Trekking the West Lake

Hangzhou Travel Blog

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West Lake
Hangzhou is famous for its West Lake.  It's hailed by pretty much everyone and their mother as one of the most picturesque places in China.  All I have to say is, if this place is supposed to be one of the gems of China, I'm SCREWED.

The West Lake is man-made: it started as a marsh and hundreds (if not close to a thousand) of years ago some emperor or another had it emptied and expanded and made into a proper lake.  Succeeding emperors further developed the landscaping and had bridges built and temples and pagodas were constructed in the surrounding area.  Sounds kind of nice, actually.  And from the pictures I've seen, it's beautiful.  Being here to witness it for myself is another matter.  Photoshop has done WONDERS for this place.
West Lake


As with everything else in China (although in fairness, to a much lesser extent), the West Lake is dirty and polluted and basically looks like millions of people have come here to take a dump in it.  (Come to think of it, that is probably more accurate than I care to admit.)  From a distance, it looks almost serene.  Once you're actually alongside it, you can see just how filthy (and smelly) it really is.  We're not talking pond scum (although there's plenty of that), we're talking bottles and wrappers and a filmy residue of all sorts of chemicals and who knows what across the top.  Toxic sludge, really.

I contemplated renting a bike from the hostel (it was pushed on me pretty heavily), with the girl at the desk vigorously shaking her head and adamantly telling me I simply could not walk the lake, it was much too large.
West Lake
  A bike sounded like a nice change of pace, but seeing as the lock wasn't working properly before as I so much as left the property and the warnings to keep it safe were as strong as they come and the deposit being so high, I decided against it.  That, and when I realized you couldn't actually ride the bike along the smaller lanes of the lake, you had to park it outside in the city traffic and then walk into the surrounding park area on foot, it made even less sense to have to worry about a bike.  Had my share of run-ins with thieves for one week, thank you.  My feet will do me just fine.

Set out pretty early (see earlier reference to inconsiderate roommates and doors slamming and crates of who knows what being dropped at all hours) and tackled that polluted lake in half a day.
West Lake
  You heard me.  Lapped the whole thing.  Not sure what kind of mileage we're talking, but I'd guess in the ballpark of five or so.  Not terrible.  But made for another dripping with sweat day.  (DRIPPING.  Backpack SOAKED.  Disgusting.)  I also took the opportunity to give my first visible FUCK YOU to China via my chosen attire for the day: shorts (the scandal!) AND a tank top (oh no you didn't!).  You better believe I did.  I only packed one of each, thinking I'd break out the shorts in Southeast Asia and reserve the tank top for cooler layering purposes.  But it is HOT here.  Disgusting, hazy, polluted, sticky HOT.  And these people are jerks.  You don't like looking at my shoulders?  Tough.
West Lake
  Stop spitting on me.

Popped up one pagoda, the famed Leifeng Pagoda.  Supposed to give spectacular views of the lake and surrounding area.  But with the entrance fee cranked up like we were in Disney World and the haze so thick you couldn't see the sun, there wasn't much to see.  That, and the pagoda was constructed in 2001 (yeah, real old), and after climbing up all those stairs and not being able to see for squat I'm going why exactly did I agree to pay that again?  To be fair, the original pagoda was built in the first century AD, and burned down in the 1920s.  But still.  Was feeling a bit cheated on that one.

The rest of the lake was pleasant enough, once you get over the fact that it's filthy and best not to look at the water directly.
Leifeng Pagoda
  Once I crossed over to the far side it was almost enjoyable, having escaped the thousands upon thousands of Chinese tourists pushing and shoving and screaming every which way.  I stopped to sit on a bench and attempt a poorly-lit self portrait, but in doing so apparently attracted the (supremely unwanted) attention of a passing couple, who took the opportunity to gape and giggle at the strange looking foreigner, and even went so far as to pull out a camera and take several pictures of me.  I didn't trust myself to open my mouth because it would have been a whole manner of shouting and GO FUCK YOURSELVES, but I let my eyes do the talking.  I stared right back.  For every millisecond.  Stared DAGGERS.  I hope they went home and cried themselves to sleep.
Leifeng Pagoda


As you might imagine, circumnavigating a lake on foot while dodging wayward elbows and airborne wads of spit is somewhat exhausting, and I worked up quite the appetite.  I noticed a bright, big, welcoming Indian restaurant just opposite the bus stop the day before, and so kept that as my "you can do it" mantra for the latter half of the lake.  It crossed my mind that they might be a dinner-only place and if that had been the case I might have thrown a temper tantrum right there.  Much to my IMMENSE delight they were open and better yet -- EMPTY.  I know, I know, an empty restaurant isn't a good sign.  But you don't understand.  I'm in China.  The food here is shit.  I'll take bad Indian food over good Chinese food ANY DAY.
Leifeng Pagoda
  That, and do you have any idea what an empty restaurant means??  SILENCE.  And baby, that silence was GOLDEN.

The waiter came to take my order and I prefaced myself by saying I was going to order A LOT.  Translation: don't give me grief for ordering enough food for two.  Or fourteen.  I'VE EARNED IT.  I had myself a FEAST: fresh watermelon juice, an ICE COLD beer (that was downed so fast it'd make my mother proud), a "mixed vegetables salad" that turned out to be an ENTIRE PLATTER of raw sliced carrots and cucumbers and cabbage -- my stomach was so ecstatic and shocked it was squealing with glee, garlic nan, basamati rice, and a piping hot trough of spicy black lentils and red beans cooked together in a terrific curry.
View from Leifeng Pagoda
  Everything was DELICIOUS.  I was stuffing things into my mouth as fast as I could, two hands at a time.  Do you have any idea how good Indian food tastes in China??  Not that it's any different -- it tastes exactly like it does at home.  But it's INDIAN.  And I LOVE Indian food.  And better yet -- it's NOT Chinese!  And the added bonus is it's SO EASY to eat vegetarian when you're eating Indian.  I essentially had a whole menu catered to me.  THRILLED.  They even let me pack up leftovers to go.  SUCH a happy tummy.

I then ambled back to the hostel to laze away the remainder of the afternoon.  I met Ben, a dude from Ghana, who now lives in China full time.  We goofed off for a bit and then headed out to a hostel he had stayed at before (much nicer, but booked and hence he was staying here), where we had pizza and two big fresh mango and yogurt shakes each for dinner.
Around Leifeng Pagoda
  We shot a couple games of pool (by which I mean I was the good sport and humored him by attempting to stab those stupid little balls across the table, and he was a good sport and took the game seriously) and then bought MORE overpriced Chinese tea (not sure what that was about) before making our way home.  I tried for the early bed route again and succeeded, but only until the troops came in and unleashed the circus, screaming monkeys and all.

All in all, a MUCH better day than the one prior.  Now I just have to figure out what exactly I'm going to do for the next two days.  (Enter China's ridiculous rail system, and I can't leave earlier than my scheduled train late Sunday night.  Even if I forked over the cash for a whole new ticket they're all long sold out by now.  This is going to get old FAST.)  Par for the course.
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Leifeng Pagoda
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View from Leifeng Pagoda
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Around Leifeng Pagoda
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Hangzhou
photo by: sophiefbs