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Travels: Hangzhou Daytrip August 2007

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I did a day trip today to the city of Hangzhou to the south of Shanghai. Primary aim is to roam around the famous west lake of Hangzhou. And planning the trip took visits to Wikipedia, Travelpedia and finally a check on Google Earth to make sure I know what the whole place looks like before going there. The plan was to get to Hangzhou main Train Station (there's a second station to the east) and then take a 1km walk to the lake front and do a clockwise tour of the lake. On the map, I estimated about 7km distance around the lake, and I should have about 5-6 hours to do it.

The most important thing about going for a day raid is to be well equipped. I wanted to take this trip for photographing the lake and the ecosystem around it, so I brought along my Lowepro Orion camera backpack for this trip. Two camera would be ideal here, so I packed the Ricoh GR Digital with 21mm adapter for closeup street shots, and the D2H with a 20mm f2.8 AFD, Voigtlander 40mm f2 SL, 105mm f2.5 AIS and for macro work, 70-180mm f4.5-5.6 AFD. For safe measures an SB800 was packed as well, as I knew I would be spending most of the time shooting in harsh noon sunlight. For the survival kit, I had my Garmin Vista GPS with fresh batteries, my Sony Clie made it along for blogging but Graffiti 2 just pisses me off again, a mobile phone in case I get lost, loads of mineral water stashed to the side pocket of the Lowepro. The pack was quite heavy, but everything I need (and I'm sure more than what I need) was in there.

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So I arrived at the Shanghai South train station at 7am, hoping to snag the ticket on the bullet train that was supposed to leave from Shanghai to Hangzhou main station at 8:30am. The station seems to have been renovated compared to the last time I was there 5 years back! At that time Shanghai south was a little roof and 2-3 platforms, and now its a towering new glass building with at least 6-8 platforms. Almost as big as the main Shanghai train station. But bad news were to come, the queues were long at the ticket booth, seem to have overheard some official looking people saying that the tickets for the morning were sold out. There's a booth that seems to sell either standby ticket or standing room on the 80min bullet train ride, but I take no risk (and will do a search on this, maybe I need to take it next trip). Made a quick decision to run off to the long distance bus station to take the next bus to Hangzhou instead, hoping that taking the next bus is better to wait for a later bullet train. Finally got a ticket (60RMB) on a 8:10am bus.

Got to Hangzhou at 10:30am after sleeping for the whole journey, so nothing exciting to report there. I'm not too sure which bus station (N30.27870, E120.20135) we arrived in, but its the one that's next to the East Train Station. First thing first, to jump into the next available taxi and go to the main train station in the city to buy my return ticket. There's a semblance of a queue at the taxi stand, but the queue barriers are enough to fit 2 breadth wise, so you can already expect some jostling, and it does happen. I had to fight for my position with a lady with a large luggage. Lucky I have my heavy backback to swing around to get her to stay clear!

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Taxi ride to the Hangzhou main train station (N30.24566, E120.17704) took 17RMB (starting fare 10RMB). Greeted by a lot of passengers waiting for their train by loitering and sitting on the ground at the entrance. Got to dodge them first. The train ticket for the CRH bullet train is on the right side of the station, and CRH has their own ticket booth with 3 counters. Was hoping to get the last train at around 8pm, but the only available ticket was for the 1818hrs train that cost 50RMB (Cheaper than the bus!). They mentioned something about a special ticket, again the standby or standing ticket (not sure, my chinese not that good) but I dont take the risk. After leaving the station, I noticed I have 6 hours to wander the lake.

First was the walk from the station to the lake front. That took a little less than 30mins, but it was at the full might and heat of noon. The walk is a straight route, as though the main station was overlooking the lake a km or two away. Had my quick lunch at a Carrefour superstore next to the lake, and then it was time to start my tour. What I had was a backpack, and the Ricoh GRD with 21mm adapter hanging on my neck, and the D2H fitted with 40mm Voigtlander swinging over my right shoulder for quick action.

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What I realised after the trip was that 5 hours was not sufficient to see all the attractions the lake has to offer. Its surely enough to walk the whole circumference, but I was hoping to have a look at a few temples in detail on the way. I will do those next time. There were a couple of lotus pond, and there's where my zoom macro came in. The 180mm range was useful to take the pagodas perched on top of the hill as well. Next trip I would bring a polarizer with me since I got nice blue skies today. The Ricoh with 21mm lens was capturing it nicely.

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There were a few booths along the way that sells water for tourists, but the prices vary widely. Some shops sell a small 550ml bottle of water for 6RMB, and some at 3RMB or less. Noticed quite a number of tourist boat rides, but since my mission this time was to do circumference, I was not too interested. I'm sure the last thing I want was to spend 2-3 hours on a boat while some tour guide tells me something about dragons into the ground and the lake was created etc. Otherwise, most of the walk was under shade of trees. So its generally bearable even at noon.

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What did I learn from my gears? I downloaded about 2Gb of pictures from the two cameras. The D2H did quite well as usual. I'm starting to think that the D2H, with its 4mpix sensor, is better suited to normal to telephoto lenses rather than wide. I used the 20mm once, but didn't like the lack of detail on the photo, ok for vista shots. Ricoh GRD however, fared quite badly in harsh lights the type that you get around noon time. The exposure were off about 50% of the time. Maybe I was fussy after going thru the D2H photos. Most photos were overexposed. I don't need 8mpix all the time, but it was not possible to do 5mpix picture on fine JPEG compression. RAW images were better detailed, but the file took too long to write. However, the 21mm lens were good for closeup stealth shots. What could be useful in the future would be the optional optical viewfinder so that I dont have to stretch out my hand to see the LCD and snap when I need to.

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