There are so many Paradises on Earth but there is only one in China and it’s called Hangzhou!
The house itself was typical old traditional Chinese house – with long corridors, small courtyards and a garden in the yin yang style with rocks in different corners and healthy bonsai trees opposite. What made this house different was a small manmade hill with a viewing point in the middle of the biggest courtyard. Once you are at the top you can see the layout of the house, enjoy the light breeze and stare at a pond full of very happy and colourful fish. The manor house of Mo Fangmei in Hangzhou, China, was built in 1897 by a local merchant to house three generations of his family. Today it’s a beautiful heritage site well worth a visit.
Outside Mo’s House you need to cross the road into the quieter side of the famous Hefang Street. On the right amongst ancient Chinese houses which today host expensive shops and restaurants, you will find Starbucks. Feeling generous I offered to get a coffee for the three of us and the price stunned me – it was almost the same as in London. Not able to relax in the pleasant autumn sun I walked towards one of the landmarks of Hangzhou – the Ancient Pharmacy. This was my fourth visit to this charming city daubed a Paradise on Earth and although I usually enjoy visiting the Pharmacy and learning something new in the Museum of the Traditional Medicine I decided to give them a miss this time. Instead of going for a tour I established a new type of traveller – the peep traveller, when you just pop your head through the main door and quickly check everything is the same since your last visit. But it’s not for the first-time visitor!
Lots of people don’t know that the in Hangzhou is a working one. When I peeped in – it was busy as always – people were patiently standing on one side waiting for their medications to be packed in yellow paper bags. The staff was dressed in the white doctor’s uniform so easily recognised all around the world, lifting the heavy, glass jars and showing dried herbs on sheets of paper, measuring and passing them to the patients. Behind the main desk there is a very rich museum and with a good knowledgeable local guide you may learn a lot about traditional medicine in China.
I continued walking through the busy and lively Hefang Street. Since my last visit in 2009 there were not many changes – the shops seem to sell the same items – scarves, hats, silk, tea…lots of tea. Hanzghou is well known for the tea plantations which are situated a short drive from the city. You can have a tea ceremony and learn about the cultivation, types of tea, making of tea and if you are in the right season you may pick your own tea at a nearby plantation. The only problem is that at the end of a really nice experience you get overcharged for a tub of tea which you can buy at the airport for half the price. The Dragon Well Tea planation has become over commercialised and so I stopped going there or sending any of my clients.
On the right side of the street I recognised a large metal teapot conveniently located outside a shop and set to attract tourists like me. One of the staff is lurking around with tray full of hot steaming tea cups and offering them to naïve tourists. I know this because I paid a heavy price few years ago when decided to try a “real Hangzhou tea” and paid £15 for a pot! I must admit that the ceremony was outstanding and for that matter I didn’t regret it then but I won’t do it again!
If you would like a private day tour of Hangzhou, with a guide, car and driver we can arrange it for you at a time to suit you, with a boat trip on West Lake, tea ceremony at the secret place and visits to temples, the ancient pharmacy and Mo’s manor house.
To Be Continued