The question of how to get around here in Hangzhou naturally depends on a few factors. From where to where do you want to go, do you have luggage, how many people are there, for how long are you here?
First of all, what will be a help to many people: Uber is allowed and widely used in China. From my experience, using Uber costs a little bit more than twice a ticket for a similar trip with a bus, so if you have luggage or are in a group, Uber is always a good choice. The Chinese also have an application which is called You Bu (优步) doing the same thing. The prices for a ride with these applications are a little volatile, therefore you should consider getting both applications on your smartphone if you know enough Chinese to be able to compare the prices.
One more thing to mentioned is that the Chinese drivers often call you first to confirm your location and destination. Usually, you would just have to reply “dui!” (this means “right” in Chinese) to the taxi driver – so far I have never had the experience of getting stranded in a strange place. Still, you should have a map on your phone to be able to see where you are going.
As you can see, the use of Uber is an easy and comparably cheap way to get around here, but requires you to know a certain level of Chinese. Either way, even if it is a great application here I wouldn’t recommend you to rely solely on Uber, therefore you should take a look on the following options.
As in most places in the world, public transportation is one of the cheapest ways to get around.
First, I should mention the public transportation cards. These little cards are used in many ways here, you can pay the metro, the buses and taxis with these and do many more things. If you are in Hangzhou for more than one or two days, these are a must! You can get them at the information desk at every metro station for a small deposit of 30 RMB.
These cards basically work like a prepaid card, you have to charge them first and then you pay with them whenever you use a service. You might ask now, why not pay directly whenever I use these services? There are two reasons: discount and convenience.
When you use a transportation card, you will ussually get a discount of about 10%, no matter which transportation you use. Another factor is the convenience, but I will skip this topic for now and explain that in the section about the Metro.
In Hangzhou, there is a big metro system currently being built. You can see a map of the recent (Dec 2015) Metro system below. We will try to keep this map up to date, but the schedule is rather ambitious and there are new stations being added to the map often.
If you have experience using public transport in China, you will know that rush hour can be horrible. Compared to other places, Hangzhou might appear like a paradise to you in this respect, but I have to give a clear warning to everybody who has never been here: If possible, avoid rush hour!
As mentioned before, I want to explain more about the metro cards. Whenever you want to use the metro (and you don’t have a card), you would have to get a ticket for each single ride. You get these at the information desk or at the ticket machines, but both of these can be overcrowded, so you will want to skip these lines. With the transportation cards, you can easily go past these queues, head to the ticket gates and put your card on the scanner. Then, you can easily go wherever you like and just have to put the card on the scanner at the destination. The fee for your ride will be withdrawn from the prepaid money on your card.
Note:These cards are not only available in Hangzhou, by now I think most chinese Cities have their own cards. Whenever you are in a new city and stay there for a few days, watch out for them!
Another option of course are the buses. Hangzhou has many lines connecting every corner of the city and most of the lines cost about 2 RMB per ride (no matter how far you go!). If you are as lucky as we are, there might be a line that brings you from your home or hotel right into downtown for only 2 RMB! This is a great deal but will of course take more time than the metro.
As you can see, this is an easy and quite cheap way to get around but you have to bring one more thing: patience. There is no schedule for these buses and to me, it appears like they are coming as they please. I once had to wait half an hour for the bus, just to get 3 overcrowded buses at the same time. Therefore you should not rely on the buses if you are in a hurry.
The last method of public transportation (my least favourite one) are the taxis (not uber). I don’t want to discourage anybody from taking them but for us as and for most other people this is the most expensive way to get around.
I think a lot of people who come here though might be forced to take one, so I want to give you all the information I have.
In Hangzhou, the taxis are still cheap compared to taxis in Germany for example but often taxi drivers can take advantage of foreigners and there are also two types of taxis in Hangzhou.
There are Taxis from Hangzhou, that are usually dark green with the lantern of west lake on their side. These taxis are more expensive than the taxis from other areas such as Xiasha which are light green and have the logo of HEDA on their side.
Of course the taxis from Hangzhou are usually in down town, while you can find the HEDA taxis in Xiasha, neither of them is limited to their area.
As for the Uber taxis, the taxi drivers usually don’t speak English and as you can’t just give them the GPS coordinates, we recommend to have the address of where you want to go to written down in Chinese.
Bikes and scooters
My favourite method of transport is my bike. In fact Hangzhou is one of the most bike friendly cities in China, mainly because of the bike lanes that separated bikes from the lanes for cars.
If you have to cover short distances regularly, you should consider using a bike or scooter. I would recommend buying a helmet and pollution mask however if you often cycle, as bikes share their lane with scooters and aerobic exercise without a mask can be harmful to your health.
You can get a scooter for 1000 to 2000 RMB, depending on the scooter of course.
From my information you don’t need any kind of registration or license for these (most of my friends don’t have either of them) but please don’t take it lightly – it’s your safety.
For the bikes, you have two options again, you should make the decision depending on the duration of your stay.
One option is another reason why Hangzhou is so bike friendly: Bike rentals. If you have registered yourself in the metro stations for the bike rental and you have more than 200 RMB on your transportation card (these can be seen as a deposit), you can use the card to rent a bike at the bike stations spread throughout the city. You will just have to put your card on the scanner, the bike will be unlocked and you can take it out of the station. You can ride it to any station you like and just put it back into the bike station. The first hour you rent the bike is for free, the second hour costs 1 RMB, the third hour hour costs 2 RMB, the fourth hour and over is 3 RMB per hour.
Again, I don’t really have experience using them because I bought my own bike but I think that is a very good option for people who are here for a short time.
Where can I buy a bike?
Before we bought our bikes here, we did a lot of research online on where to get a bike in this big city. Unfortunately, a lot of the information seems to be a little outdated and is not valid any more.
We will try to give you an overview of what we know and will also try to cover safety from bike theft.
In Hangzhou, there are many bike stores but one thing struck our interest: we read about a bike market that is located near the East Railway Station. We thought we could get a better deal there, so we went there just to be disappointed. We didn’t find any bike stores and there was just a big construction site so from our information, there is no bike market any more.
Another option would’ve been the second hand market in Xiasha (we will cover more about this soon!), where you can buy many essentials for your life for a cheap price. There is also a bike store in this place but we had to doubt whether these bikes were really second hand – as they were so expensive, so we moved on.
Apart from this, as mentioned before, there are many other bike stores all over the city. We did a lot of research just to find out that the best bet to just head to one or two of these stores and choose a bike you like. I bought a new bike with 3×7 gears for 350 RMB, Yong bought a more simple model without gears for 270 RMB. When Ellis went to the bike store, there was another customer who wanted to sell his old bike which is similar to mine. Ellis bought it from him but had to do several repairs. In total he paid 195 RMB for everything but you can never expect to get such a deal at the bike stores.
Most bikes seem to be fine to use, but unless you buy an expensive Giant bike, some parts are not exactly durable. A big problem with the bikes are the pedals, these have a very short life of averagely 2 months. I have been searching for a solution to this problem before and there seems to be no good way around this problem. Buying new ones costs 10 RMB but by now it is getting more and more annoying so I am considering to buy a good pair of pedals back in Germany when I am there next time.
I personally was a bit worried about buying a second hand bike in case it was stolen, Ellis didn’t have such reservations however as the same thing could happen in Europe and there would be no way to tell either way. Bike locks are extremely affordable from bike shops and I would recommend locking your bike just to be safe.
I have friends, who leave their bikes unprotected and if you look, you can also see many bikes standing around without any locks. At the same time, there are some of my friends who tell stories about people who lost several bikes in the past. Our advice is that you keep your bikes locked up just in case!