Hangzhou – Or: How Chinese like to travel

Chinese love to travel. Whenever you go to large scale tourist spots, you can see Chinese tourist groups gathering around their guide. The guide can be singled out easily because he or she is usually carrying a flag and using a megaphone to entertain and inform the group with a stream of words that can hardly be understand by an outsider. The group as a whole sometimes can be recognized by wearing the same king of hat or some other kind of common outfit. When we climbed Taishan, there was a school group, all wearing the same clothes.
According to my roommate who recently traveled with such a Chinese group to see the Great Wall, the guide’s biggest fear is to lose someone, so it is quite impossible to leave the group to individually take some pictures or take a rest at a scenic spot.

Tour guide in China
Following the guide’s blue flag in Shanghai.

The behavior of sticking together in a group and following a leader is omnipresent: Even on the two minute walk in Shanghai from the ticket office to a bus who took us to the boat for the Huangpu river cruise, we had a guide with a blue flag showing us the way.

When we got to Hangzhou however, we discovered a different approach of traveling: On the train to from Shanghai to Hangzhou we young met a couple that went to Hangzhou for one day – without having put a lot of effort into planning or even joining a guided tour. On the two hour train ride they first started to discuss which sights they were going to see. When I asked them what time we would got to Hangzhou they only had a rough idea about the scheduled arrival – just like we… So we had something in common and after they had read my homework that I had written in the train (a text about China’s one child policy), we kept on talking until we were in Hangzhou. We all were quite hungry, so we decided to have lunch together – it’s always good to have a Chinese who can read the menu when it comes to the point of deciding which dishes to order.

After that, five Germans and two Chinese went to see Hangzhou’s Lingyin Temple and the famous West Lake. The temple was impressive and featured the tallest halls I’ve ever seen in a Buddhist temple. We were lucky to catch a glance of a religious ceremony right in front of a huge Buddha statue.
We did not go to the West Lake until sunset. That way we avoided the masses that crosses the dam across the lake in the afternoon. As Hangzhou has always been part of the Chinese saying 上有天堂 下有苏杭 (“In heaven there is paradise, on earth Su[zhou] and Hang[zhou]”), Hangzhou has long been one of the favorite tourist attractions of China. When we took a bus to the temple that is located on the other side of the West Lake, it seemed to take forever because the street around the lake was filled with tourists in tour buses, private cars, on bikes and on foot, so I was happy that most Chinese were already heading back or having dinner at the time we were walking the dam and crossing the bridges to Gu island.

Religious ceremony at Lingyin Temple.

After dinner we headed back to Hangzhou’s train station – only to discover that the were no tickets left for the last trains to Shanghai – it was impossible to take a train until the next morning. As we were not the only ones who suffered from the lack of train tickets, a private company were using buses to Shanghai that filled up quickly. Of course the buses were more expensive than the train ride but they were comfortable and I could had a 90 minute nap on the way back to Shanghai.

So on the one hand there are tourist groups that are following a strict program, on the other hand there are (mostly young) Chinese who leave without having a return ticket and who spontaneously decide what places to go. There might be a change towards individual tourism in China, but after all, the tourist groups are remaining an eye-catcher.

Sightseeing in China
Traveling the Chinese way: “We came, we saw, we took a photo.”

Joining a Chinese travel group seems to be relatively cheap, part of this is made possible not only of the low wages that the young tour guides receive but also the arrangement of places to go. A lot of trips include lengthy stops at tourist shops and the tourists are expected to buy some memorabilia. Since the tour guides work on commission, they sometimes seem to focus more on selling goods than presenting the actual sights.


One Response to “Hangzhou – Or: How Chinese like to travel”

  1. Youth Hostels in China « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] travelers as well as a becoming a country in which Chinese more and more use their chances to travel on their own. With a growing importance of this clientèle new youth hostels in the many cities are springing up […]

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