27 August 2014
With the tour itinerary getting lighter, we were able to sleep in a bit and still have plenty of time for our breakfast buffet (including ice-cream!) before the 9.30 departure for the day’s activities.
We settled in our tour bus for the 3 hours of travel from Suzhou to Hangzhou (pronounced “hung-joe”), which passed easily now that the busload was interacting as one group abuzz with exchanges about home and the tour (from the Jenkins kids, if nobody else).
The first stop was lunch at a tea farm. Although it felt like we were perpetually en route to a meal (quite routine 8, 12.30 and 6) and the format of each meal was the same (8-10 courses on a lazy susan), the dishes themselves and the variety of locations kept the mealtimes interesting enough.
We opted not to take the presentation at the tea farm since we’d already had a tea ceremony in Suzhou and figured that since it’s all supposedly strictly traditional, you seen one, you seen ’em all. That might have been a bit dismissive as the locals are so passionate about their tea that they eat, drink and cook with it.
This meant we were on course for West Lake, the big drawcard for the area. Our route took us through the magical bamboo forest where the iconic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was filmed.
The time at West Lake was free time to walk around and admire the scenery. It’s a series of loched manmade lakes, with beautiful thick trees on the banks, large clusters of wild Lotus flowers on the water and a path all the way around so that you can amble along. There were lots of benches and decks to sit and admire the view, mostly under the shade of gorgeous overhanging willow trees. Pretty bridges made for other scenic vantage points and lovely backdrops for photos.
As with everywhere else there were so many people – some even with dogs, of which we’d seen precious few on our trip, and always little chocolate brown miniature poodles. And as with everywhere else, lots of requests to have pictures taken with us.
We would be returning to West Lake for the evening’s entertainment, so there was no objection to moving on to get our hotel. The Courtyard Marriott. Wow. What a grand hotel! Breathtaking lobby, beautiful rooms, astounding facilities. Yet another pleasant surprise on our “bargain package”!
Dinner was at the Lily Hotel and quite different to previous. Same format of course, but much tastier. Hard to tell if this was the restaurant – which did seem much nicer than some of the previous, which had typically understated decor – or the palate of the region.
Then back to West Lake for the show, Impression West Lake which was conceived and directed by Zhang Yimou who is famed for doing the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Using the lake, surroundings and an underwater steel stage as props the show is an hour of hundreds of performers and clever usage of lights and sound to create a dazzling epic masterpiece that tells the stories of the classical myths and legends of West Lake. The invisible stage makes it seems as if the dancers are gliding on the water and the mammoth cast is paled by the magnitude of their stage!
We had the best seats in the house (not to be confused with the paraplegic toilets, which we’d taken to seeking out as they were always “proper” toilets) – front row seats on the water’s edge – and couldn’t help but be moved by the triumphant soundtrack… even if we couldn’t quite get a handle on the story.