As part of the epic Shanghai trip last July (oops, has it been that long?), we took a short weekend trip to Hangzhou. Here is a short summary of our trip and perhaps some tips that might help.
I found the train times online, and we booked tickets through a little hole in the wall ticket office near our apartment. To book tickets you need to show your passport, or at least a copy of it, because it prevents people from scalping tickets during peak seasons like Golden Week.
We took a bullet train from the Shanghai Hongqiao Station, which is nice and new, but the place is absolutely packed. You are only allowed to board 15 minutes before the train departs, and people start queuing up as soon as you know the platform number. If you’re traveling with young kids, you can get priority boarding, which I recommend, because the crowd can get a little overwhelming. And everyone has allocated seats so I’m not sure what the rush is?? Being kiasu Singaporeans, we rushed in too. Ha!!!
Right after the gantry on the Shanghai side, there is one very lift down to the platform, which everyone will try to squeeze into; but if you have a baby with you, use it as your priority! The train ride took a little over an hour, hovering (literally, right?) around 300km/h. The time depends on the number of stops.
When we got into Hangzhou, we could not find a lift on the platform, although I did see one on the return trip. The train station is a short, easy drive to the Grand Hyatt Hangzhou, but I’m glad we made arrangements with the hotel to have a pick up service because I wouldn’t want to have to deal with a long taxi queue.
The Grand Hyatt Hangzhou is not a new hotel, but the rooms are very comfortable and reasonably large. We had a lovely stay here. I did, however have problems making the booking because the Hyatt call centre when I called from Singapore firstly acted like they had never even heard of the hotel (“hung-chu-ah”?); and were very pushy over the phone. And this was more than one person. When I called the reservations centre from Shanghai, they first had to put me through to an English speaking officer (since I might miss out some important details if I had to speak Putonghua entirely); but they were fantastic. So, if you are calling Hyatt Reservations from Singapore, you have been warned.
The Grand Hyatt Hangzhou in a lovely location – right on the lake, right next to daily water performances. The Hangzhou Lake is supposed to be one of the most breathtaking places in China…..in the 15th century, perhaps. The lake is supposed to be poised to reflect the beauty of the moon on a clear night; but maybe that was before the lake became polluted and dirty.
As you can see, there is PLENTY of people, and really not much view. If I had to do it again, I’d have gone for a lake-view room so that I could just watch the water performances from my room.
These days the lake looks… a little disappoointing. A friend of mine said that the wetlands where a Banyan Tree resort and Four Seasons are, are actually much more picturesque, with hardly anyone.
On the day we arrived, it was very close to dinner time, so for convenience we had dinner in the hotel at 28 Hubin Road which apparently is quite a highly rated restaurant. The river shrimp with tea leaves wasn’t impressive, but the sweet honey fried pork ribs was so addictive and the kids loved it, and the dungpo pork is quite unusual, wouldn’t you say? The salt baked chicken was interesting since the kids had a go at breaking it open, but the taste wasn’t impressive.
On our second day, we had breakfast at a local place, it was decent. The entertainment by way of the English translation, was epic.
I’d heard so much about the tea plantations, and tea tours, so we hired a driver from the hotel. However we were pretty disappointed and the kids were quite bored, because we only went to historical sites, like where the Emperor had visited a grand total of three times, in the 13th century. Riveting? Not really. We didn’t even get to sample any longjing! Argh!
That afternoon it started to pour all the way to the next day, so we really didn’t do much more. We didn’t go a buggy around the lake, we didn’t even manage to walk around the lake, we didn’t go to the old streets, we didn’t… ah well, at least the kids had fun hanging out in the hotel. I really didn’t do much research on Hangzhou because we were so busy in Shanghai, and only on our last day I discovered one of my friends loves Hangzhou and knows all the ins and outs. Would’ve been useful knowledge earlier, eh?
Zhang Yimou’s Impression West Lake show is supposed to be really good, but I wasn’t sure the kids would be up to it, so we gave it a miss. I would definitely like to watch it the next time I’m in Hangzhou. I’m sure Hangzhou has a lot more to offer, but probably not during weekends (we didn’t have a choice though) when it’s a lot more crowded, and not when it’s raining the whole day. I wouldn’t mind returning to explore the city again, but at least I’m crossing this UNESCO site off my list for now.