Monday, July 25, 2011

Suzhou, Zhouzhang & Hangzhou (or Where I Rediscover How Awesome Trains Are)

I think I'm just falling in love with China a little more each day. Honestly, before my adventure set out I was terrified that every horrifying thing I've heard about China would have me running back to America for familiar ground. And while there are some things that I dearly miss (certain foods, amenities, Western toilets, dancing) and am counting the days until I can take a nice, warm shower, I absolutely am falling in love with this country.

I wish I could just sit down and talk about everything about where I'm staying and what I'm doing, but once again I find myself positively ready to explode about my latest trip. So, before it gets messy, I think I'll do that.

The traveling itself made this trip special. I made the decision practically the day before and left it up to my travel mates (Jason and Armando, yes, that Armando) to book the tickets (as I spent most of Friday at a spa (story coming soon)). After agreeing on the two cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou and deciding to head to Suzhou first, we soon found out that there was only on train per day... at 12:14 a.m.

This did not excite me. I have never pulled an all nighter, but what I experienced was something very close to what I think an all nighter would be like. The train ride was five to six hours long and extremely uncomfortable. (I attempted to use Jason as a pillow, but he was too fidgety. Later he would tell me my elbows are like knives.)

So after one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life, we arrived in Suzhou, haggard-looking and silent. We stumbled into the hostel with nary a problem and aside from them accidentally confusing my passport for Jason's. (The salt on the wound is that he isn't even blond, so there really was no excuse for it.)

We took a much needed two hour nap and then struck out at 10 a.m.... or really 11 a.m. since it took us an hour to decide what we were going to do. We walked to the North Pagoda, which was relatively cheap (25 RMB). It had this amazing Buddah statue and offered some gorgeous views of the city.

After that we went to the Humble Administrator's garden (拙政园) which offered more beautiful Chinese landscape. But it was hot and humid. I was quick to take out my umbrella for shade. But it didn't stop me from getting soaked from the moisture.

We sought shelter in a museum. I can't tell you what museum. Just that it had amazing air conditioner.

Dazed, we wandered back to our hostel for a quick shower and nap and then we sought out sustenance. We ended up finding a Korean restaurant and I found some good bubble tea. The main walking street in Suzhou, Guan Qian Jie (观前街), was an impressive site. The neon and the crowds gave the street a vibrant sheen in the night, but the crowd was perfect for people watching.

The next day had us up early, breakfast at 7 a.m. and meeting the lobby at 8:10 to go on a tour to Zhouzhang (州长), the Venice of China. We hopped on a Chinese tour because it was honestly cheaper than going ourselves. (We were actually able to haggle down so we basically paid 20 RMB for the bus and 100 RMB for the entrance. The bus without the tour would have been 70+ RMB.)

Zhouzhang earns its nickname in spades. It was a Chinese Venice, complete with boats not unlike gondolas drifting through the canals. (We didn't get in one, but should you choose to enjoy a relaxing boat ride, you are given a small table for tea and if you get a woman to push you around, she'll more than likely serenade you.)

After lunch we were given a choice between two "towers". Of course, not really understanding, we just asked which was the most interesting, took their word for it and bought the tickets. This ended up being the best decision of the trip. They took us to this house that looked pretty shabby on the outside, but inside was the most amazing illusion/fun house I've ever been in.

The rooms were so impressive, as well as the paintings and the optical illusions. There was an upside down room, a sideways room, a room that made you really small and/or really big, a hall of mirrors, and the scariest haunted house I've ever been in.

We went into this room with these tables with headphones. We put on a pair each and then the room went pitch black. You could not see a centimeter in front your face and the audio through the headphones was so frightening. At first it was just something walking around, and you could feel someone walking around. And then it would whisper in your ear, and it really felt like someone was whispering. It was in Chinese, but some how that made it scarier. Haunted houses are usually pretty easy for me to laugh at... this one was really good.

That night we hopped on a bus to the near by Hangzhou (杭州) to meet Emily and Michael O. The hostel they booked our reservations at was probably one of the cutest things I've ever seen in my life. While a bit more expensive than our usual hostel by twenty yuan, it was a really charming place. Past visitors wrote on the walls in bright colors, English, Chinese, French, all over! And when we had breakfast, we got silverware! It was amazing.

The morning was spent at Yingling temple, which was honestly the most impressive temple I've been to in China. While a bit expensive (45 RMB to enter the mountain park and another 30 for the temple) the statues and the scenery were absolutely breathtaking.

After that and wandering around a bit, we ended up renting bikes and going over West Lake. A gorgeous, picturesque lake, but soooo humid!

Armando, Jason and I headed back to Wuhu that night on a train, experiencing one of the sleeper cars for the first time. It was a blast! And extremely comfortable. Only fifteen yuan more expensive, I really recommend this to get around, especially if you're traveling at night. (Though if you want to read, bring your own book light.)

My next trip is to Shanghai where I hope to find some lindy hoppers. Until then, I'll be roaming!

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