We arrived on Thursday in Hangzhou after getting the new high speed train from Ningbo. You can pickup the service from Ningbo East Railway Station, which is near to the Ocean World and a little north of Wanda Plaza. All trains appear to go out of this station at the moment, whilst they build the new central station which is due to open in 2015.
Be warned though, Ningbo East is difficult to work around without a grasp in Hanzi (characters). As a tip, book online if you have a Chinese credit card, as the day we travelled turned out to be one of the hottest of the year at almost 40 degrees in the direct sunlight. Otherwise if you are looking to turn up and buy at the station, choose a queue in the middle of the ticket hall, as these allow all ticket types to be purchased.
After about a 40 minute queue, we were relieved to be able to get on our way, the temperature was just unbearable. But the ride itself was great, in just a little over 1 hour we were pulling up at Hangzhou East Station. The train cruised at 300kph most of the way and was incredibly smooth, a testament to modern Chinese engineering.
We chose to stay at the 4 Eyes Hostel south of West Lake and opposite Hangzhou Zoo. Twin private ensuite's are cheap at just 60RMB per night per person, and that includes a breakfast to our surprise! The accommodation is great value for money, but if you are the type of person who doesn't like rooms that have windows that don't lock properly, electrical wires that stick out of walls untaped and dusty floors then this isn't for you! The location isn't that great if you are a city lover, but if you want to stay in the middle of the rolling hills near West Lake then this is for you. Food wise, there isn't much around except a Chinese Restaurant down near the main road which is really good and has English on the menu. The hostel itself has a Chinese style BBQ which isn't our cup of tea, so have avoided so far. A bus costs just 2RMB into town and taxi's between 11-15RMB.
The first full day in Hangzhou we visited West Lake – Hangzhou's most famous landmark. It was great, except for the amount of walking required to navigate it's banks. They say on the internet you can do it in 4 – 6 hours. I don't think you should pay attention to these rumours, as if you come in the summer when the heat and humidity is like we are experiencing (hell on earth in other words) and you are stopping to take photos, it will take 2 full days to do it all comfortably. Hire a public bicycle instead if you want to see it all in a couple of hours. Make sure you hire a public bicycle though, avoid getting one from your hotel, as you could end up paying more than 3x the deposit and 5x the hourly rate (4 Eyes Hostel scam example). It turns out probably 10x cheaper to just take multiple taxi's around the lake instead. Pedal or petrol power.. your choice!
Today we visited the Tea Museum, which isn't really a museum and is mostly empty of attractions and visitors. It's free to visit and offers some nice views of the Mountains and Tea fields but not a lot else. We then went into town for lunch. I recommend sometimes eating in the food halls of shopping centres and department stores. The food is cheap and there is a wide array of cuisine to choose from. Plus an extra bonus is you don't need to know any Chinese to order, as the plate are in front of you, mostly read to go, or are represented in plastic versions so simply point and say ‘Zhe ge'. We rounded the day off with a visit to the Souvenir Street. What a treat this was, probably will be the highlight of Hangzhou. Located at the south end of Yan'an Road, is a long road full of tourist stores and eateries. Best touristy area I've ever visited and then if you finish there and walk towards the Drum Tower, there is another long road all full of street food stalls where the food ranges from Deep Fried Crab Sticks to Deep Fried Tarantula's (and some less greasy eats in between).
So far Hangzhou has been a great place to visit, especially coming from Ningbo where tourism really doesn't exist. A lot of people speak English as well, so a westerner will find it a very easy city to navigate. My advice would be stay somewhere close to the city centre, as then you have the city and West Lake close by as you will want to visit both during your visit. We'll write a more detailed guide to the attractions around Hangzhou later, but with being out from morning til late evening, time is a scarce thing when it comes to blogging. I wonder whether all these other alleged travel bloggers actually travel much at all, as our time is taken up with doing stuff. After a full day of walking and visiting attractions I barely have enough energy to shower at the end of it all.