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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, China, Hangzhou, Travel, Travelzoo

Green Tea, West Lake & Outback ???

Terraced tea fields near Hangzhou.

The grounds of Dragon Well Tea Plantation.

Terraced tea fields near Hangzhou.

Hooray, it’s our last day of the guided tour before we arrive in Shanghai this evening. We start the day at Dragon Well Tea Plantation on the outskirts of Hangzhou. It’s a cool, damp morning and the mist hangs thick over the terraced tea fields. It’s a beautiful glimpse into an older, more rural China, away from the sprawling metropolises we’ve been spending a lot of our time in.

Lotus Lake

We tour the grounds and then head into a tasting room where we learn all of the detoxifying benefits of green tea, while leaves steep in cups in front of us. We finish our tea, and Ray and I sneak away across the road to frolic in the terraced fields.

West Lake pagoda.

West Lake.

From here, we head to our last group lunch, which is one of the better ones of the trip. We then head to West Lake, where we spend a damp and cool afternoon walking a small section of the 50 acres this park occupies. The lake is dotted with bridges, temples and pagodas, and despite being the off-season, it’s crowded with locals and tourists alike.

West Lake.

Despite being busy, there’s still a sense of peacefulness and I picture what the lake may look like on a spring or summer day, when filled with bright green lotus plants. We have a couple of hours to explore, so I wander off and watch house boats make their trips around the lake and then I stop to listen to a street musician playing guitar.

We reconvene at the bus at 2:30 and begin the almost 3 hour drive to Shanghai. I’m associating Shanghai with freedom, but learn that we won’t be going directly to the hotel. There’s an optional performance tonight, ERA- The Intersection of Time, Shanghai’s equivalent of Cirque de Soleil. The plan is to go straight to the show. If you don’t opt in for the show, well, you can just wait on the others who do.

I ask Michael if we can make our own way to the hotel, but no, he will need to be there to check us in. So there goes one free night in Shanghai. Katherine and Warren decide to opt in for the show, and Ray and I decide to grab a bite and then look for somewhere to get a foot massage. There’s a small shopping center near the show venue, and we agree on a western meal at Outback. Ray and I indulge in overpriced steaks and red wine. We then head over to the spa for a foot massage, only to find out the spa is under construction. We decide to tell Katherine and Warren we had the best foot massage EVER, as we’re sure we will hear ERA is the BEST show they have ever seen.

We all reconvene after the show, head to the hotel and have a nightcap, toasting to the end of our guided tour… and the full free day we have in Shanghai tomorrow.


Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, China, Hangzhou, Lake Tai, Travel, Travelzoo, Wuxi

Finally Wooed in Wuxi

Lake Tai

 We wake to a bright morning in Wuxi. Paired with the energy of our evening last night, I feel positive about what today will bring. After breakfast, we meet Angela in the lobby, where she again passes on her father-in-law’s compliments to the boys on their chopstick skills.

Lake Tai

We all load on to the tour bus and head back to Lake Tai. We have the chance for a short but brighter walk before heading to the pearl factory a few minutes away.

Cracking open oysters and counting pearls

You know the drill by now. We’re greeted at the factory doors, taken into a showroom, told about the cultivation of pearls and then let loose in the showroom. Well, we were all destined to break at one point in time, and apparently, today is my day. An hour (and a couple of hundred dollars) later, I now own two beautiful strands of pearls. (I keep telling myself it’s ok because the trip was so cheap!)

From the pearl factory, we head to a tea pot museum, home to the largest tea pot in China and some pretty impressive and detailed craft tea pots. However, after my little spree at the pearl factory, I won’t be spending $300 on a teapot and tea cups. Thankfully, this is a short visit and we then make our way to lunch before the afternoon drive to Hangzhou.

A typical lunch

Lunch is another game of “Is this pork or chicken?” but there’s an actual coffee shop downstairs, so Katherine, the boys and I excuse ourselves from lunch and indulge in a $5 cafe latte. It’s everything that lunch wasn’t!

From here, we part ways with Angela, thank her profusely for her hospitality and begin the 2 hour drive to Hangzhou.

En route, Michael comes around to collect the $90 mandatory gratuity that each person owes. This was clearly laid out to us at the time of booking and is non-negotiable. This money is to be shared amongst our two Michaels, all our local tour guides, and the bus drivers. It’s nothing when it’s broken down this way, and the trip still remains such a bargain.

Still, there are a few people who feel like the gratuity should be “optional” and not “mandatory,” and therefore decide not to pay it. It’s a little awkward for everyone.

Xing Hai International Hotel

Smoggy sunset in Hangzhou

We arrive in Hangzhou by late afternoon and check into a beautiful hotel. Michael checks in everyone who has paid the mandatory gratuity and we make our way to our rooms, curious as to the fate of the others… It turns out that the people who refused to pay up will be responsible for covering the cost of their hotel rooms in Hangzhou tonight. Michael says, “Sorry, in China, we have to punish you the Chinese way.”

Unfortunately we’re quite far from the city center and after venturing across the road to check out the dining options, we end up at the hotel buffet. I feel I’ve failed as a traveler again, but after all those meh lunches, a couple slices of pizza really hit the spot.

After dinner, we sit with Nick and Sue in the hotel bar, discussing our weird and wonderful group dynamics. The boys return from massages with a bottle of liquor that tastes more like lighter fluid, so Ray goes out to buy a couple of bottles of wine and we sit in the hotel lobby until the wee hours of the morning, talking life. We’re making the best of it, but there’s no denying we’re ready for our arrival in Shanghai tomorrow and to have our freedom back… Or so we think…