I spend a lot of time here in China just trying to escape the crowds. I’m well aware what a ridiculous pursuit this is. China is a country of 1.3billion people. Coming to China and trying to escape the crowds is like going to the Arctic and trying to escape the snow. Or going to St James’ Park and trying to escape the delusion that Newcastle are a big club.
But we Welsh are a particularly stubborn race, and thus I continue to hanker after that little oasis of Chinese peace and quiet away from the utter chaos the rest of the country brings.
It was the pursuit of this peace and quiet that led me to West Lake, in Hangshou – a large, well-to-do city in south east China, a little over an hour outside of Shanghai. The Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maserati showrooms that line the road around West Lake hint at Hangshou’s mentality. Its not quite Monaco, but increasingly it seems to think it might just be…
West Lake itself is quite astonishing. It’s a… Well, I mean, it’s a lake. Quite a big lake, actually, appearing suddenly in the middle of a busy city, with huge mountains flanking it to the west behind which the sun slowly drops every night. It really is quite a sight, especially late in the evening when fishermen in their thin wooden canoes are silhouetted on the golden water against the orange glow of the sun set. The city is impeccably maintained – I didn’t see a single piece of litter the whole time I was there. This is a place that both sets and maintains high standards.
But alas, word of such a kempt, beautiful place seems to have got out. West Lake is, sadly, as crowded as anywhere else in China, especially on its southern shore. I arrived to find myself surrounded by a sea of the ubiquitous Chinese flag-following camera toting tourist. They also seemed curious about me. For the first time on this trip I was asked to pose for photographs with a few of them. Either they thought I was Ringo, or else they’re just not used to seeing Westerners.
But right, here’s a thing. On my second day in Hangshuo, I finally found what I had been craving: a small patch of utterly beautiful peace and quiet, where I sat for a few very happy hours immersed in my book. I’d hired a bike earlier in the day, since it is possible to cycle a whole circuit of the lake. A whole day’s hire cost just £1.20, and thus I set off on a leisurely trundle.
As I did I came across a park about three quarters of the way around. Locking my bike up and going to investigate, inside I found a small open villa overlooking a serene, lilly-covered corner of the lake. And, remarkably, no-one else was there! Not a soul! Even in the park itself I found myself mostly completely alone.
Thus, I settled down and ploughed through a few chapters of my book – Andrew Marr’s A History of the World. I got all the way from the French Revolution to the Boer War in a few thoroughly agreeable undisturbed hours which stood out from an otherwise ordinary few days in Hangshuo.
Adam’s Top Tips: Hangshuo
So, cycling around the lake is the thing to do?
Yep, that’s your best bet. It cost me 12 Yuan for a day. You pay a 300 Yuan deposit as well, but you get this back later on. Its well worth it, mostly flat with a few small bridges to negotiate.
Couldn’t you walk it?
It’d take you all day, and you’d get bored after a bit. I mean, yes, you can walk it. But don’t. Hire a bike.
Oh, ok then. You said your stay in Hangshuo was ‘ordinary’?
Yeah, because it really was. It’s a nice city, and the lake is cool. But that’s about it. There’s not much else to do there once you’ve looked around the streets which have been mocked up to look all nice and quaint.
So how long should I stay if I go?
If you go, stay for 2 nights, giving you a full day to look round the lake. Lonely Planet says you should linger here, but its really not worth it.
Isn’t there anything to do in the immediate vicinity?
There’s a few bits. There’s a mountain called Moganshan, but it costs a fortune to get too and a fortune to get onto. Given Huangshan is so close, why would you waste time and money on Moganshan? There’s also a few villages nearby. But take Junxi for an example – it costs £15 to get in. Fifteen quid to get into a bloody village! Hardly worth it.
So would you recommend going to Hangshuo?
…Probably not. Its worth spending a night here on your way to Mount Huangshan. But that really is it.
That’s ok then.