For the first leg of my journey after Liaocheng I got on a sleeper train and headed south to Hangzhou, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in China, and one of the few places that lives up to it’s touted beauty amongst the guidebooks and travel agencies. (It’s not that China isn’t beautiful, it’s that Chinese people really like to use hyperbole in order to attract people.)

With a history of over 2,000 years, Hangzhou is one of the most culturally relevant cities in the history of Chinese civilization.  Today, Hangzhou is known for three things in particular.  Its silk, its tea, and the West Lake.  The West Lake is without a doubt the most famous lake in China. Poets, philosphers, emperrors, and common people throughout China’s long history have spoken of the West Lake as a place of awe inspiring beauty.

While much of the natural beauty that has attracted people to the West Lake for generations remains, like most places of interest in China, and for that matter world-wide, the tourist industry has spoiled much of that.  Especially now that school is out for the summer, hoards of fanny-pack sporting, visor wearing, picture snapping “tourerists” flood the shores of the lake, distinguishing much of the peaceful beauty that the ancient poets must have experienced.  And along with tourism came the inevitable shift of culture to accommodate the visitors.  Finding a hamburger is just about easy as finding a bowl of noodles in Hangzhou.

That said, I came to Hangzhou expecting all of that, especially the hamburgers.  After four months in the sleepy little town of Liaocheng, it feels refreshing to once again be a place more a kin to my own culture.  While Hangzhou may not be a necasarily ‘genuine’ Chinese city (and I use the word genuine with great hesitance) it offers weary Western travels like yours truly many things that more typical Chinese cities don’t.  The streets are clean, the road signs have both English and Chinese, the bars serve more than crappy Chinese beers and gut-rotting baiju.  Plus, it’s pretty beautiful.  It’s a perfect place for me to recharge, recoup, relax.  Below are a couple pictures from my first day in Hangzhou…hope you enjoy!

Even on rainy days, or maybe especially on rainy days, West Lake is pretty damn beautiful

The West Lake was actually once a series of marshes that were dredged to create what is known today as West Lake. I found the most pleasant and tranquil experiences were found wandering amongst the many gardens that dot the shores and wander throughout the marshlands that remain.

A little surreal, no?