Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hangzhou, China

It was a beautiful sunrise this morning. I can certainly understand how the poets were captivated by the serenity of the area. Hangzhou has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2011. West Lake and its surroundings gardens, hills, rockeries, temples, pagodas and parks have inspired poets and visitors for centuries with their beauty. An estimated 12 million domestic tourists and 500,000 foreign tourists visit Hangzhou annually. The lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides and is like an animated feature.

We were glad we didn't have to make an early start today. I opened the large window and relaxed in the room. We could hear water so thought we had a view of the lake. However, we have a view to the side of the hotel. It is cold this morning but with the sun it will warm up.

We finally went to breakfast a little before 8:00 am. They had both western and oriental items on the buffet but it was a little sparse.

West Lake Bistro (breakfast room)

Coffee and Longjing Green Tea

Limited selection for breakfast
I decided to order some pancakes.

While mother enjoyed breakfast I took a brief walk outside to take some photos of the exterior of the hotel and gardens.

Four Seasons Hangzhou
Pool and West Lake Bistro
Complete serenity

A small section of the lake

The Exterior of the West Lake Bistro at the Four Seasons
We found it very interesting that the exterior of the hotel is very classical Chinese and contrasts with the interior which seems more Swiss health resort.

This morning with the help of the Four Seasons we decided to hire a taxi for 60 RMB per hour to tour Hangzhou. Venus (love the name!) who works in the Concierge area helped us organize our tour. Our plan was to go to the Lingyin Temple first and then take a walk on the Su Causeway to view the lake. This particular area of the lake is surrounded by stone arch bridges and accented with bamboo and willow trees. We also inquired about a boat tour of the lake. They suggested we have a look at the little boats for hire.

The Lingyin Temple is located quite near the hotel. It was only about a 10 minute drive by taxi. It was nice to be in the countryside with lots of trees after our city tour yesterday.

Laughing Buddha near the entrance
Lingyin Temple
Lingyin Temple

This is one of the largest, most beautiful and wealthiest Buddhist monasteries in China. Ling-yin means "Soul's Retreat" in Chinese. It was founded in 326 AD and the oldest structures were built in the 11th century onward. The temple was rebuilt 16 times and features grottos and religious rock carvings. During the Cultural Revolution the Temple was damaged but escaped the major destruction of other Chinese Temples due to the protection of Premier Zhou Enlai. We paid a fee to enter the grounds and then again to enter the monastery. The monks say prayers at 3:30 pm daily. There are many rock carvings of the big bellied laughing Buddha. The most famous is the Feilai Feng carving which translates to "the peak that flew hither" or "flying peak". The carvings are made of weathered limestone and contrast nicely with the surrounding green hills.

In the main grotto there is a crack that exposes a sliver of sunlight. It is described as seeing one thread of heaven.

The Temple contains an important collection of Buddhist literature and other treasures. The palaces, pavilions and halls with their many figures of Buddhist deities represent significant architectural and artistic cultural relics. The various buildings and pagodas date from the Southern Song, Ming and Tang Dynasties.

The front hall is called "Hall of the Heavenly Kings" (Tianwangdian). The double eaved building is massive and has ceilings 60 feet high. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside. The principle Buddha is Maitreya, the Laughing Buddha which is 80 feet high. To the left are four Deva Kings. These statues stand 30 to 40 feet tall and are newly painted. The ceiling is ornately painted with phoenixes and dragons.

Hall of Heavenly Kings

From here we entered a huge courtyard boarded by the Hall of the Heavenly Kings and a group of shops, the Hall of the Five Hundred Arhats and the main hall facing north. The main hall is called the Mahavira Hall or Daxiongbaodian with a huge golden image of Shakyamuni. There are also huge images of the 18 Arhats and a depiction of Guanyin. The hall is triple eaved and is over 120 feet high.

Behind the hall and uphill is a newly built hall for Bhaisajyaguru Buddha (Yaoshidian), commonly referred to as the Medicine Buddha. This hall contains five hundred life-sized bronze statues of the Arhats. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit this hall.

There are hundreds of tourists at the Temple but also many working monks. Today is also a Saturday so there are a lot of families.

It was fascinating seeing the working monastery. It was crowded but worth it!

Su Causeway

We exited the Temple at 11:45 am and took a taxi to the Su Causeway. This is the most scenic area along the lake. My mother was not interested in walking so I took a 25 minute round trip jaunt to take in the scenery. It would have been nice to walk further if we had time. The Su Causeway was built during the Song Dynasty (1037 - 1101). It stretches 1.7 miles and includes 7 bridges. Other site along the way include the Three Ponds mirroring the moon. There are also three miniature stone pagodas which were built over 800 years ago.

Entrance to Su Causeway

View from the Causeway

Description of the Causeway and that walking is good!
Lots of bikes too
Romantic too
I had a hard time convincing myself to go back to the taxi. I could have easily walked the Causeway for an hour or so.

We next drove around the lake the get to our next stop which is actually in downtown Hangzhou. The views of the lake even from the car were gorgeous.

West Lake
City of Hangzhou in the distance

The scenery was very beautiful during our drive. It had really warmed up too! We have been very luck with the weather so far.

We arrived at our destination, the Hu Xueyan House in about 20 minutes. At first we were not sure about walking down the alley but it seemed to make the most sense. The taxi waited for us up the street.

Entrance to Hu Xueyan House

Hu Xueyan House

This residence was the home of Hu Xueyan, a wealthy businessman from Hangzhou in the 1800's. Hu originally made his fortune as a banker but expanded his business to pawnbroker, import-export , real estate and made a huge fortune as founder of a Chinese herbal medicine company. His home which was built in 1872 is a huge complex of artificial caves and many rooms for family, servants and guests. Most of the building is built with dark brown wood resembling teak.

Intricate wood work

Beautiful panels
Amazing setting
Jiang Zemin was a visitor in 2003
Impressive rocks
Another little visitor
Unfortunately Hu's descendants mortgaged the house and lost it after his death. It passed through a series of owners until the provincial government acquired it and restored it as a museum. It was first opened to the public in 2002. While we were there they were still doing quite a bit of of work.

The house is very large!

After the gardens we viewed some of the interior rooms. They were very impressive.

It is easy to see how Hangzhou has become one of the most livable cities in China for its wealth.

Hangzhou is not limited for choice in dining destinations however we were not hungry for lunch so went to the main shopping street instead. We had the taxi leave us here and would take another one when we were ready to go back to the hotel.

Hefang / Qingfegang Street

Qingfefang Street (also called Hefang) is one of the oldest street in Hangzhou. It is known for selling antiques but also is rich in cultural and historic heritage. Many famous century old shops are located on this street including Wangxingji Fan store and Zhang Xiao Quan which sells scissors. Yes, Hangzhou is also famous for scissors! Silks are also a popular product. Many of these stores are quite prosperous and Hangzhou is regarded as China's richest small city.

The street is pedestrianized so walking was very easy.

Qingfefang Street
Rubbing the Buddha for good luck

Making bedding?
Fast Food

During our walk we came across a gallery with some very interesting sculptures. They were quite amazing. Some of them were even in the entrance way. I took some photos before I noticed the sign that no photos were allowed.

Carved Jade
Another beautiful piece
We had spent about an hour walking around and now it was time to find a taxi to take us back to the Four Seasons. There were not a lot of taxis around. We finally found one after about 10 minutes of looking.

We passed some of the downtown area on our way back.

Again we passed by the West Lake enroute to the hotel.

The hotel allowed us a late checkout at 2:15 pm. However, we arrived closer to 2:30 pm. They didn't complain though and we went to our room to freshen up and collect our bags. I was really surprised that they had made up the room. It was sad to have to leave so soon!

We walked up to reception and I took a few photos along the way. They were setting up afternoon tea and it looked very intriguing but we decided to head to the Railway station a little early instead.

The room is all made up!
Sitting area in our room
Beautiful window
Four Seasons Lounge
We checked out and took a taxi back to downtown with our overnight bags. There was not much traffic at 3:00 pm.

Looks a little crowded
Hangzhou Railway Station
We arrived at the Railway station about 20 minutes later. Our train is departing at 4:00 pm today so we don't have a long wait.

Some of the trains
Our Train
There were a few announcements in English while we waited. It was funny because the translation was a little off. The announcement said "the train is leaving and there is no time!" I think they meant to say it is departing soon. Our board changed to green and we boarded the train back to Shanghai. We have first class seats again and this train is even faster than the one yesterday. It will only take 49 minutes to travel  110 miles to Shanghai. I am glad we will arrive when it is still light.

Our seats

They showed a movie and then the news.

During our ride I was thinking that our visit to Hangzhou was mostly successful. If I return I would like to visit the Six Harmonies Pagoda. It is located on the Yuelun Hill and is about 20 minutes drive from downtown. I would also like to spend more time at the Lingyin Temple and visit the Tea Plantation.

Mother and I discussed how we should get back to the Waldorf Astoria once we arrive at the Hongqiao Railway station. I was all for taking the subway but she insisted on taking a taxi. The subway would be much faster and also much cheaper. In fact Metro Line 2 goes all the way to East Nanjing Road which is a 15 minute walk from the hotel.

We exited the train and walked through the station which seemed to take forever. We made it to the taxi line which was very popular. It was about 20 minutes before we got a taxi. I had the directions with me in Chinese and handed it to the driver. He looked at it for about 2 -3 minutes and then we were on our way.

Back at the Waldorf Astoria

Waldorf Astoria Bund Entrance
We arrived at the Waldorf about 30 minutes later and it was almost like being home. I wish we could of just gone back up to our room from the other night. I asked the concierge for directions to a restaurant I had reserved for dinner. It is just out the door and a short 5 minute walk.

Lost Heaven

We arrived at Lost Heaven in just a few minutes as the concierge promised. Lost Heaven served what is known as "mountain mekong cuisine". The food is from Laos, Cambodia and the tribal areas. Mother was tired and left me in charge of the ordering which was fine.

Lost Heaven, beautiful decor but very low lighting

Spring Roll

The service was excellent and the food came out in good order. Not too fast and not too slow. We started with the Spring roll which was just yummy!

Beef was also delicous
Next came the beef and the Rice and then the Dali Chicken.

One of the most popular dishes
My mother raved about the meal. She was very happy with our selections. We will definitely come back to Lost Heaven when we return to Shanghai. They also have an original location in the French Concession.

We shared the dessert which was also very good.

We left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel to collect our bags and head to the airport. I handed the receipts for the bags and they brought out the two roller boards and the two smaller bags. It was wonderful that they kept the bags for us.

There was a taxi waiting for us to take us to the airport. It would take about 45 minutes. It seemed like a long drive but perhaps because we had such a long day. Our flight is on Singapore Airlines and will not depart until 12:10 am. We arrived at the airport at approximately 8:15 pm. Our first task was trying to find a bag wrapping station for the rolling carryons. Singapore Airlines has a strict carryon policy of just 7 kilos so we will definitely need to check the heavier bags.

Beautiful PVG

We were happy to spot the wrapping area for the bags and it was not far away. It cost 30 RMB per bag and they didn't do as good a job as SIBA in Europe but it was adequate. We wheeled the bags back to the Singapore Airlines Business Desk which was not open yet. It would open at 9:00 pm. We had already done the online check in at the hotel so just needed to check the bags.

The desk opened and they very efficient with tagging our bags with priority stickers and processing our check in. They handed us cards to access the Business Lounge. We went upstairs and looked at a few of the stores but were feeling very tired. We somehow needed to stay up so we could board the flight.

We went up to the lounge and waited to board our flight.

Our plane
The next post will be a report of our overnight flight from Shanghai to Singapore. We will be touring Singapore and sleeping in a hotel tomorrow night.

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