I visited China in August 2010 (yay, this post is only a year late), I arrived in Hangzhou by plane, took a train to Shanghai, then a domestic flight to Beijing, and flew out of China via Tianjin. China was quite an experience… the cultural differences, the language barrier, the scorching heat, the extremely crowded places, all took me out of my comfort zone, but hey, that’s traveling at its finest.
Hangzhou felt more traditional compared to Shanghai and Beijing, and people were somewhat nicer there. The main sightseeing area in Hangzhou was the West Lake, a gigantic lake which was just recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I circled that lake on foot, it wasn’t the smartest idea.
The best part of Hangzhou was the delicious home-cooked style meal I had at a small restaurant on Santaishan Rd, herbal chicken soup and stir fried veggies brought back lots of childhood memories, but this time with a bottle of light beer.
One of the most unforgettable experiences I had during the whole trip was the last day in Hangzhou. We were supposed to figure out a way from Hangzhou to Shanghai by train, and I literally meant _figure out_ since we didn’t book any ticket and we didn’t even know whether there was going to be a train to Shanghai that day. It was very crowded at Hangzhou train station, we had to queue for a long time to buy the tickets and several times had to turn a blind eye at some people cutting the queue.
With tickets in hand, the next challenge was squeezing ourselves through hundreds of people trying to get through the main building’s small entrance. And surprise, surprise, once inside, next up was another round of pushing and shoving just to get on the train. But there’s more, it turned out that our tickets didn’t cover for a seat on the train, so we had to sit on our luggage, next to the toilet, for 2 friggin’ hours! Like I said, it was an unforgettable experience.
China Trip 2010 – Hangzhou, a set on Flickr.
Shanghai was very modern, it’s a totally different face of China compared to Hangzhou. I was amazed by the lights at The Bund at night, I declared that part of Shanghai the bling of Asia. My favourite spot in Shanghai was Xintiandi, specially the area with Shikumen architecture, a fusion between the Western and Chinese styles. Had a really nice brunch there.
It wasn’t part of the plan, but we also ended up visiting Shanghai Expo 2010 and checked out what the China Pavilion was all about. The Expo was covered on TV day and night, everyone was talking about it. But to be honest, I still don’t get what the big deal was, I was impressed with the pavilion’s sustainable design more than anything else there.
The best food I had in Shanghai was everything that was served at Xin Wang restaurant, seriously, I still remember how delicious the food was!
On the last day in Shanghai, we took a train to get to Shanghai airport. That train line branched out into two lines, and according to the timetable, our train was supposed to take the top line with the airport nearby its last stop. But as bad luck played out, the top line was closed that day and our train was directed to the bottom line, fsck! We got off at the last stop, not knowing where we were, we had to get a taxi and that involved crossing a busy Shanghai highway while carrying two bags each, let’s just say that it was not something I would like to do more than once in my life.
China Trip 2010 – Shanghai, a set on Flickr.
The first thing that I noticed when I arrived in Beijing was the grey sky, it was never blue, just shades of grey for days, pretty gloomy. Beijing was very crowded, the streets were never empty, there were just people everywhere, walking, talking, non-stop.
To give you an idea of how crowded it was, have you ever been to a McDonald’s where you have to queue for half an hour outside of the building and they have to limit the number of people inside the building and how many of them are allowed to place an order at one time? Well, the McDonald’s at the Olympic Park was where I had that exact experience. And after getting our meal, there was no free table, we ended up sitting on the curb and ate the burgers and taro pies there.
The most unforgettable part of Beijing was walking on the Great Wall of China, I couldn’t help wondering how on earth could mankind build such a massive piece of structure, it was just beyond belief. The fact that I did the Crank That on the wall was, of course, not that important.
At the end of the trip, we took a bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin to catch the flight home. I still remember the ticker showing 320kmph, which was the speed of the train, faster than the shinkansens in Japan! That right there pretty much summed up the unbelievable economic progress China made in the past decade, the infrastructure followed suit, technology, life. Sure it’s not perfect, there are still numerous issues that the western world would like China to improve. But there’s one thing for sure, the China today is better than ever for the rest of the world.
China Trip 2010 – Beijing, a set on Flickr.