The very next day after my marathon day trip to Guangzhou, I took a train to Hangzhou to catch up with my parents who are touring China all the way from England. Shanghai wasn’t on their itinerary but as Hangzhou is just a short train ride away, I decided to meet them there.
This is how rail travel used to be not so long ago – overcrowded waiting rooms with very little options for refreshments.
I rarely take trains in China, so this was the first time I visited Shanghai’s new South Station. The last time I went to Hangzhou was a decade ago back in 1999 when it took 2 hours. The new CRH (or “D train”) service costs around 50rmb (one way) and takes a mere 75 minutes.
Not Shanghai’s newest airport, this is Shanghai’s ultra modern South Railway station.
Modern rail travel in China : WoAi enjoys some quiche, salad and a cappuccino at Shanghai’s South Railway station while waiting for a train to Hangzhou.
First class costs only slightly more than second class (an extra 10rmb or so) and for this reason, the tickets sell out very quickly, although second class was perfectly okay. My travel agent was unable to get me the return ticket though and advised me to buy the return ticket on arrival at Hangzhou railway station. This is NOT a good idea, as the queues are horrendous as they are at every Chinese railway station. I queued for a while but quickly gave up and hoped the hotel I was staying at would be able to help me book tickets. Luckily they were (for a small handling fee) able to help. However, I recommend getting the return tickets together before travelling, because I did not get my desired time and had to get a slower train that went to Shanghai’s older station.
Hangzhou itself was wonderful, but the railway station isn’t really the sort of place I’d like to spend much time in, so it’s best to plan to arrive as close as possible to your train’s departure time if you’re leaving from Hangzhou station.
I can only stay at crappy hotels when I travel on business, so as it was just for one night, I opted to pamper myself with some 5 star luxury and stayed at Hangzhou’s Sofitel Hotel, just by the West Lake’s Xi Hu Tian Di area, which has some nice coffee shops and cafes, including a Starbucks (naturally) and Costa Coffee. I think the similarity of the name with Shanghai’s Xin Tian Di is quite deliberate.
I met up with mum at her hotel around 3pm and we had a light late lunch at a food court on the top of an upmarket department store on (Hangzhou’s) busy Yan An road. We then tried to have a walk by the West Lake, but something very weird was happening. EVERY taxi we stopped, after hearing where we wanted to go, refused to take us and drove off. We watched as other people suffered the same fate, so it wasn’t just us – they would simply discuss with the driver through the window and then almost without fail the driver would shake his head and drive off. I started to think it was the location that only had picky taxi drivers so we walked to another location but the result was the same. It was after about the 5th time that we had to ask the driver why he didn’t want to take us and he explained that 4-5pm was the change of shift. That’s right, every taxi in the entire city changes shift at the same time, which means between 4-5pm getting a taxi is almost impossible, so be warned.
WoAi and mum by Hangzhou’s famous West Lake at dusk (that’s a Starbucks in the distant background).
Eventually, we bumped in to a very kind old man who walked with us for 15 minutes to take us to a bus stop where we could hop on a bus for 3 stops to the West Lake. So by the time we got there, it was almost sunset and there was only time to get one or two photos before the light disappeared completely.
Dad was on a day trip to Shao Xing (mum was too tired to make the trip), so we waited for him to get back before heading for our evening meal which I’ll write about tomorrow.