Apart from leaving behind my itinerary, I also forgot that China bans Google and MANY OTHERS. Without downloading VPN before coming over, I couldn’t access Gmail, Instagram, Tinder, WordPress and Facebook. Luckily they didn’t block Tripadvisor as that was how I eventually retrieved details of my other hostels (i.e. reservation and location). That aside, I had to resort to using the Chinese version of search machine – Baidu. Whenever I typed something in English, the immediate search results always funnily showed translation results of those English words. Lol.
I stayed at an international backpacker hostel ranked one of the tops on Tripadvisor. That was how I filtered out any unwanted surprises upon checking in. After all, hostels with a great ranking and bunch of great reviews couldn’t be that bad. But how much one enjoys his or her stay very much depends on what he or she is looking for. I stayed in the 8 person mixed dorm. My dorm mates were a pair of young British couple friends (through them, I listened firsthand to why young people in UK rejected Brexit), a same-aged Malaysian Chinese guy (who took the same morning flight as me from Malaysia and here we were in the same dorm!! What a coincidence) and a young Chinese guy (who was moving around the country looking for a temporary job to fund his trip to UK). The British guy was surprised that China people barely speak English. This corresponded to the young Chinese guy’s struggling effort to learn English. We all had a great night talking about everything under the sun. Sadly, that was the only time I met other backpackers whom I clicked. I hadn’t had much luck on such interaction and exchange on my following days in China.
From clockwise rotation: the lovely courtyard, the dorm room, view from third floor, view outside of the hostel
It continued to drizzle throughout my first day in Hangzhou. I was wet and tired so I didn’t wander far from where I stayed – HeFang Street. I checked out the following morning to head to Huangshan. I returned to the same hostel on the third day only to be moved to a 6 person female dorm where the girls all kept to themselves. But I did love the bubbly girls working at the counter and the room I was put in. When I looked back, this hostel turned out to be the best throughout my entire trip because the experience got worse as I moved along.
Truthfully, I did nothing spectacular in Hangzhou. I had no interest attractions like the pagodas, temples, gardens or any other historical buildings that required me to pay an entrance fee. I only knew I had to visit the legendary West Lake. That was the whole point I came to Hangzhou. But I couldn’t recall what the stories were behind the lake or any other places of attraction for that matter. It was such a shame because I did spend my final year in school taking Chinese Literature subject (which I scored A in our national examination) and not forgetting those early years where I spent countless hours after school in library reading those books about China history and whatnot. Now, I couldn’t remember a single thing and when I was doing the planning, I didn’t even bother to read up. I would love to have my youngest brother around. He simply appreciates all these more than I do.
Beautiful West Lake and nearby scenery. I could easily stay entire day there just doing nothing!
I finally walked to West Lake when I returned and spent a good two hours there before it got dark. Maybe I should have toured the entire lake by walking or cycling. It was doable, just that I read that it would take few hours on foot. I guess I simply wasn’t persistent for anything like that. I would have stayed longer to just sit there and enjoy the beauty of the scenery if it wasn’t for a creepy old man who insisted to sit next to me to talk with me. Other than that, I was happy to stroll without purpose at all the nearby streets around HeFang Street. At night, there was an entire street with stalls for street food.. I had fun sampling them but I always couldn’t finish them alone 😦
The shops and stalls were generally touristy as you could find them selling the same thing again as you strolled further but hey, I wasn’t complaining as I felt safe (without being touted and hassled by anyone) and refreshing with the change in environment by watching the Chinese tourists and admiring all the lovely restored buildings. I was just relieved I didn’t find anything they sold interesting thus I wouldn’t have to worry about splurging my money to buy something only to have them taken up more space in my backpack. It was astonishing though to see how clean and green everywhere was (and that included those outside of tourist spots) – the cleaners were cleaning up the streets day and night. It was a huge contrast to what I had been told all this while that China was dirty. This shows that I ought to travel more to see the world for what it is through my own eyes.
HeFang Street. Trust me, it was full of people, day and night!
Food-wise, it was surprisingly pricier than what I expected. In fact, I paid more in Hangzhou than Shanghai for a simple meal. And I was not alone in that as the British couple lamented about the same thing. The same went to my favorite beverage – coffee. I thought I could afford it every morning and afternoon. But a glass of iced coffee from a normal cafe by the roadside costs easily more than 30 yuan (which was almost equivalent to a nice meal in a fancy restaurant in KL). I was certainly not paying for that, so I had to settle with merely canned sugary iced coffee for most of the days. 😦 But I did pay for Costa coffee hehe. It was my first since I don’t think we have it back home. I could be wrong.