Lakes in the Desert/沙漠里的湖

(Hannah originally published a version of this article on Atlas Obscura here)

(下面有中文版)

This is not a mirage, it’s an example of a spring-fed lake in the Badain Jaran Desert. Do you understand why it’s there? Neither have many others who have visited them over the years.

Nestled in-between “Megadunes” (aka some of the largest sand dunes in the world) near Alashan Youqi, Inner Mongolia, is probably one of the strangest sights you’ll find: almost 100 lakes plopped right in the middle of a desert! It’s one of nature’s greatest contradictions: sheep graze and birds swoop toward the salty water while it reflects the yellow-brown dunes all around.

Many researchers agree that the lake water probably came from concentrated groundwater beneath the sand. They say that this can form springs, which then become deeper lakes. Despite the groundwater, however, most of the lakes have a pretty high salinity level. Meaning: roughly 50% of the lakes in the Badain Jaran Desert are salt lakes.

Other researchers say it’s because of precipitation and snow melting in certain areas. You know what I say? We need more research! Luckily, this is being done to figure out where the water comes from, and why in some areas it’s disappearing.

Whatever the reason, you can still go and have a good time. To get there, go from Zhangye (张掖) in Gansu Province (on the Lanzhou-Xinjiang railway line), then get a bus to Alxa Youqi (阿拉善右旗). A driver can take you to the desert entrance, but to fully experience the desert, you’ll need a guide. A jeep for two days, one night is around 2,000 RMB, and can hold up to 4 people. Bargain liberally.

Oh, and small tip: the jeep is very much worth it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you like the idea of mixing Aladdin with Mario Kart, then this is the place for you.

这个场景并不是一个幻想,而是一个自然发生在隔壁沙漠里的湖。你明白为什么存在吗?其实,很多过来看湖的游客也都不知道。

这种意想不到的场景是处在超级大沙山之中,就是世界上最高的沙山之一,在内蒙古的阿拉善右旗附近。没错,沙漠里有一百多个湖!应该就是大自然最大的矛盾,因为你在看羊慢慢地吃草与小鸟飞到湖边的时候,也同时能看到湖面影射的沙山。

大部分研究者觉得这么多水应该来自地下水。这种水可以变成泉水,然后变成湖。但是虽然有地下水,湖里的盐度很高,换句话说这个沙漠的百分之五十的湖都是盐湖。

其他研究者认为这些湖是因为降水或者融化的雪而形成的。我呢?我以为我们应该多研究研究吧!辛运的是还是有研究者在深究这个地方为什么有湖,而且为什么有些湖慢慢地在消失。

但是,你还是可以过去玩一下。你要从甘肃的张掖出发,然后坐车到阿拉善右旗。可以找一个司机带你去沙漠的门口,但是如果要进去你应该要跟一个吉普赛车。一个吉普赛车两天一晚大概要2,000块钱(车里可以做四个人)。我应该不用说你要多讲讲价。

哦,还有一个小点:吉普赛车很好玩,但是要胆子大点才能坐。如果你很想把《阿拉丁》与《Mario Kart》结合起来,那你就过来玩吧!

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At the End of the Great Wall: My Journey to Every Chinese Province

Back in 2013, I stood on Jiayuguan fort, the end of the Great Wall in Gansu Province that was called “the Beginning of Nowhere.” The crenelations faced a vast and brutal desert that sentries used to guard, often watching merchants slip into the packed sand to continue along the Silk Road.

I think about this now in 2017, having just stood atop a fort on the Great Wall again, this time at the other end in Hebei Province’s Shanhaiguan — the Great Wall that enters the Bohai Sea. My hiking boots have been worn down, rips and seams gaping open and beyond repair. It wasn’t gritty sand caking my skin, but seasalt and the crashing sound of the waves below.

Great wall water 2

I wanted to end my trip at Shanhaiguan, because it’s more than the end of this trip, but the end of many trips that have taken me all over China’s diverse soil. My tattered boots and I have trekked sand dunes, mountain paths, seashores, and snow. We’ve gone all over China together for the past five years. And now, we’ve been to every single Chinese province.

Hannah boots

Back when I first got these boots in 2013, I had no intention of traveling so much. In fact, before I came to China, I had never traveled alone, period. My first stay in an international youth hostel was in Shanghai in 2012, and it was thrilling because it was so new. When people recommended a place to visit, I searched for it on my then-clean map of China thinking “maybe someday.” China on that map was like a distant star then: something I could look at but perhaps never touch.

Since then, my map has been filled not only with ink, but with memories of where I was and even who I was in the moment I visited a place. At times, I was the lost foreigner. At others, the dusty hitch-hiker. I’ve had conversations with people that stayed with me for years. I’ve had conversations that I didn’t understand.

The road my boots and I have walked through China has greatly shaped the person I am today. Where once I was a terrified girl playing at being an adult, now I’m standing tall and walking strong. Though the world can be scary, I’m not scared to be a part of it anymore am ready for new things. So, it is with bittersweet satisfaction that I write this, knowing that I’ll have to replace those boots someday (soon, probably), and that all roads come to an end.

But as a friend in Changchun told me, the fort at Shanhaiguan is NOT the end of the Great Wall. It’s actually the beginning. The name “Laolongtou” (老龙头) means “dragon’s head,” which is the starting point.

And what better place to end, than at a beginning of something new?

I did it 2

Panjin’s Red Sea

Probably the only famous part of Panjin (aside from the Panjin Crab dish, apparently) is the red seaweed that grows in late summer and fall. The seaweed in the wetland reserve begins to grow in April but turns red in the fall.

Despite what you might think, it’s totally natural and happens every year. It also covers a huge area so you can take your time as you visit. You can also check out the slightly-horrifying figurines that look like monsters turned into straw. (Let’s hope they don’t come back to life…)

To be perfectly honest, while the sights are unusual and picturesque (on sunny days) I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip just for the seaweed. Transportation out of Panjin isn’t as reliable as you’d think, and it’s not guaranteed to have the big swathes of red you might hope to see.

That being said, if you’re in the area, it makes for a pretty cool sight. It certainly put me in an autumnal mood to see fiery colors, straw monsters and all.

Qinghai Lake/青海湖

(下面有中文版)

One of the most well-known places to explore in Qinghai would undoubtedly be Qinghai Lake. It’s also one of the most congested places, depending on what time of year you go. If you go in July-August, when college students are on summer vacation, the road along the lake will be very crowded with cyclists, all vying for the same “off the beaten track” adventure…in a giant crowd of people doing the same thing. Any other time of year will be less crowded.

Should you avoid biking it altogether because of this? No! It’s a circuit that will take you around the famed salt lake in 3-4 days (depending on your speed) and will show you scenery ranging from snow-capped mountains, to herds of farm animals grazing, to nomadic Tibetans in the fields. You’ll see temples, prayer flags, and of course, the lake!

I will admit that Qinghai Lake has definitely been touched by the hand of Chinese tourism, meaning that many of the prettiest spots have been given poetic names and have entrance fees. Local Tibetans in this area are also well-tuned to the tourist part of this lake, charging people to take pictures of their sprawling fields of rapeseed flowers. There will be random spots where you can ride horses, yaks, and in the small portion with sand dunes, even sled down sand. If this sounds like too much for you, Qinghai has other areas to enjoy, but if you’re like me, you can enjoy this scenery while avoiding the slap of tourist attractions for the most part.

If you want to bike around Qinghai Lake, most start at a small town called 西海镇 (xi hai zhen) and take 3-4 days. There are also buses that go along one half of the lake, to 黑马河 (hei ma he) which is generally seen as “the sunrise spot.”

Or, you could take a gamble like me, and hitchhike. I made my way around the entire lake in 2 days purely by hitchhiking, and even lucked my way into a kind Tibetan family on my way back who took me for a spin in a roadside temple. All things considered, Qinghai Lake might not be the natural getaway you’d hope for, but it’s certainly beautiful nonetheless.

青海省最有名的景点肯定是青海湖,但是它也是青海最拥挤的地方。如果你是7、8月份去青海湖,这就是大学生放假的时候,所以到处都是骑自行车的年轻人。他们都在追求最奇览的经验……而且都在大群当中寻找同一个“没有人经历过”的感觉。其他时间会好一些。

这么多人说明你要放弃把青海湖绕一圈吗?并不是!这一条路会化3、4 天时间把这个有名的盐湖绕一圈(但是也要看你的速度)。你会经过雪山,大群野物,还有藏族农民。你也会看到经幡,寺庙,等等。

我会承认青海湖受到了中国旅游业的影响,说明青海湖最美丽的景点有很美丽的名字,所以有门票。当地人也发现了可以赚钱,所以如果你想拍油菜花的图片,会收钱。有些地方你可以骑马,也可以摸牛拍照。在青海湖的沙漠区,你也可以坐雪橇下沙山。如果你觉得太过分的话,你可以去青海其他地方玩,但是如果你跟我一样,你可以不那么在意这种旅游业的东西,从自己内心去看青海湖。

如果你想骑自行车,大部分游客是从西海镇开始,花大概三、四天时间。青海湖也有汽车到黑马河(被称作“看日出”的地方)。

你也可以跟我一样碰运气地搭顺风车。我花了两天时间把青海湖绕了一圈,全部是从搭车过来的。我第二天运气特别好,就碰到了一个藏族的一家人,带我去路边的寺庙。总体来说,青海湖可能不是你想想的“无人风景区”,但是它还是很漂亮,还是值得赞美的。

Travel Tip #2: Toilet Paper/卫生纸

(下面有中文版)

Now, some of you may already know this, but many of you don’t: most Chinese bathrooms DO NOT have toilet paper in them. Yes, Chinese people still use toilet paper (obviously), it’s just that everyone is expected to bring their own. I’ve speculated about this, and have a couple theories: 1) China is trying to reduce toilet paper waste, 2) With such a large population, it’s easier to make people bring their own rather than constantly have workers stock it, and 3) China hates me (just kidding).

Anyway, the point is that you need to bring your own! You have a couple of options. The most common is buying small packets at really any convenience store in the area (for usually 1 RMB per packet). Some travelers opt for buying them in bulk from a grocery store and using them throughout the trip, which really only works if you’re going to be stationed in the same place for an extended amount of time…otherwise, you’re stuck carting it around. Others pack a small roll of toilet paper before even coming to China (which I recommend if you’re coming from overseas and don’t want one of your first Chinese adventures being “let’s buy toilet paper before I pee my pants”).

But what if you don’t want to constantly buy toilet paper? Well, you have options, good ones being: McDonalds and KFC. Yes, Chinese cities have many of these chain stores, and these friendly reminders of consumerism can be your saving grace. Their bathrooms are almost always reliably stocked with toilet paper (and you don’t have to buy anything to use their bathrooms). Don’t like this choice? Another option is to always ask for extra napkins when you buy/order food. Better yet, pad your pockets with it if you’re staying in a hotel. (Hostels may or may not have their own toilet paper, depending on the price range/quality). You can get pretty creative with where you get your toilet paper, but the biggest takeaway here is that YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT ON YOU!

Maybe even bring extra. You might make a friend.

Useful phrases:
卫生纸 (wei sheng zhi)= toilet paper
餐厅纸 (can ting zhi)= napkin
多给我点餐厅纸吧 (duo gei wo dian can ting zhi ba)= Give me some extra napkins
洗手间在哪里 (xi shou jian zai na li)= Where is the bathroom?

有些人已经知道了,但是有些还不知道:中国的大部分洗手间没有卫生纸。那当然中国人是用卫生纸的,只不过每一个人是应该自己带的。(我考虑了这个问题,有三个可能性;第一,中国就是想要减少纸的浪费;第二,因为人口很大,每个人自己带卫生纸比每一个店断断续续地换卫生纸更方便;第三,中国恨我(开个玩笑)。

关键是你要自己带的!有几个选择。你可以去任何一个商店买一包纸(就一块钱而已)。有些游客去市场买很多包,然后慢慢地用完(如果你一直在同一个地方旅行,这是个好选择,但是如果你要去很多地方,后来会变得有点麻烦因为还是要带上那么多……)。有些人来中国之前买几包(如果你是从国外来的,我建议你还是来之前带一点,要不然的话你在中国的第一个回忆就是“我去找卫生纸的漂游记”)。

那么如果你懒得常常去买卫生纸呢?还是有办法:这就叫麦当劳和肯德基(对呀这种消费主义的符号会救了你的命!)他们的卫生间经常有卫生纸,而且你不用买东西才能上他们的厕所。不想要这样吗?那你每次出去吃饭多拿一些餐厅纸。如果你住在宾馆里,你可以把很多卫生纸塞进你的口袋。(青年旅社未必有卫生纸,如果质量差点的话那肯定没有)。你就要用你的想象力去找办法吧。主要是:一定要带上!

最好是你多带一些。结果呢:你可能会交一个新的朋友。

Travel Tip #1: Bring Your Student ID! 带上你的学生证!

(下面有中文版)

Yes, yes, growing up is a beautiful thing, and we should all embrace it. But, if you look even remotely young enough to be a student, bring along your ID. I’m talking about the crappy plastic ID that’s probably faded from being crammed into your pocket for too long. I’m talking about the one from undergraduate days. THAT one. Doesn’t matter if it’s expired, bring it. (Especially if there’s a lot of English on it.)

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THIS ACTUALLY WORKS

When you go to the ticket counter, show this to them. I try to put on a “I’m so sorry, but this is all I have to prove I’m a student” face and am gently insistent that it’s the real deal. Some don’t even need the effort. If it works, you get half price, which when you’re traveling in China is a really big deal. Everything in China has an entrance ticket. Lakes, mountains, certain parks. This is where the student ID comes in to save the day.

Of course, it’s not fool-proof. Some ticket vendors know exactly what you’re doing or only accept Chinese student IDs. (Or as I unfortunately discovered: only accept undergraduate and below student IDs…as if we grad students are just rolling in the dough…) If they turn it away and refuse the discount, don’t get mad. Because really, you have no right to be mad. Just try again another day.

(And if you think “Wow, this is shady and morally wrong and I think you’re a bad person, Hannah,” you should know that there was a time I signed on for an English tour of the Terra Cotta warriors, and the guide specifically handed out fake student IDs to all of us just to get the discount. My fake ID was a French student, though I forget the name.)

Useful Chinese phrases:
有没有学生票? (you mei you xue sheng piao) = Are there any student discounts?
这是我的学生证。(zhe shi wo de xue sheng zheng) = This is my student ID.
我学生证就是这样,没办法。(wo xue sheng zheng jiu shi zhe yang, mei ban fa) = This is just the way my student ID is, nothing I can do about it.

**If the ticket vendor is still not giving you the discount, count your losses and just pay the full price. No need to make a scene.

当然,长大是一个好事情,而且我们应该尽快适应这个生活阶段。但是,我跟你说,就算你只有那么一点点学生样,你就应该带上你的学生证。哪一个学生证?就是你上大学的学生证。
你到买票的地方, 就给那里售票员看。我经常用一个“我真不好意思,但是就没办法,学生证就这样”的表情,然后温暖地迫使他们使用。有的时候也不用费力。如果有用的话,票会半价,在中国这就是很宝贵的因为任何一个景点都要门票:山,湖,公园等。所以学生票对你大有帮助!

当然也不是每次都是那么容易的。有些售票员很清楚你在干什么,或者只看国内的学生证(或者,像我这样发现:只看本科以下的学生证……似乎我们研究生那么有钱哎呦)。如果他们不接受你的学生证,那你千万不要生气。因为说实话,你就没有权力生气因为学生证毕竟是没用的。你就换个地方换个时间再试试吧。

(还有:如果你读这篇文章感觉我特别坏,我跟你说,有一次我是跟着一个英文旅行团一起去参观兵马俑,然后导游竟然带上了很多假的外国的学生证为了买半价票!我那边假的学生证好像是一位法国女性,但是具体我已经忘了)。

My next trip! 我下一站

(下面有中文版!)

I’m going to take a break from listing favorite places and write about more pressing matters: my trip to Qinghai and Tibet Autonomous Region next month!

As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, I only have 4 more provinces to travel to in China before I’ve been to them all! In the fall, I’ll be going to China’s northeast, but for the summer, it’s out west. I’ll be experiencing the world’s highest altitude and stunning scenery, and of course, will come back with information and tips to share.

Here’s a breakdown of the trip.

Qinghai
First off, to get to Qinghai, I’ll be taking a 30-hour train from Shanghai to Xining, Qinghai’s capital city. I’ll be in Shanghai for a night because of a literary magazine launch. As the train rolls out west, though, I’ll see the landscape change and enter the Tibetan Plateau.

Since Qinghai is home to Tibetan people, and is historically Tibet, much of what I want to do in this province is related to Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t have many specifics nailed down for the 10 days or so that I’ll be here, but there are three things I want to do: Find the salt lakes, go to a Tibetan village, and go hiking. From what I’ve read online, all of this is extremely doable. There’s the Chaka Salt Lake, which is just to the North/Northwest of Qinghai Lake (the huge one), and there are national parks, and there are several Tibetan villages, including Tongren, to name just one. In addition there is the gorgeous Amnye Machen Mountain, which if I can’t hike around, can at least admire from a distance.
For this part of the trip, my travel will be cheap like the kind I’m used to. I’ll be staying in hostels, taking buses, perhaps even hitch-hiking. But that’s just fine with me!

Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
To get to Lhasa, I’ll be taking the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which has been dubbed “The World’s Highest Railroad,” because of the altitude. While there are flights going into Lhasa, it’s better to go in slowly because 1) the scenery is amazing, and 2) it helps you adjust better to the high altitude.

As for my time in TAR, I will be on a much clearer schedule, because I’ll be going with a small group tour.

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of group tours, but traveling alone in TAR as a foreigner is simply not the most economical idea. This is because all foreign travelers in Tibet must have a guide and a driver, since we are not allowed to take pubic transportation outside of Lhasa. Likewise, there are areas that foreigners are discouraged from visiting. Because having a guide and a driver can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, I’m joining a group to make it more affordable. That being said, the two company I’m going with (Budget Tibet Tours) seem to have a good itinerary in mind. Tibet Highland Tours also has a very good reputation and offers good services, from what I’ve read.

(By the way, if you want to know a lot more about traveling in Tibet, check out this website. The writer is very friendly.)

The trip I want to take will be an 8 or 9-day journey from Lhasa (where we will see the Potala Palace, which in itself is enthralling) all the way to the Mount Everest Base Camp. (“OMG you’re climbing Mt. Everest??” Hell no! I’m not a mountaineer and would need many years of training to even think of that — this is a “poking the base of the mountain” trip). The journey will take us past glaciers, the world’s highest monastery, and more gorgeous scenery.

Oh, and while I’m in Lhasa, I also plan on riding the World’s Highest Ferris Wheel. (Again, because of the altitude.) It has nothing to do with Buddhism, but seems just odd enough to be great.

Anyway, I’m getting pumped for my trip, and will share details as they come/I hit the road. As for now, that’s just a glimpse of where I’ll be in less than a month!

我现在暂时不写关于中国最喜欢地方的文章,我会先写一些其他的经历:我下个月就要去青海和西藏自治区!

我在其他的文章里已经写到在中国我只剩下四个省还没去过,我马上就可以说我踏遍了中国的每一寸土地!秋天,我会去中国的东北,但是夏天我要往西走。我会体验世界上最高点,也是让所有诗人极力赞美的风景。我当然会把照片,我的旅行经验以及一些建议分享给大家。
下面是我的旅行计划。

青海省
首先,我会坐30个小时的火车从上海到青海的首都西宁。我会直接从上海的一个杂志出版庆祝晚会出发坐火车慢慢往西走。我会渐渐看到中国的不同的景色,一步一步接近青藏高原。
因为青海是藏族人的家乡,也是历史上的西藏,我大部分的活动会跟藏族佛教有关。我会在青海十天左右,还没有很具体的安排,只不过我有几个地方特别想去:盐湖,藏族小镇,爬山。根据我网上查到的信息,这些项目应该不太难。首先有茶卡盐湖(就是在青海湖的西北边),有国家公园,也有各种各样的藏族小镇比如同仁。加上也有超级好看的阿尼玛卿山,如果我爬不了这座山,那最起码我也可以站在远处赞扬它。

这一部分的旅行就会按照我熟悉的方式:我会住青年旅社,坐巴士,有可能也搭顺风车,都没有问题!

西藏自治区
我会坐因为高地而被称作“世界上最高的铁路”的青藏铁路到拉萨。当然拉萨有很多航班,但是坐火车第一,可以看很多景色,第二,会慢慢习惯西藏的高地。
我在西藏自治区的时候我会有一个更系统的安排,因为我要跟一个小旅行团走。
说实话,我不那么喜欢跟团旅行,但是在西藏自治区独自旅行对外国游客来说不划算。这就是因为所有的外国游客必须有自己的导游和司机跟着,而不能在拉萨之外坐公共交通。除此之外,也有些小区外国游客不允许进去。当然,有导游和司机就会很贵,所以我决定了跟一个小旅行团比较划算。因为这样,我在考虑的两个旅行社好像不错。它们的计划看起来很好,而且评价也不错。

我想做的计划就是8天从拉萨(在那里可以看到布达拉故宫)到珠峰大本营。(“哇靠!你要爬珠峰啊?”当然不要!我并不是一个专业的登山者,也没有打算参加专业的训练……只是打算近距离看看而已。)这个路线会经过冰河,世界上最高的寺庙,还有意想不到的美丽风景。
哦,对了,我在拉萨也打算坐因为高地被称作世界上最高的摩天轮。跟佛教并没有关系,我只是感觉很高大上,所以想体验。

我现在就恨不得马上出发,但是还有几个星期做准备。我准备好以后我可以给大家分享更多的细节,现在只能给你们一个大概的描述。

The Tiger-Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡

(下面有中文版!)

Yunnan has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, but one trail takes the cake. This is the Tiger-Leaping Gorge trail, a 2-day hike in mountainous Yunnan.

Actually, it is possible to hike the approximately 15-km hike in one day, it’s just no fun. I met a hostel owner who did exactly this, saying that you basically have to run it. Most hikers do it over a 2-day period, staying in the Halfway Guesthouse overnight (with “the best washrooms in the world” because of the open walls offering stunning views of the mountain valleys.)

To get to the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail, most travelers come from Lijiang, an ultra-touristy village that I could barely stomach for a couple of days. Most hostels will offer information about the trail and even transportation, but if you want to do it on your own, go to the small town Qiaotou. From there, it’s up to the moutains!

The hiking itself ranges from comfortable walking along dirt trails (which is rare in China, most mountain hikes being a series of stairs), to the treacherous and grueling “28 bends,” which is a series of 28 switchbacks up steep terrain. Horse vendors take advantage of this, offering horseback rides (for a fee) to those unable to do it. Out of stubborn pride, I climbed all of the 28 bends without a horse, though there is no shame (well, maybe a little) if you opt for that route.

In terms of food, growing tourism has ensured that there are restaurants along the way. That being said, pack water! Prices on top of the mountain will be higher.

As for the views…well, let’s let them speak for themselves…

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云南到处都是美丽的自然风光,但是有一条无可攀比的路。那就是虎跳峡,一条需要在山里行走两天的路。

其实,一天之内可以走完这条15公里左右的路,但是一天之行并不好玩。我见过了一位青年旅社老板说他一天走完了,但是应该说跑完了因为他速度必须很快。大部分的游客需要走两天,住在“在中途客栈”(因为有“世界上最好的厕所”因为厕所的一侧没有墙壁,刚好可以看到超级漂亮的山!)

到虎跳峡,大部分游客从丽江出发——丽江就是一座过分游客化的小镇,我呆了几天实在受不了了。大部分客栈有关虎跳峡的消息和交通,但是如果你要自己到的话,就坐巴士到桥头就行了。从那儿,到处都是山!

爬山的话,有的时候不难(因为不像中国大部分爬楼梯的山路!),有的时候超级吃力的,比如一段有二十八个Z形路往上爬。租马的工人在那里等着,如果你付点钱,你可以骑马爬那一段。我自己比较固执,所以自己爬了。如果你要骑马,我不会小看你……OK会小看你一点点,但是你可以忽略我的想法。

吃饭的话,因为虎跳峡的旅游业比较丰富,路边会有一些饭店。但是你还是要带很多水!山里的价格会比较贵。

那,美丽自然风光呢?应该让图片自己来展示。

Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal/京杭大运河

(下面有中文版!)

Hangzhou may be best known for West Lake, but one of its lesser-known attractions for non-Chinese travelers is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Most Chinese travelers of course know about it, since it’s long been a part of Chinese history. In total it’s almost 1,200 miles long connecting Hangzhou and Beijing, and is the oldest functioning canal in the world.

You can’t ride it all the way to Beijing, though you’ll be able to watch barges begin their journeys to the capital. Instead, take a boat from the Wulin Port (武林码头) and get off at an old neighborhood. The boats count as public transit, costing less than 10RMB for a ride on the canal.

Once off the boat, you can enjoy small canal-side walking paths, or take a trip to see the Knives, Scissors and Sword Museum, the Fan Museum, and the Umbrella Museum. (I personally enjoyed the Sword Museum, which had a robotic arm demonstrating sword techniques at the time I visited. For all museums: prepare yourself for hordes of wax figurines!). The cluster of small old-time buildings has a good selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and art stores to peruse. In the spring, the canal is especially beautiful, with green willows lining the water.

Probably most travelers would put West Lake, Longjing Tea Village, or Lingying Temple higher on their To-Do lists (and for good reason!), but the Grand Canal is still one of my favorite spots in Hangzhou.

杭州最著名的景点就是西湖,但是从外国游客看来不那么著名的景点就是京杭大运河。大部分中国游客当然已经认识京杭大运河,因为在中国有永久历史。一共1200多英里长,也把杭州与北京连了起来。它是世界最长可用的大运河。

你现在不可以从杭州坐到北京,但是在运河上你可以看到去往北京走的船。但是你可以在武林码头坐船到拱墅区。这种船算是一种便利的交通,坐到那儿不到10块钱。

下船时,你可以在运河边的小路走走,也可以去观看刀剪剑博物馆,扇博物馆,和伞博物馆。(我个人更喜欢刀剪剑博物馆,因为里面有一个耍剑的自动的手臂。所有的博物馆,要做好心理准备有太多的蜡状物!)仿古的楼有饭店,咖啡馆,艺术作品店等地方逛逛。春天运河边更好看,因为有绿绿的聊树。

应该大部分的游客会把西湖,龙井村,或者灵隐寺排在前面(而且很有道理的!)但是京杭大运河也是我最喜欢的杭州景点之一。

West Lake/西湖

(下面有中文版!)

The first place you’ll be told to visit in Hangzhou is West Lake. That should come as no surprise, given that West Lake has been a part of Chinese poetry and folklore for hundreds of years. But, when it comes down to it, West Lake is just a giant lake. How best to enjoy it? Look at it? Take a selfie? Those are good starting places. Of course, there are other, probably more satisfying ways to explore this famed lake in Hangzhou.

  1. Quick Trip West Lake
    If you just want to see West Lake and walk along it for no more than an hour, then that’s easy. There’s a subway stop on line one “龙翔桥” (longxiangqiao) that has a convenient exit for exploring the lake. This path will likely lead you to 湖滨路 (Hubin road) which is a walking street along the lake. This portion will be crowded. Not just crowded with walkers, but with tourist carts as well. (If you’re lucky, you’ll see the squirrel that delights all Chinese tourists).
  2. West Lake by bike
    Most travelers prefer this method of exploring West Lake. It will take much of the day, though, so be prepared. You can get a transit card for a 200 RMB refundable deposit for a red bike, or if you have Wechat, you can get one of the bikes scanned by QR code. The bikes are 1 RMB after an hour, and the prices jack way up the longer you keep them, so be sure to switch bikes when you can. If this sounds like too much of a hassle, you can also rent bicycles from vendors along the lake for a day. I suggest making your way to the southern side of the lake, where there’s more greenery and less traffic. Also be prepared for hills. A bit tough on the way up, glorious on the way down.
  3. West Lake by foot
    This will take almost all day. Don’t be fooled: West Lake is bigger than you think. That being said, it’s easier to veer on side paths and get lost in the woods when you don’t have to lock up a bike and fetch it later. Once you get closer to the tea fields, there will be plenty of side paths winding through Dragonwell tea bushes.
  4. West Lake by boat
    Indeed, West Lake being a body of water, there are boats! The boat vendors are hard to miss, since they stand on the shore yelling “BOAT! BOAT! BOAT!” as you walk by. You can rent a paddle-boat (by which I mean, the vendor paddles the boat) and see the Three Pillars Mirroring the Moon (aka the image on the back of the 1 RMB note), and visit Yingzhou Isle. Bargain liberally.
  5. West Lake panorama
    You can also enjoy West Lake from above. While there are several panoramic spots, my favorite would have to be from atop Baoshi Hill (宝石山), which is off of Beishan Road (北山路) and where you’ll also find Baochu Pagoda (保俶塔). The trick is to get on top of the rocks. That’s where you’ll see what I consider the best panoramic view. (Plus, it’s FREE so you can’t beat that.) Other places include Bei Feng Hill (北高峰), Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔) among others.
  6. Causeways/inlets
    If you don’t want to do a circumference of the lake, you can also consider walking through a part of it. There are two causeways connecting different shores: Bai Causeway (白堤) and Su Causeway (苏堤). I personally prefer Su Causeway, because it’s greenery is a bit denser, and the Broken Bridge on the Bai Causeway is usually swamped with people. (Especially during public holidays!) Actually, the best causeway would have to be Yanggong Causeway (杨公堤), but there’s less of a lake view on that one. Another area is Solitary Hill (孤山) which is an inlet off of Beishan Road. There’s a seal museum (the stamp kind, not the animal), plus a series of interesting sculptures throughout the area. You can still see the lake, just from a different angle.

In the end, it’s up to you how you decide to visit West Lake. Just know that if you don’t visit it at all, you will be faced with a wash of shame from fellow China travelers! (Just kidding. But still, give it a visit!)

杭州第一个该看的地方就是西湖。这并不是怪事,因为西湖在中国诗歌神话中由来已久。但是归根到底西湖就是一个湖。该怎么赞赏呢?看看?自拍?这种方式可以为起发点。当然,也有其他方式可以更好地赞赏这个很有名的湖。

一、快速看西湖
如果你想不到一个小时看看西湖,走一走,那很简单。地铁一号线在龙翔桥下车就可以很方便地走到西湖边。这条路也会通过湖滨路,一条人行道。这条路人很多。也不仅是行人,也有游览车。(如果你的运气比较好,你可以看到令大部分中国游客开心的松鼠!)
二、骑自行车游西湖
大部分游客更喜欢用这个方式看西湖。骑自行车会花半天时间,所以你要提前准备。你可以拿一个交通卡,保证金200块钱,就是红色的自行车。用微信也可以扫一扫共享单车。第一个小时,一块钱,以后会很快提价。方便的话,要经常换车。如果感觉不方便,那湖边有很多租车的人,你可以租一天的自行车。我建议你去西湖的南边因为那边的绿色风景比较多,车子也比较少。要准备骑上山。上去很难,下去很好玩。
三、走路游西湖
这会花一天时间。不要小看西湖有多么大。因为如此,你也比较方便随便走上小路因为不用停车。离茶园比较近,有很多小路可以走。这种小路会在龙井茶树当中,很漂亮。
四、划船游西湖
因为西湖当然是湖,你可以划船慢慢欣赏它。租船的工作人员很难以忽略,你走过去的时候他们不断地喊“划船!划船!划船!”你可以租一个小船(也不是你划船的,是工作人员来划)然后可以看到三潭印月(换句话说一块纸币后面的背景图)、小瀛洲。但是最重要的一点,别忘了讨价还价。
五、看西湖全景
你也可以从高处看下面的西湖。当然有很多看全景的地方,但是我比较偏爱在宝石山上看西湖(在北山路上,有保俶塔)。主要是你要爬上石头看全景。对我来说,这就是杭州最好的全景,也是免费的!其他全景的地方:北高峰、雷峰塔等。
六、走提道、小路
如果你不想绕西湖一圈,你也可以去西湖的一部分走一走。湖上有两个提道,就是白堤和苏堤。我比较喜欢苏堤因为自然比较丰富,人也比白堤的断桥少一点。实际上,杭州最好的提道是杨公堤,但是从杨公堤你不怎么看得到西湖。另一个地方是孤山,就是北山路附近的一个地区。那里有一个印章博物馆,周围也有很独特的雕塑。你还是可以看到西湖,就是从另一个角度而看的。

总之,你自己要决定怎么看看西湖。但是,如果你来杭州不看西湖,你真是白来杭州了。(开个玩笑,但是你还是要尽量看看吧!)