We booked this tour because we wanted to take the bullet train and also to see the key sights of Hangzhou at the same time. We were extremely lucky to have Apple as our guide. Apple is an extremely friendly, patient, cheerful and kind person, and we got along very well! Her English is fluent and well-spoken. The weather was not on our side as rain poured down incessantly throughout our trip. Nevertheless, we highly enjoyed the tour, in particular because of Apple's enthusiasm and love for the city of Hangzhou. We had an early and delightful lunch at a place with Hangzhou cuisine, frequented by locals, and with an impressive array of available dishes on the menu. We enjoyed the food, which included the famous and truly delicious Dongpo pork (created, legend says, by the poet Su Dongpo who was once governor of Hangzhou).
We went on to West Lake, which has an unmatched beauty all its own, despite the sweeping curtains of rain. It's no wonder that reams of poetry have been written about it. There were many couples strolling hand in hand, despite the rain. It's a romantic date spot, not just because of West Lake's scenic splendour, but also because of the great romance of Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian, whose enduring love story is set in West Lake. We took a boat ride and saw the three pagodas -- and Apple showed us that it was on one of the Chinese currency notes! We also saw a couple of wild ducklings struggling to navigate the strong current in the waters of the lake.
Our other stop was Lingyin Temple, which is remarkable for its numerous Buddhist grottoes and the magnificent halls/temples which constitute Lingyin Temple. We saw many groups of teenagers and people who seemed to be in their early 20s, carrying flowers as they trooped into Lingyin Temple and offered prayers. The temple itself is a grand structure, with multiple halls filled with towering statues of the deities, and each deity has a special significance in Buddhism. There were figures of the 500 arhats, the Goddess of Mercy, the Four Heavenly Kings, and many more. Apple was an invaluable guide, impressing us with the depth of her knowledge, explaining the importance of the deities and what they meant to the people offering their prayers to them. When rain and traffic jams delayed us, Apple was resourceful and able to quickly arrange for our return back to Shanghai such that we barely lost any time at all. We would also like to thank the driver, a chap from Huangshan, who drove us through a spectacular downpour and rush hour traffic. We would love to take another trip back to Hangzhou in a sunnier season and if so, we hope to have her as our guide again! We would very strongly recommend Apple as she was an excellent guide and also a great person to know in Hangzhou.