This trip was hosted by United Airlines, Spot, and Banyan Tree Hotels. I am and was excited to work with them and I am thankful for your support on this job. Thank you for supporting the hosts that made this trip happen and are allowing me to bring you such wonderful photos & stories. <3
See my recommendations for Hangzhou on Spot right here!
Hangzhou was my favorite of the three cities I visited in China. I loved Shanghai and Xi’an a LOT, too, so this is high praise.
We arrived at the Banyan Tree hotel in Hangzhou in the late afternoon and headed quickly to the neighboring Xixi wetlands. The wetlands are a dream: A respite from the heat and bustle of the city and a rejuvenating, relaxing spot to recover from a day of travel.
There are streets and small neighborhoods throughout the wetlands. They are a living park, with locals using them for exercise, passage through to their homes, and enjoyment. We stopped by the sweetest little historic street inside the wetlands. It was just closing up for the evening, but it’s little tchotchke shops full of snacks, tea, art, and more. It’s all in historic buildings that have been preserved and kept up and it was super cute to walk around.
Throw in a modern vending machine and a kid with a great hat and you’ve got, well, real life.
The greenery growing across the ponds and waterways was some of my favorite.
The next day we headed into the main city for a tour of Hangzhou. Hangzhou is beautiful. It’s all built around Westlake, a massive (although shallow) lake in the middle of the city. It’s clean (they filter the water constantly) and beautiful and there are little islands with temples in the middle. Our guides hired us two boats and we paddled around the lake. There was a slight breeze from the water, but not really. I was constantly melting throughout the day. Handheld fans were a must.
A lotus in full bloom. These are soooo fricken gorgeous. Big, beautiful, pink. They’re the size of peonies and, honestly, as beautiful as peonies. If we could pick bunches and bunches of them, they’d be just as damn popular. SO dreamy.
After our morning boat ride, we headed to the tea growing part of the city (well, on the edge of the city). Hangzhou is where China’s tea comes from and while they export a ton of tea, they actually keep the best tea (the first harvest of the year) for themselves. We did some tea tastings, comparing different harvests from this year, and I could really taste the difference. Green tea is really good for you (we all know this, don’t we?) and the Chinese drink it constantly. Once we had the tea tasting and she said this, I suddenly noticed people drinking tons and tons of green tea, everywhere we went.
Some tea leaves, freshly picked, and me appreciating the hillsides covered in tea.
The tea plantation where we went is famous, too. It’s historic, so wandering around and learning about tea growing while we were there was interesting and fun.
So beautiful, right? 🙂
Next we went for lunch at a tea farmer’s house. It’s become a thing for the tea farmers to turn their homes into small restaurants. Each party gets a room to eat in and there are maybe 4-6 rooms where they serve meals. We had a huge table for all of us with a big lazy susan in the middle and they just kept bringing meal after meal. Fish, pork, beef, amazing veggies, and more, everything covered in delicious sauces and served fresh and flavorful. Pair that with (an incredibly weak, but quite refreshing) local beer called Cheer Day (have you ever heard of a better name for a beer? haha), and you have yourself a wonderful wonderful lunch.
Here is the husband and wife team that makes up this farmer/restaurant owning family. So cute.
Last but not least, we headed to Qinghefang Ancient Street, a historic shopping street in the middle of the city. I have to say, this reminded me of the historic old street that we visited inside of the wetlands. Old buildings, historic signs and paintings and details, and then a bunch of modern shops selling trinkets and fun items and souvenirs to tourists, Chinese and otherwise. Many of the shops have been there for a long time and there were plenty of interesting things to look at, but still. A bit of a performance more than a history lesson or cultural immersion.
I loved the lanterns hanging from the ceiling across the street and the little cats on the right were charms for your phone that had peoples’ names on them. I wanted to buy one, but at this point I still had not gotten cash out of an ATM, so I couldn’t. Oh well.
Tea and herbs for sale.
After a busy day of exploring, we headed back to the Banyan Tree Resort, Hangzhou. The koi in the ponds around the property were a lovely touch.
The archways were my favorite part of the look and feel of this place. So peaceful and beautiful.
The bar on the property was lovely and we had a great evening having pre dinner drinks here.
We head a tour of the property and were lucky to be able to view the villas. I loved my suite (jaw dropping, honestly), but this bed in this room makes me swoon. What a spot!
This was the end of the group tour. My fabulous hosts and travel buddies headed back to the airport for their Hangzhou – SFO direct flight and I went out to explore Hangzhou on foot. I think my first day alone I walked 12 or 13 miles and I continued this vein until I left.
I started with a huge bowl of noodles, with peanuts, cilantro, and more. This was the first place where I had to order by myself. Everything was in Chinese, the owners only spoke Chinese, and so I just walked in, pointed at the noodles somebody else was eating, and smiled. They kept pointing to the menu (all in Chinese) and I ended up just kind of shrugging and pointing to the noodles the other customers were eating. It worked out fine in the end and this big bowl of noodles and the can of coconut milk cost me the whopping price of $1.89. I could so get used to this. (I had lots and lots of good food in China, but honestly this meal was probably one of my favorites.)
Hangzhou is vibrant, clean, and full of young people and bikes. It was fun seeing this street artist working on his painting.
This was the most random thing I saw: A guy putting a stuffed/fake/display owl into his trunk. I have no words.
I came across this other little historic/shopping street. Super cute, but I don’t know what it was called. When everything is written in Chinese, it can be hard to know where you are and what you saw! Still. A lovely place to sit and relax and wander. Everybody along this street was selling real and fake silk.
Or playing games. haha. There are old people everywhere hanging out outside, playing cards, this game, or mah jong. So fun to see.
The sign on this tattoo parlor said, “Others will think it will be a cool works if you write a line of English letters.” Too good. The strangest English I saw was a teen girl wearing a hat that said, “Pervert” across the front in all caps. There were a lot of things that were translated slightly wrong, but this is the only one where I went, “oooo. not good.”
The lady on the right here is selling Lotus seeds. You peel the green things and pull the seed out and then peel the seed and eat the inside. I had to stop a lady on the street who was eating them to get her to explain it all to me (in hand gestures). They are so tasty: basically fresh peas. As far as I can tell, they grow in the middle of the lotus flower and then when the flower dies, this gets a bit bigger and you can either harvest it to eat or let it grow more lotus flowers.
Dumplings, dumplings, everywhere! I went to China knowing I wanted to eat my weight in dumplings and then I totally did. I ate the most of them in Shanghai, but started with a few in Hangzhou. Yum!
Walking around alone, I did find my way back to the lake. So beautiful to see it again at golden hour, especially since the sky cleared to blue or almost blue for a moment and it was so lovely.
Seriously, how incredible is this lotus?! Goodness. What a beautiful lotus pond on the lovely lake in the middle of the pretty city, surrounded by distant mountains. Too good.
Seriously. Groups of men (and women!) everywhere, betting on cards and other games. Cards mostly, always with four people, always with a little bit of cash on the table, and sometimes with an entire crowd of people watching.
Selfie sticks everywhere! Everywhereeeee. Actually, I took this photo of this adorable little girl and then I hopped in her selfie. haha. She was excited and her parents thought it was so fun and funny. It was cute. Cute kids, cute parents, cute selfie. 😉
Some water fountain show started up and everybody went running to watch and take photos of it. I’m a photographer and I still got culture shock seeing how many photos people take in China. I kept looking around me and wondering how many photos were being taken right in that moment or just in the last five minutes or whatever. So many is the answer. Sooo many.
All the guys pull their shirts up like this. Our tour guide for the previous day told us they call it the “Chinese bikini.” haha. Seriously. Everybody. It’s so damn hot that you can see why it’s the norm.
Isn’t the shore beautiful at golden hour? Such a dream. <3
I took a bunch of photos of this old man and he just did not care even a little bit. So bad ass.
On my last morning in Hangzhou before catching the train to Shanghai, it rained. I walked around, had lunch, got bubble tea (omg, drank so much bubble tea in China! haha), and then just wandered the residential/poorer back and side streets.
It’s one of my favorite things to do when I visit a new country in South America, Asia, or Africa. So much life happens outdoors and people are welcoming. I got to meet some kind people who “conversed” with me in hand gestures and Chinese that I couldn’t understand and some weird foods for sale that I didn’t see anywhere else (snakes, for one). I even asked to come inside and watch them play mah jong for a while on these electric tables that sorts and sets up for them. Such an interesting and fun inside look.
And then I went to Shanghai! xo