Celebrated for its natural scenery and historic relics, Hangzhou has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities in China for over 1,000 years...
Stop 1: The West Lake: a divinely picturesque spot
When thinking of tourism in Hangzhou, what is the first thing that springs to mind? West Lake? Almost certainly, yes. As the old Chinese saying states: "There is heaven in the sky, Suzhou and Hangzhou on the earth". Hangzhou's reputation as a heaven on earth is largely down to the West Lake. Its picturesque landscape and rich cultural heritage, spanning countless centuries, make it an unmissable spot for visitors.
Legend of the West Lake
There are many myths and legends surrounding the West Lake. According to one story, many years ago a jade dragon and a golden phoenix plucked a piece of white jade from the night sky and worked on polishing it together for many years. The jade became gloriously radiant and trees turned evergreen and flowers bloomed wherever its rays were cast.
Soon, the story of the wonderful jewel reached the West Goddess, who governed the West Heaven and she dispatched her army to steal the precious stone away.
The Jade Dragon and the Golden Phoenix struggled to take it back, only to be denied by the goddess. Ultimate, they fought fiercely for the jewel and the West Goddess was vanquished, leaving the jewel to tumble back to the earth.
The jade was transformed into a pearl-like lake, known today as the West Lake. Its fall was followed by that of the Jade Dragon and the Golden Phoenix, who became the Jade Dragon Mountain and the Phoenix Mountain. The two are now said to guard the shores of the West Lake forever.
In the eyes of poets
During the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), Su Dongpo, a renowned poet and one of the governors of Hangzhou, penned a poem in praise of the West Lake, celebrating its abiding charm that survives the change of the seasons in a year and the different hours of the day. He compared it to Xizi, a Chinese legendary beauty named Xishi and subsequently bestowed upon it a new name - the Xizi Lake.
As one of China's most renowned beauty spots, the West Lake is much loved by many Chinese and foreign celebrities. Chairman Mao is said to have come to visit the West Lake more than 40 times. Once he spent seven months in Hangzhou, which he considered his second home.
Not only did Chairman Mao praise the West Lake, but also Richard Nixon, the former president of the US, found much to love about it. He came to Hangzhou twice and highly said that although Beijing is the capital of China, Hangzhou is its heart.
The West Lake today
The many stunning attractions along the banks of the West Lake, as well as the museums in the nearby city are now free of charge, giving everyone unfettered access to the lake and its environs.
In 2007, Hangzhou city launched the third session of its Ten Sites of the West Lake initiative. The prospective sites included 145 scenic areas that had been restored as part of a comprehensive protection project in 2002. Ultimately, the ten chosen sites included a Lingyin and a Buddhist monastery and their surrounding hills and gardens, the Yue Wang temple, a tomb and a memorial hall for Yue Fei, as well as another eight scenic spots.
The final choice proved that the West Lake is not only famous for its picturesque landscape but also for its long association with classical poets over thousands of years.
Stop 2: Wetland wonders: sightseeing around Xixi
The Xixi National Wetland Park, the first national wetland park in China, is located in the western outskirts of Hangzhou. It provides fine examples of urban wetland, as well as agricultural and cultural wetland environments.
The attraction of Xixi lies in its aquatic environment. Water is in the very soul of Xixi. About 70 percent of the park is covered by ponds, lakes, rivers, and swamps. The park is crisscrossed with six central watercourses, among which are scattered several ponds, lakes and swamps. The branching streams and the series of ponds form a unique landscape amid the wetland.
The local government in Xixi attaches considerable importance to sustainable ecological development, and has now established three ecological protection and restoration areas. There is also an exhibition hall showcasing scientific knowledge about the wetlands and a dedicated viewing platform. The area's pleasant climate not only attracts a large number of visitors, but also a variety of birds, seeing it billed as something of a paradise for our feathered friend.
Xixi also has a rich human legacy. Many classical scholars saw it as a veritable Eden and praised it in their writings. Its Dragon Boat contest dotes back thousands of years and still takes place here annually. During this festival, you can take the chance to enjoy the scenery of hazy willows, as well as the mist and smoke from kitchen chimneys in the nearby Hazy Fisher Village. You can also take the opportunity to learn more about how the local residents make silk and earn a living as fisherfolk.
In Xixi, you can enjoy different landscapes during different seasons. You can have an outing in spring and enjoy the fresh air or harvest water chestnuts on the boats in summer, view the reeds during a radiant autumn sunset or admire the plum blossoms amid the chilly winds of winter.
If you are fond of birds, you should make sure you visit Xixi. The network of swamps and streams is the ideal dwelling place for a number of species, especially ducks. Standing and watching the relaxed and natural rhythms of their lifestyle, is enough to ease the stress of even the most hardworking executive. There is a also a three-storey pavilion that makes the ideal haven for relaxed observation.
West Lake Longjing Tea ranks among the top ten national blends, but Xixi Tea has also enjoyed a high reputation since the ancient times. Feng Mengzhen, a high-ranking official of the late Ming Dynasty, wrote a poem proclaiming his preference for the tea of Xixi over and above that of the rival Longjing tea.
Stop 3: Qiantangjiang River: Zhejiang's tidal triumph
As one of the most important tourism destinations in Zhejiang province, the Qiantangjiang River attracts a huge number of visitors from both at home and abroad every year.
The source of the Qiantangjiang River lies in the Lotus Peak in Kaihua, a county in western Zhejiang province. Along its course, the river passes through 14 counties and cities before finally flowing into the Hangzhou Bay.
The river and the bay are known as the home of one of the world's largest tidal bores, which is said to be up to 9 m (30 ft) high and be capable of traveling at up to 40 km per hour. The tide rushing into the river from the bay causes a typical bore of between 5 to 15 ft (1.5-4.6 m) high.
The tributaries of the Qiantangjiang River have a long development history, as well as many famous mountains, beautiful lakes, beguiling rivers, wonderful caves and ancient relics, all of which contribute to making it a golden tourist route.
Stop 4: The Grand Canal:ancient aquatic highway
Over recent years the Hangzhou municipal government has sought to promote its comprehensive protection plan for the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, while applying for world cultural heritage status for the Grand Canal.
Currently, the classical waterway retains its crucial inland shipping role, whilst also playing host to a number of significant cultural sites along its banks.
Whenever you come to the Grand Canal, it is said, it is always the perfect time for sightseeing. On summer nights, you can enjoy the breeze on the river and whilst autumn evenings provide the perfect opportunity to fully appreciate the moonlight and the shadowy temples by night.