In late October, one of my best friends from Germany came to visit us in Shanghai and apart from showing him all the main sights, rooftop bars and top restaurants in Shanghai, we took the train to discover Hangzhou and Suzhou. As I’ve seen quite a bit of the West Lake for my birthday weekend in September and even though I liked it, I wanted to see something more different and unique (yes, sure, the West Lake is unique, but in the end it is a lake).
Xixi National Wetland Park is a rare urban wetland and the only one in China combining farming, urban life and culture. It is easy to reach by taxi or bus from Hangzhou station and we started our visit on the west side of the park. By the time we arrived, it was already lunch time and we quickly discovered a cosy restaurant near the entrance in the first village you walk through. My friend was loving the Japanese-style seating on tatami mats and the super friendly waitress who spoke perfect English informed us that they have no menu and will serve us a vegetarian surprise lunch with local and fresh ingredients. It was delicious and we were surprised at how many dishes she brought to our table – for just 120 RMB each!
We strolled through a little ancient village – did you know that Xixi Wetland Park is more than 1,800 years old? – with rebuilt traditional houses and walked through the various lake paths, getting lost in spite of the signage and our huge map.
It was a lovely day, just below 20°C and sunny and can you believe it… there were no people! Living in China, you are always surrounded by a crowd moving in different directions. I’m not sure whether we were (almost) the only people in the park, because it was a random Monday and not during any crazy Chinese holidays, or whether most people tend to visit the West Lake rather than Xixi Wetland Park. Anyway, we were enjoying the quietness, sunshine and spending a day in this lush retreat.
Before heading back to Shanghai, we made a quick stop to see the Longjing tea fields at the west side of the West Lake and were taken to again, a completely different and more touristy scenery with expensive tea houses.
It is astonishing how big and diverse Hangzhou is and how much there is to see. Did you know that Hangzhou has more than 9 million inhabitants? That’s more than London and more than double the amount of people living in Berlin. And yet, it feels like a small yet diverse, relaxing city compared to Shanghai. And I’m sure, even after visiting Hangzhou twice, there is still plenty to see.