Home of the Beggar's Chicken

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Zhejiang,
Friday, April 1, 2011

My trip to Hangzhou was not so easy this time around. We had difficulty acquiring tickets for a direct train ride from Beijing into Hangzhou over the Qingming holiday. I suggested we take a risk and go for Shanghai Hongqiao then connect with a fast train from there. Once we acquired our train tickets about 10 days before departure and we paired them up with airplane tickets back home. We didn't want to risk getting stuck in Hangzhou for several more days due to unavailable train tickets to Beijing. Our group would consist of myself, Jeff, David, Sofia and Sofia's classmate, Jacky. The newbies on this trip would be David and Sofia having never been there but heard countless stories of Hangzhou's beauty.

We took the D307 train from Beijing South railway station with a departure time of 9:35PM. The train itself comprised of many soft sleeper carriages and our carriage of soft seats. The interior and comfort was much better than my previous experience from Xi'an to Beijing. This train ride would last nearly 10 hours and felt very similar to an airplane experience. The seating arrangement was a 3-2 layout with an aisle running along the center. I was seated in a row behind the rest of the group and was able to exchange seats with a Chinese man to have the aisle seat. I quickly fell asleep after an hour on the train due to the Benadryl pills I had taken for my allergies. The other four members of the group would play Big 2 while sitting in a horizontal position, sort of awkward. Occasionally, I would wake up an peek at the speed of the train, it ranged from 90 kph to 250 kph as it traveled through several cities and rural areas.

The train made several stops along the way and finally made it to Shanghai Hongqiao around 7:30AM. We quickly disembarked and found our way to a ticket purchasing machine and selected a 8:50AM departure from Shanghai Hongqiao to Hangzhou. The hour in between allowed us to get breakfast at the station and prepare for our arrival into Hangzhou. I opted for a standard McDonalds Egg Mcmuffin for 20 RMB, not a bad deal considering it was the first McDonalds I've had in China for a while. Shanghai Hongqiao was the same as before, very modern and efficient. We boarded our train and zipped away at speeds of 350 kph to Hangzhou.

Upon arrival at Hangzhou station, we were immediately greeted by lots and lots of people. More people than during Christmas time. We actually had to wait about 5 minutes before getting a cab to send us to our hostel on the lake. We took two separate cabs to Hangzhou International Youth Hostel, which was located directly across the way from the China Academy of Art. Our taxi driver pointed out they were doing a film shooting has they had a huge boom lift with the camera swinging through the air. We checked into our hostel with all five of us into a room with uncertainty for the middle night. Primarily because we were unable to book the extra bed for David. They advised us to return the next day to figure it out. We dropped off our items at the room and sent forth to venture along West Lake.

We were immediately floored by the greenery that surrounded us. By walking only to the end of the building complex, we began to hear traditional Chinese instruments from senior citizens practicing under the shade of the willow trees. Nearby, a group of school children were having lunch on a nice green patch of lawn adjacent to Qian Wang's Temple. We walked along the shores of West Lake with its green willow trees hanging over head. Walking in a northward direction we encountered a local landmark, the Golden Cow in the Water. We snapped up photos of the bovine behemoth and pressed forth into West Lake Tiandi, a little development of coffee shops and restaurants. We eventually made our way to the main road where the buses stop for pedestrians to cross. This would never happen in Beijing, hence the difference in attitude between the two cities. Jeff and I agreed to bring the group to sample some local cuisine.

We returned to the restaurant where we encountered delicious food back in December. Surprisingly the lady recognized Jeff and I and was ecstatic that we had returned with new friends. We proceeded upstairs where we would order Longjing tea leaves with shrimp, bamboo shoots with sauce, fresh stir fried vegetable, preserved beets with pork, and the grand daddy of all 2 orders of beggar's chicken. All the dishes were extremely delicious and the beggar's chicken became a dining ritual for us as we pressed forth from the restaurant.

We continued our walk north along the eastern edge of the lake. We came upon Ji Xian Pavilion which jutted out from the walkway and into West Lake. Continuing along we found scores of senior citizens relaxing in the park while performing musical instruments. Children were running around spraying each other with their bubble guns, and many more relaxing and lounging along the lakeside. It was a nice day out and we took advantage of the weather by hopping onto a boat for a ride to Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, an island in the middle of West Lake. The boat ride was quite smooth as it jetted across the water to our destination. Along the way, we spotted the Baochu Pagoda, Bai Causeway, Wushan Square, and Leifeng Pagoda.

Upon our arrival to the island, I had forgotten to purchase a bottle of water and seeing how we were quite a distance away from any competition, prices of items on the island were hiked up. I eventually caved in and purchased a 5 RMB cup of orange drink and downed it in a single satisfying gulp. The island itself was quite serene and peaceful. No bicycles or cars were found on the island, so it was an escape to roam freely around while viewing some of the blooming cherry blossoms. We eventually found a rock table and some rock chairs to play a game of chairs. Along the way to the boat launch, David assisted several Chinese tourists seeking a certain destination around West Lake from the boat docks. We decided to be lazy and take the boat that would bring us to Lou Wai Lou restaurant and Gu Shan.

After reaching Gu Shan, we proceeded to southward so that we may reach the Su Causeway. Along the way, we found several couples taking wedding photos on a picturesque bridge that connects Gu Shan with the mainland. In fact, there were so many couples, they began to queue up a line in order to take a photo with the desired background. We continued wandering and by this time the sun was setting so it was giving off an orange glow to the environment.

By walking with no sense of direction, we stumbled upon the stage of Impression West Lake. Police officers began to barricade the area with poles and covers to prevent a onlookers from peeking in. We walked around until we found some stage equipments including goldfish and cranes. David and Sofia stroke up a conversation with the local management and asked how these would be used the in production. It turns out, performers would walk on water at night while carrying these items. After a short while, the policemen requested that we leave the area so they can conduct a search to ensure no one was in the restricted zone. We decided to see the show for ourselves and went to the box office to purchase our tickets. However, the cheapest tickets available were 260 RMB a seat, we purchased our tickets for the next evening as today's performance was already sold out.

With our tickets in hand, we grabbed dinner which included beggar's chicken of course. And after wolfing down our meal, we wanted to catch the fountain show so we waiting around while bats flew over our heads using their echolocation. We ended up not seeing the fountain show as it had ended for the day during our dinner. Bummed out by this, we walked back to our hostel along the lake and retired for the night, our first day in Hangzhou.

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