Hangzhou Stories and Tips

Hangzhou: Away from the maddening crowd

Hefeng street Photo, Hangzhou, China

While Beijing is known as the political capital, Shanghai, the economic hub; Hangzhou is the cultural and historical ancient capital dating back to the Qin Dynasty in 222 B.C. Today, Hangzhou is a modern city which takes pride in its historical legacy and makes constant efforts to preserve and restore many of its relics. Commercialism of such efforts are inevitable, however, Hangzhou has not lost all its charm yet.

Avoiding Crowds
To avoid the tourist crowds in Xihu, visit the West Lake in the early mornings, it not only makes for a pleasant peaceful stroll, you will also encounter many locals practicing the various martial arts like Tai-chi or Qigong as well as other local forms of exercises.

To avoid the crowds in Moganshan, avoid staying over the weekend. The weekends are when the locals in the nearby cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou etc visit. The accommodations are also more expensive for weekend stays.

There are many restaurants and street foods in Hangzhou. One of the best places to try them is along Hefeng street. For fine dining, head for the established restaurants like Lou Wai Lou restaurant in West Lake. For the budget conscious, try the restaurants located across from West Lake like Family Lu restaurant. Must try foods include stir-fry shrimp with Longjing tea, beggar's chicken and braised dongpo pork. Do ask about the interesting origins of the dishes.

In Moganshan, rustic fare is the order of the day. My advice is to bring your own bread, coffee, instant noodles and favorite snacks. Bread and coffee are practically non-existent unless you are staying at the Foreign-run villas like Naked Retreats. The alternative is to rent a villa that includes all meals.

Getting Around
In Hangzhou:
Taxis are perhaps the most convenient way to move around the city. It is also relatively inexpensive. Flag down fare starts from RMB10 for the first 3 kilometers with RMB 1 for fuel surcharge. I paid approximately RMB 80 from the airport to the Orange Crystal hotel. The traffic conditions are slightly better compared to Beijing or Shanghai, still, do avoid the rush hour and shift changing time (3-7pm) where possible.

Although there are many taxis on the road, hailing one may sometimes proved to be a frustrating challenge. As in Beijing, you will need to stand along the road towards the direction of your destination. While taxi-drivers in most countries I visited will gladly do a U-turn or a loop should your destination be of the opposite direction, taxi-drivers in China, notably Hangzhou and Beijing (I have not tried the other places yet) will refuse your business. If you find yourself being rejected, do ask the taxi-driver where or on which road should you be standing in order to get a taxi.

Most taxi-drivers speak and read Mandarin or Putonghua only. Do bring along a version of the Mandarin-language address or map of your destination.

An alternative to taxis are the sightseeing buses that ply the famous tourist sights around the city. The buses start from Y1-9, Y13 as well as 3 sightseeing lines 4, 6, 8. Do have exact fares as there are no refunds; or purchase the Xiling card, which is valid for 1 day or 2 days travel on all buses.

The most popular way of touring Hangzhou's sights is via the eco-friendly bicycle. One cannot miss the many bright orange bicycles that ply the roads in Hangzhou. Hangzhou is the pioneer for developing an extensive network of bicycle rental system for locals and tourists to rent and return bicycles almost anywhere in the city. There are many kiosks that provide this rent-ride and drop service.

To rent a bike, you will need to apply for the T or Z smart card at the Smart Card center at 20 Long Xiang Lu, Shangcheng District using your ID and top up the card with a minimum of RMB 300.

There is a RMB 200 deposit which is refunded when the bicycle is returned to any of the service stops. Rental rates for the first hour is free; subsequently, RMB 1 for the next 1 to 2 hrs; RMB 2 for the next 2-3 hrs and RMB 3/hr for rental of bikes above 3 hrs.

In Moganshan:
There are literally no taxis in Moganshan. Taxis need to be booked in advance as they need to travel from the town of Moganshan at the foot of the mountain. The best way to move around is by foot. Really, most sights are within walkable distance, it's only when you will reach your desired destination.

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