We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Gail, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Gail is from the United States, and submitted the following report about her trip to the West Lake Scenic Area of Hangzhou, China. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Chinese, English
Costs at Destination: Cheap (local transportation, dining, tours, events and attractions)
Reasons to Visit Hangzhou
West Lake is a scenic World Heritage site located in the city center of Hangzhou. The lake is quite beautiful, and is surrounded on two (almost three) sides by what are affectionately referred to as mountains. Nestled into these mountains are temples, natural springs, and pagodas. I walked around the lake my first day, which was relaxing and an enjoyable way to settle in. In many ways, Hangzhou city center felt like New York City in that there were lots of people, busy sidewalks, readily available street food, shopping, buses, and traffic. I felt right at home.
I felt quite safe on the streets in Hangzhou. The place had a nice blend of feeling Western and Eastern. I explored the historic streets around Hefang Street, and tried out the street food. I visited the Former Residence of Hu Xueyan and took the self-guided tour – a little off the beaten tourist path, and a smidge difficult to find (with signs in Chinese), but well worth the effort.
I visited Lingyin Temple, the Feilai Grottoes, and hiked up to see Yongfu Monastery and Taoguang Temple. Then, I continued my hike up to the North Peak. There is a cable car up to North Peak, which I only discovered after I had already hiked up there. I took it on the way down.
The hiking trails were stone, with steps – lots of steps. Despite the hardship for my thighs, I decided I liked climbing steps much better than inclined dirt trails. It was easy to stay on the path and offered much better footing. It felt so civilized. The signs along the trails pointing which way to go were generally in both Chinese and English, though they provided inadequate information, as I still found it hard to get to a specific temple. The maps on signs were generally only in Chinese, so despite my efforts to memorize how a given place name appeared when written in Chinese, I still couldn't find anything on the map.
For getting around the city center and the scenic areas around West Lake, I made extensive use of the local bus system. The bus system is quite dense – buses come often, lots of lines connect at each stop, and the stops are quite close together – which makes it easy to use as a tourist. All the buses provided automated recorded announcements of the stops (some buses gave both Chinese and English, but not all did) and a display (only in Chinese). I liked that the automated announcements gave a warning just before each stop telling you to get ready if you are getting off. I made use of the GPS tracking on my phone to ensure that I didn’t get lost, though this wasn't necessary at all.
I gamely tried out the street food (I'm not a foodie). Many shops were tiny little street fronts, which had hot food and snacks right there where you could see and point at what you wanted without going in. The prices were clearly displayed, and they were totally prepared for the foreigner who didn't know any Chinese. Many walk-in and sit-down restaurants had large printed cards with photos of the menu items, so you could point at what you wanted. I found that nothing tasted as I expected, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)