The drive from the main train station to the West Lake heritage area didn't feel too different. But you only have to walk about five minutes from the main shops to find perfectly shaped gardens with that sense of wildness and freedom. The West Lake meets every sense of the word perfection. With the sun setting over the water? Pure wonder. Don’t let the fact that it’s a major tourist hangout put you off. The view can beat any tourists behind you, and there are places you can find on the lake where no one will be disturbing you.
Another great spot is the Leifeng Pagoda. A fair walk from the lake... If you survive the walk that is and don't get hit by the mini-buses driving up scores of Chinese tourists to the pagoda to save their legs on the footpath. It’s equally impressive from the outside, and is a great focal point for your photos of the West Lake, but if you fancy high views of the lake, going up the pagoda for RMB40 is the way to go.
Food-wise in Hangzhou you're spoiled for choice, catering for tourists alike with Western and local cuisine. The food vendors that line the main streets in Hangzhou always look like they're selling something delicious, sometimes interesting as well. Often they will offer your samples before you purchase if you're feeling adventurous. The peanut brittle-type snack that I had was so much better than any peanut brittle I've eaten. It all looked good.
In the end, you won’t want to leave. Going on the train back was the last thing I wanted to do. But it is definitely a good weekend stay as you might start missing the big city after a while.
Although the streets are lined with vendors, you can find tranquility by just walking down towards the lake or within a temple. Shanghai particularly, with its hazardous traffic and loud conversations, can make you feel so small. But Hangzhou, just being an hour’s journey, is where can find beautiful scenery, amazing street food and you can walk across the road and cars will actually stop for you. Rather than look at you as if you’re just a bug about to end up their windscreen.