Head to the Best West Lake

Editor’s note: Travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Keep this in mind before booking your trip. This is a place to explore after the outbreak.

Take a tour through the alluring city of Hangzhou, and fumble through your pockets and find a 1 RMB note picturing the iconic West Lake.

Situated 160 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, Hangzhou is the capital city of Zhejiang Province and former capital of China during the Song dynasty. A balanced contrast between ancient history and modern city life, Hangzhou is on the list of must-visit places in China. Return flights are around 1,000 RMB in the low travel season and it takes two hours from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.

What to see?

Immortalized by countless poets, Hangzhou’s West Lake vistas have intoxicated visitors through the dynasties. Immaculate in appearance, the lake’s panoramic view draws onlookers into a real-life Chinese water painting. Originally a lagoon joining the Qiantang River, the lake is believed to have formed around the eighth century. It is worth taking a boat tour to see the breathtaking views.

Take a short taxi ride from the north shore of West Lake to discover the wonders of Lingyin Temple. Originally built in 326 AD, the temple was destroyed and rebuilt 16 times. During the Five Dynasties period (907 AD to 960 AD) about 3,000 monks lived there. The Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings is breathtaking, with four vast guardians and an ornate cabinet housing Milefo (the future Buddha).

 

What to do?

Venture up the rolling hills southwest of the lake and discover the Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea Village. The Chinese have a long history associated with tea, and the tea from this region is regarded for its distinct flavor. Observe the process of how the leaves are cultivated through to the end and leave with a free sample. If looking for even more authentic Chinese culture, the national silk museum is also worth a visit. The vast museum is devoted to all things silk, from fashion and craftsmanship to the historic Silk Road. Extensive galleries show the evolution of the qipao from the 1920s onward, as well as some fabulously decorative European gowns from the 1600s to 1800s.

What to eat?

Zhejiang cuisine, alternatively known as Zhecuisine, is one of the eight culinary traditions of China. It derives from the traditional ways of cooking in Zhejiang Province. Zhejiang cuisine is not greasy but has a fresh and soft flavor with a mellow fragrance. There is no better place to try some of the classic dishes than Hangzhou’s famous Hefang Street, a tourist attraction with many shops existing for over 100 years.

I found a quaint little eatery on the main drag which served the traditional Hangzhou dish ofdong po (braised pork belly). I asked the restaurant owner about another Hangzhou classic—beggars’ chicken—he went on to tell me the story of its origin:

A thief stole a chicken and hid it in soft mud to avoid capture. When he returned, the mud had hardened to clay. The thief roasted the clay covered chicken until the clay cracked and fell off, leaving perfectly succulent meat within.

Not sure how much truth was in the shop owner’s story, but it was a nice way to round off the trip.