a 3.5km hike up to one of the lower peaks, it was a fairly cool day but with all the steps we were very warm.

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the mountaineering team

On the way up, we encountered monkeys at various stages. Perhaps the most exhilarating part of the hike was a monkey attack. It was all because of a lollipop that one of the girls had given to me. Out of nowhere, a pack of monkeys came racing from higher up the mountain and headed right for me. One of them was trying to climb up my leg and so I had to launch the lollipop into the foliage in a bid to save myself and the others. Luckily, we all survived, but I was a lot warier about eating from there on...

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views ft. monkey

When we reached the top, we were absolutely astounded by the views, even though the visibility wasn’t fantastic, it really was beautiful. However, it was nothing in comparison to the views we experienced two days later upon our return to the park, when the weather had improved.

On the day between our mountain visits, we went to the Glass Bridge and Grand Canyon. On the bus on the way up we met a nice German couple who had done a similar hike to us the day before and had also experience a monkey attack! Unfortunately the weather was still quite foggy so the views from the bridge weren’t great but we could still see quite a lot... I think it would have been terrifying had we been able to see right down into the canyon. We did walk part the way down to the canyon but the routes weren’t well sign posted and we were keen to also visit Huanglong Dong (Yellow Dragon Caves) so we decided to go back via many many many steps and cross the bridge again. We got to the caves which were absolutely enormous and we were taken by boat deep inside them, from where we followed a winding trail through huge tunnels and openings.

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Glass Bridge

That night we stayed in the small town of WulingYuan so we could get to the park earlier the next day - which was the day with the spectacular views. We started in the BaiLong lift which is a glass lift that goes up the side of the mountain. We used the buses to see more of the park and went up much higher, where the monkeys were friendlier and saw the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. The best part of it was the Tianzi Mountain Peak. There were several viewing platforms which all, impossibly, seemed to offer an even better view that the one before. We spent ages absorbing the views and finding isolated viewing platforms, before we decided to walk down to the base in order to get a bus down to the city.

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On the way down, the Sun was setting as we headed into the increasingly dense forest which provided us with even more photo opportunities! We also met some other Brits on the way down who we got on the same bus back to the city with. It was nice to chat to some other people doing a similar thing to us and distract us from the intensity of the descent. The number of steps I climbed up and down that day have had a severe effect on my legs for the last few days.

On our last day in Zhangjiajie, we had planned to go to Tianmen Mountain which is south of the city and much closer, however due to restoration / bad weather / other unknown reasons, the mountain remained closed longer than anticipated so we were unable to go. The weather was bad anyway so instead we walked into the drizzly city centre for a look around. It’s a very strange place at the moment, obviously it is low-season, something that made our trip very enjoyable, but from the deserted open air bar areas I can imagine the city has a bustling centre during the summer. The scenery here has well and truly blown my mind but I think we are ready to leave Zhangjiajie, or at least ready to get to a warmer hostel!

Next stop Chengdu!

Posted by amysblog 08:07 Archived in China Tagged mountains monkeys nature hiking travel caves china Comments (0)

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