Having talked about going to Hangzhou for easily a year, my birthday weekend seemed like the perfect occasion for a short getaway. Together with friends, we booked rooms at the Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale (sounds fancy, right?) which is situated at the top of Hangzhou’s main attraction and UNESCO world heritage sight: the West Lake.
As one of our colleagues knows the guest relations manager from a previous stay, she dropped him an e-mail to announce that we would be there for my birthday weekend and he upgraded both our rooms to executive – what a lovely surprise at check-in!
With our prospects of free booze and snacks in the executive lounge at happy hour and a booking at the hotel’s Sawasdee Thai Restaurant, we pretty much tailored our first day around these activities, as it should be a relaxing and celebratory weekend. To be honest, the weather was miserable and couldn’t have been much worse. It was foggy, rainy and the whole scenery was painted in a white-grey shroud of mystery. We took a taxi to the Lingyin temple, which is a Buddhist temple on the west side of the lake and one of the largest temples in China. To get into the temple, you are have to walk inside Feilai Park, which then gives you access to several different temples. The whole area was very interesting with different Buddha statues and a little river path through a grottoe and once we’ve reached the Lingyin temple, we were invited to light incense and saw a Buddhist ritual. The monks just started to play the drums, pray and sing as we walked inside one of the praying halls and the whole performance was captivating.
Just as we wanted to see the last bit of the Feilai Park, it started raining heavily and we rushed to make our way out and get a taxi back to the hotel. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get a taxi in the rain (as it often is in China) and our clothes were soaking wet so we had to jump into a dodgy, expensive unlicensed taxi. After all that stress, the wine in the executive lounge was well deserved! The Sawasdee Thai Restaurant that we still managed to find in our tipsiness, was excellent as the staff was very attentive and welcoming, the food was delicious and well priced and the whole atmosphere was relaxing. It was so good in fact, that we decided to return for lunch the following day. Back in the hotel room we enjoyed a bottle of Maison Perrier-Jouët Champagne, that was a surprise part of my birthday gift! What a joyful day!
On Sunday morning, we enjoyed the hotel’s brunch except for a small incident which was a sneezing (of course without hand in front of his mouth) and snuffling Chinese guest who sat at the table next to ours. We mentioned it to the French waiter and he was compassionate, but couldn’t do anything, as “after all, we’re in China”! Overall, we noticed that there was a high percentage of Western staff at this hotel, who all delivered an excellence service. When I see a lot of Western staff in a restaurant or hotel, I always wonder how they manage to employ so many Westerners, as the pay in these places is usually terrible compared to European countries (and with terrible I mean 10 days annual leave and around 1,000€ gross per month).
Unfortunately for us, the weather just turned the whole scenery around the lake white, and it was fairly crowded on some parts around the lake. We took the hotel manager’s advice and walked along the Broken Bridge and back on the west side of the lake. Actually, the broken bridge is a beautiful path along the lake with lots of viewpoints, a few souvenir stalls and you can walk into Zhongshan Park from there, just before getting to the end of the path. As with most Chinese tourist sights – the longer you are prepared to walk, the less crowded it gets.
As the walk took longer than anticipated (we had many photos to take!), we actually took one of the many shuttle buses back to the hotel. And just like that – after another delicious meal at the Thai Restaurant – our wonderful time in Hangzhou was over and I can’t wait to go back and explore more!
PS: Thank you for everyone who made my birthday so special this year! I was given so many delicious cakes, thoughtful presents, hugs, messages and surprises 🙂
Have you ever visited Hangzhou or do you live in Hangzhou? What are your favourite places?