Today was another late start as JT was trying to finalize a flight review. We left the apartment around 11:30am and headed down the subway line 2 to Shanghai Hongqiao train station (上海虹桥站) on our way to Hangzhou (杭州市).
At the train station, only 5 ticket windows were open (of at least 20). As foreigners, we were unable to use the automatic machines, so we were forced to wait in the long ticket window lines. Unable to speak Chinese, we used a generic train-booking form Katie had found online to book 13:30 G(7313, ¥77.5 each) train tickets to Hangzhou for today and 10:04 G(7126, ¥39.5 each) train tickets to Suzhou for tomorrow.
This ticket buying experience made us sure we really should have reserved all of our train tickets online beforehand via Ctrip. Although you still have to pick them up (which you can do all at once for a ¥5/ticket charge), it is then at least possible to get the trains and times you want. For example, we we could have preferred to take the cheaper D trains to Hangzhou and Suzhou, but this was hard to convey. We figure that the ticket counter agent figured that we would want the nicer trains.
The G train was just as chaotic as our D train a few days earlier, but the facilities were a bit nicer. It took our train 1h 34m to reach Hangzhou when the trip was only scheduled to take 1h. JT listened to his iPod and slept most of the way there.
Once in Hangzhou, we headed to the FreshMart in the train station to pick-up some drinks and snacks (¥51.50). Then, we followed the signs to the taxi queue, ignoring the guys following us trying to get us on their minibus. We pointed to the eastern end of Bai Su on a map, and off we went.
We found out that taxis in Hangzhou charge ¥11 (<$2) per flag drop and then ¥1 more per 0.5km after the first 2.5km. There is also some small charge for waiting more than a certain time in traffic, but it seemed that this charge was small and rarely added. Our taxi from the Hangzhou train station cost just ¥16 (<$3) – a great value especially considering there is no public transit option. The taxi driver, like all of the others we have experienced so far in China, was happy to provide change and would not accept a tip.
Once at West Lake we walked in the sweltering heat (~100F/40C) and sun along Bai causeway (白堤). There was not much shade on this causeway until the island. Once at the island, we explored the quieter gardens and paths before stumbling across the site of an emperor’s temporary palace. Here we climbed to the top of the hill before wandering back down the other side.
Katie was really impressed by the clean bathrooms located around West Lake. Each had clean squat toilets with running water and soap (which proved to be a rare treat in China)! Katie was shocked to notice at the last bathroom she stopped at that it seemed someone – perhaps one of the cleaning people – slept in the maintenance room (based on the bed and kitchen and clothing set up).
We had originally planned to just walk along the shorter Bai causeway, but when we saw that the longer Su causeway (蘇堤) was shaded, we opted to keep walking. Also, the official “pleasure boat” – our other option for venturing around the lake – stalls were closed. For safety and cost (¥150/hour), we opted to avoid the smaller, hand-rowed boats.
Near the start of the causeway there were a bunch of people dressed in black running around in the water and splashing water as a lady directed them using a megaphone. Apparently they were practicing for a show.
The 2.8 km (<2 mile) walk along Su causeway was actually really nice. Along the causeway there were frequent benches and trash cans (both “recycle” and “non-recycle”). There was a main road surrounded on both sides by two paved pathways along the lake. It was a peaceful walk, except for when the motorcycles and motorized bikes attempted to run you over on the main path.
Once we reached the end of the causeway, we rounded the lake towards town. We walked a short time before catching a large, new, and air conditioned taxi back to the train station. After a long day in the sun, we would have gladly paid more for this “luxury” ride, but it was the same pricing scheme as earlier. Traffic and extra mileage led the price to be ¥21 (~$3.50).
Once at the main Hangzhou train station, we went to the ticket offices on the right side of the station. We found a ‘foreign guests’ window (which had tons of Chinese people at it), and waited at it. JT saw that another window had no one waiting, but the attendant waved him away when he tried to order tickets there. The woman working the foreign guests window had very broken English, but she was trying and we appreciated it. We were able to get tickets back to Shanghai (G7328 depart 20:00, ¥77.5 each) as well as pick up all of our reserved tickets. She even waived the ¥5 per ticket fee for picking them up at a non-departure station.
Once back in Shanghai, we tried to go to a grilled cheese place Greg and Sara recommended, but were sad to find that it apparently closed earlier than expected. We ended up eating at an expat café near their apartment, where we both opted for large mugs of Danish beer (Carlsberg), salad, hamburgers with bacon, and fries. It was some great comfort food!