After boarding a 6 am train to Suzhou, we made it there less than 30 minutes later, which was not good for sleeping patterns. We hung out in the train station’s McDonald’s for breakfast before heading to our hotel – who knew Chinese MickeyD’s serves corn for breakfast? We grabbed taxis to the hotel and dropped our bags off before heading out to explore the area around our hotel quickly, since we could check in at 12 and planned to take a quick nap. Suzhou is known as the “Venice of the East,” because of its canals and waterways. We enjoyed the views for a short while but were very excited to take a 3 hour nap.
Feeling refreshed, we ventured to the old part of the city that feels most like Venice, to do a little shopping. We fell in love with a store that sold embroidery hangings of scenes of Suzhou. We all bought at least one, and decorated the backs with musings about the trip and each others’ signatures. Then, we found this amazing pedestrian street along one of the canals with all kinds of kitschy shops. I found an amazing silk scarf that I just HAD to have, luckily it was on sale and only 35 yuan (about $10). Since it had been a weird day for sleeping, we resolved to return the next day to explore more in the daylight.
The biggest tourist site in Suzhou is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, a traditional Chinese garden. Naturally, it was swarmed with other tourists, and made it hard to explore. We still had a lot of fun walking around, taking silly pictures and taking in the many pagodas. Next, we headed to an already-closed temple, but it was ok since on the way back we stopped for egg waffles. I was annoying everyone because of my nonstop talk of them, after eating too many this summer at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Egg waffles are originally from Hong Kong, and there are many places to get them in mainland China as well. Luckily, the waffles lived up to the hype, and I successfully converted 6 people to the egg waffle life. We finished the night back on our favorite canal street, soaking up the culture, before boarding our 2:30 am train to Hangzhou.
For the train from Suzhou to Hangzhou, we selected the Hard Sleeper since it was the cheapest option. What we didn’t know was that each compartment slept 6 people in 3 levels, and the train would be bumpy. The train was only about 3 hours in total, and I did not sleep at all because of motion sickness, which I have never experienced before. If anyone ever travels on a Chinese train, I would highly suggest splurging for the Soft Sleeper, which has private cabins and only 4 in a room, as well as Western toilets, which are VERY KEY on a moving train (300 km/hr + hole in the ground = unclean peeing experience). I have no pictures of this experience, thank god.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the hostel, we were told we could not check in until 2 pm, but we could hang out in the common room. Luckily, I grabbed a bean bag and passed out for 2 hours, apparently we got a lot of funny looks from other guests, but it was so worth it after not sleeping all night. When we finally made it out of the hostel, it was already dark, but luckily we were staying on the tourist street, so we all split up to try some street food. My go to was meat on a stick, everything tastes better on a stick, according to iCarly, and dumplings, my lifeblood in China. It was so delicious, and made me wish we had something similar in Xiamen. Unfortunately, people would not stop taking our picture, that we almost started charging people for our photo just to make a little money.
The next day, we explored the major sight of Hangzhou, the West Lake, a large lake next to the city. We began walking around, and jumped on a boat that would take us to Fairy Island. On Fairy Island, are the Three Pools Reflecting the Moon, which is actually found on the back of the 1 yuan notes, which we realized later. The lake was not too crowded, because it was so large, and the pollution was not so bad that you could not see anything. For dinner, we returned to the street food, but we were all determined to eat something exotic. I had a scorpion, and it was not as bad as I expected! Pictured is the progression of eating it! Most of us also had the same, and Sarah tried a sea horse; we all did not expect that the exotic food tasted inoffensive, almost like potato chips.
On Sunday, our last day, we made one last trip to the temple, so we could see the lake from above, before boarding the train home. The temple was about an hour walk from our hostel, which most of us did not expect. Luckily, the innovative Chinese had retrofitted the 700-year-old temple with elevators, which was amazing since it was 6 stories! We headed back to the hostel and jumped on the train and wrote some postcards. Now, we are back in the swing of things in Xiamen, and I have already turned in a few homework assignments. However, it is nice to be back in a routine and I look forward to my next trip in China!