Hangzhou – an interesting city in southeastern China

Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a city in China, it enjoys a resounding fame, much like Florence or Vienna in Europe: it is accompanied by a halo of tradition, wealth and beauty. The administrative center of Zhejiang Province, 180 kilometers south of Shanghai at the mouth of the Qiangtang River, has given China the ideal image of a city amid picturesque nature. Lake Xihu with its dams was twice ordered by Beijing emperors to be “reproduced” in their garden palaces. Hangzhou has long been regarded as a place of “elevated” living, no later than during the Song dynasty, whose emperors chose this city as their residence.

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Highlights

There are many tales and legends about Hangzhou, but few historical architectural monuments remain. The records of the Southern Song dynasty’s one hundred and fifty years of splendid prosperity (1127-1279) have not survived; the best description of the capital of that epoch (under the name of Qingsai) was left by Marco Polo, who called it “the most brilliant city in the world”. Today’s Hangzhou is booming, as is the entire Shanghai region; many skyscrapers have been built which, when viewed from Xihu Lake, look absurd and ugly, so not everywhere offers romantic panoramas. Nevertheless, it is believed that he who has not seen Hangzhou has not seen the essential, one might say – the front side of China. It is enough to spend two days here, but if you come for a tour from Shanghai, at least one night will be enough – after which you will, of course, want to stay longer to indulge in leisure activities.

Hangzhou has a lot of nice places: the view of Xihu Lake alone beckons for a walk. Manicured parks delight the eye and give a refreshing cool, everywhere you will find benches for relaxing, every now and then there are bars, ice-cream parlors and restaurants, and from the eastern shore numerous boats depart. Read more about Xihu Lake.

Around Wushanguangchang Square

There are two sites on the southern edge of the old city that can be explored on foot: the reconstructed old city street with the historic Huqingyutan Pharmacy near Wushanguang Square, and the Chenghuanghe Pagoda Lookout Tower on the hill. Wushanguachan Square at the northern end of the hill is a landmark.

Streets of the Old Town and the Huqingyutan Pharmacy

If you head east from the square, on Hefang Jie Street you can see a large ensemble of recently restored commercial and residential buildings in the old style, which is how the majority of Hangzhou’s old city looked (although not as tidy) until a wave of demolitions and construction of new buildings began in 1980-1990s. Behind them is the most beautiful historic building (1874) in the city in its original form: the Huqingyutan Pharmacy. However, the word “pharmacy” is misleading because it is not just a shopping hall, but practically a palace: with several courtyards and a total usable area of 4,000 square meters. There are beautiful gilded wood carvings, courtyards buried in greenery with growing medicinal plants and a pharmacy museum. Here medicines are not only sold but also prepared – including in front of visitors. Hefang Jie, Dajing Xiang 95. Everyday opening time: 8:30-18:00 a.m. 8.30-18.00.

City Guardian God Pavilion (Chenghuang Ge)

If you go back to Wushanguachang Square and then up the hill, you will see the tower built in 2000. A 42-meter tower decorated with curved pagoda-like roofs is in front of you. Its heavy proportions make it an eye-catching, rather repulsive sight, especially when viewed from Xihu Lake. But if you are on the tower itself, on the contrary, you have a wonderful view of the lake and the city. The best time to go up (by elevator) is when it gets dark. On the first floor, large dioramas illustrate the history of the city; in particular, Hangzhou is shown as it was 800 years before the Song emperors made it their residence. Even higher up is the Tea House, where you can listen to classical Chinese music live. Below, next to the tower stands a (also recently erected) temple in honor of the guardian god of the city, who was responsible for the well-being of Hangzhou at a time when gods were still believed in. But this is not just a tourist attraction – here you can learn more about the cultural tradition of China. Opening Hours: Daily. 7.30-22.00.

Lingyi Monastery and Feilai Fang Mountain

After Xihu Lake, Mount Feilaifing, together with Lingyi Monastery in Hangzhou, is considered the number two attraction. In a shady valley with a stream flowing through it, rocks decorated with ancient sculptures overhang on one side, and an imposing Buddha temple rises on the other. Thus a remarkable ensemble of nature and religious art is created. If thousands of tourists did not come here every day, it would be impossible to suspect that there is a town with a million inhabitants just 3 kilometers west of Xihu Lake.

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Name and History

The name Lingyinxa (“Abode of the Spirit”), speaks for itself: for those who want to renounce the world, for them a hermitage in a forest or on a mountain seems like a miracle. But how do you explain the name Feilifeng, the Flying Mountain? It is believed that the monastery was founded in 326 by an Indian monk who found this rocky peak (170 meters) very similar to one of the mountains of his homeland-as if it had flown here to China. Later, in the X-XIV centuries, over three hundred Buddhist sculptures and reliefs were carved from the rock here, most of them in natural caves. The most famous figure is the laughing fat Buddha of the Song era near the monastery. However, among today’s monastic buildings there is not a single one older than a hundred and forty years. The only reminders of their gray-haired antiquity are the two stone sutra columns in front of the road — they were built in 969 — and two damaged stone pagodas from the same era in the first courtyard. Thanks to the influx of tourists and the many donations since Mao’s death, the monastery has expanded considerably – with construction work still to be completed.

Hall of the Heavenly Kings

The six figures in this hall follow the conventional pattern; there is a shared casket of a cheerfully obese Buddha and Weito, who, in incredibly rich decorations, sits on the opposite side and keeps a watchful eye on what’s going on inside the temple. The 33-meter-high main hall of the Dasyunbaodian, renovated in 1953, is impressive in size. In the center sits the Shakyamuni Buddha on his throne, which was carved from camphor wood and covered in gilt. Together with the pedestal and the halo around his head, he is 19.6 meters tall. The figures on either side of it are the twenty guardian gods of Buddhism; they are followed by the enlightened disciples of the Buddha. The reverse side depicts in relief the story of the adolescent Shantai, who visited fifty-three teachers, including the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, on his journey to the Buddha state, her figure standing in the center on a giant fish on which she travels across the world’s oceans to save people.

Buddha Healer Hall.

This embodiment of Buddhist humanity is surrounded by his two helpers and the twelve patrons of the twelve two-hour periods in the day.

Rear Halls.

Next come two more, also very spacious halls, erected after Mao’s death. Their sculptural decorations are only partially finished, and in the basement of the penultimate hall lies the monastery’s treasury, in which ritual utensils, valuable writings and vestments are on display.

Hall of Five Hundred Arhats

The Hall of Five Hundred Arhats, a modern building, is in some ways a symbol of the economic boom in the region: a lot of money was invested in it. The figures of the 500 holy monks are of supernatural size and are unparalleled in all of China. Their receptacle is accordingly huge too; in plan it has the shape of the Buddhist infinity symbol: the swastika. Opening Hours: Everyday. 7.00-17.00.

From Old Town you can take the nostalgic wooden buses (routes 1 and 2 to the terminus) .

A detour with extra benefits

Another road leads to Lingyi Monastery. About 700 meters from the main gate you can take the Beigao-Feng cable car up to the High North Peak. At an altitude of 314 m there is a beautiful panorama – and here you can make an offering to the god of wealth. It takes half an hour to walk down to the monastery through the forest. This avoids the hustle and bustle at the main entrance.

South and Southwest

Xihu Lake is not the only thing that forms the “spirit” of Hangzhou. Another element is the surrounding hills and tea plantations in the valleys, caves and bamboo groves in between, and let’s not forget silk as a reflection of the Hangzhou way of life. It is better to go around all these places by bicycle, a trip together with visits to two museums and sightseeing of other sites may well take a whole day. Alternatively, consider a combination of walking and taking buses or cabs. If you prefer public transportation, take bus number 27 from Baidi Dam (north end) or tourist bus number 3, both go to the Dragon Well Village.

Tea Museum

From the middle of Xishan Lu on the western shore of Xihu Lake towards the Dragon Well Village is Longjing Lu. If to go along it and turn to the second street on the right you can get to the museum of tea (Zhongochaeboutan) which in a beautiful setting presents history and culture of growing, processing and preparation of tea – all inscriptions are duplicated in English. The bus stop is Shuangfeng Sip. Opening Hours: Daily. 8.20-16.20.

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Longjinggung Village

The tea museum stands in the middle of the birthplace of the most famous variety of tea in all of China: the “Dragon’s Well” (Longjing cha) . The tea plantations, through which there is a two-kilometer-long walk to the village of Longjinggung and to the Dragon Well itself, are not the only ones supplying this popular brand, which, however, is divided into very different price categories, depending on the collection. So be careful when buying tea leaves from private individuals, which the local vendors at the end station try to force tourists to do! First find out from any store what the price range is for different quality teas. Lungjing tea leaves are more expensive here than anywhere else, but guaranteed to be fresh.

The Valley of Nine Streams

The path then takes you further south along Jiuxi Lu (nine streams), through an idyllic car-free valley lined with tea plantations and bamboo groves, with a waterfall and a pond, and featuring a restaurant. After walking 4 km, you will reach the Qiantangjiang River. Bus routes K 4, K 504 and 514 go back to the city or to the next destination.

Liuheta Pagoda.

Three kilometers south of Xihu Lake or one kilometer downstream from where the Valley of Nine Streams meets the Qiantangjiang River, the Liuheta Pagoda, a symbol of the city, stands on a hill. Its name, the Six Harmonies Pagoda, illustrates the sixfold unity and community of the Buddhist monastery: in teaching, guidance, veneration, worship, morality, and faith. The wooden structure, almost 60 meters high, was last renovated in 1900, but it traces its history back to 970. The original brick core of the tower has been preserved since then. From the top there is a beautiful view of the river and the railway-tram bridge (1935-1937) of 1.4 km long. Working time: every day. 6.00-18.00.

Silk Museum

For the last leg of the trip, you have to take a cab because there is no bus service. The silk museum is about one kilometer from the southeast corner of Xihu Lake. It is large and brand new, but not much care is taken: most of it is more of a silk store. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit. The history and technique of silk production, as well as historical silk costumes, are provided, among other things, with English inscriptions. Silk that is more than a thousand years old is especially valuable. Yuhuangshan Lu 73. Opening hours: Tue-Sun. Visiting hours: Fri 8.45-16.30, Fri. 12.00-16.30. Visitors are allowed in till 16.00.

Tidal Wave

The funnel-shaped mouth of the Qiantang River at high tide (new moon or full moon) causes a tidal wave. It has been described in poems since two thousand years ago. You can see it near the Liuhet pagoda but about 40 km down the river it is an even more impressive sight.

Arrival and departure

Hangzhou is located on the Shanghai-Guangzhou Railway, and there are several trains from Shanghai to here (travel time from 2 hours) . Hangzhou has an airport from where non-stop flights are available, including to Beijing and Xianggang. Long-distance buses go to different localities; it is interesting to take a tour to Huangshan Mountain (from the West Bus Station, travel time 6 hours) . Suzhou, a city with which there was a great cultural and historical rivalry, can be reached by steamboat along the Imperial Canal. Departs in the evening at 5:30 pm, travel time 13 hours: book at travel agencies well in advance!

Shopping

The famous green tea leaves from the “dragon’s well” can be bought in many stores. A small tea set made of Yixing clay would fill them up nicely, especially when saying goodbye to the region. Other souvenirs, including fans, for which Hangzhou is also famous, are available in one of the alleys in the old city near Wu-Shan Square.

Shaoxing

Lying 60 km east of Hangzhou, the city of Shaoxing (350,000 inhabitants) is the target of a day trip by train or bus. Until the 1990s, it was famous for its picturesque neighborhoods, where the tone was set by traditional one- and two-story houses and numerous canals. The latter still survive, but most of the old residential and commercial buildings have had to give way to new construction.

Surroundings

The funnel-shaped mouth of the Qiantang River at high tide (new moon or full moon) causes a tidal wave. It has been described in poems since two thousand years ago. You can see it near the Liuhet pagoda but about 40 km down the river it is an even more impressive sight.

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Shaoxing is only slightly above sea level; its surroundings, particularly to the north of the city, are riddled with canals and ponds. The traditionally agrarian area is now increasingly supplanted by industrial plants, transportation facilities, and residential settlements. Former farmers who became rich through land sales and new trades have built luxurious houses for themselves, so the area looks like a cottage community in some places.

Old Town

The central town square, the result of modern urban planning – taking into account the topography – seems to please the locals. To the west you can see a restored fragment of the city wall, to the south the 40-meter-tall brick Dashanxit pagoda. The temple to which it once belonged is long gone; it itself was built as early as 1228, but has been renovated many times since. Hongqi Lu (Red Banner Street) is not a memorial to dying socialism, but a beautifully restored old town street leading from the southwest end of the square south along the canal. There are some pleasant cafes and stores here. On the other side of the canal you can walk back along Longshan Houjie Street. An alternative is to cross the canal as soon as possible from Hongqi Lu (to the west) and go straight ahead and climb Fushan Hill where there is a park with the same name. At the top, an observation pagoda provides a good view of the surrounding area.

Lu Xin Memorial Sites

Lu Xin, the famous writer of modern China, was born and raised in Shaoxing. On Luxun Zhonglu, Lu Xin’s Middle Street, stands the house where he was born. The large estate of the writer’s parents has remained virtually intact, and the original furnishings have been largely preserved. Here you can get an idea of life in the era of the last emperors. The large garden is especially beautiful. Lu Xin’s way to the school was very short: across the street and across the bridge to the other side of the canal. The school was tiny and the furnishings were extremely poor. In the neighborhood, the Lu Xing memorial gives an idea of the writer’s life and work. The opening hours of all the memorial sites are daily. 8.00-17.30.

Xiangheng Tavern

Kun Yizn, one of Lu Xing’s most famous stories, is set at the Xianheng tavern, which is about a Confucian-educated bum who stays afloat by stealing and, if he has money, stops by for a glass of rice wine. Today the tavern tastes the fruits of its literary fame, having become a veritable restaurant, a large building with a double courtyard and many guest rooms. True, bottles of Shaoxing wine, the most famous rice wine in all of China, can be bought elsewhere, but drinking it here is undoubtedly more authentic – and it shows your familiarity with Chinese literature. By the way, this wine is drunk heated. Xianhengjiudian, Luxun Zhonglu 179.

Orchid Arbor (Lanting)

About 10 kilometers southwest of the city is a replica of the orchid gazebo where, in the spring of 353, forty-two literati gathered to drink wine and compete in a poetry contest. Wang Xizhi, a master calligrapher, later wrote his famous “Preface to the Orchid Arbor” (Lanting Xu), which recounted the event for posterity. Today there is a beautiful place with a bamboo grove, a pond, a gazebo, a tea house, and a large stele on which the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors immortalized the glory of this area with their own calligraphic writings. Opening time: Every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 8.00-17.00.

Hangzhou – the most Chinese city

Whether it’s your first time on Chinese soil or you’ve lived in the country for several years, traveling in China is a great way to learn more about the culture, history, and life of our Chinese contemporaries. And with the help of our new Magazette’s China Travel Guide project, you can not only expand the geography of tourist spots in the country, but also learn local best practices. Let’s go?

Xihu Lake and the Broken Bridge. Source: baike.so.com

Xihu Lake and Broken Bridge. Source: baike.so.com

Hangzhou (杭 )

capital of Zhejiang province 9 million people one of China’s ancient capitals Key words: Xihu Lake, Southern Song, Dragon Well tea, silk, Academy of Arts, Buddhism, G20

Why Hangzhou?

If Hangzhou didn’t exist, it would be worth making it up, although its reputation as an ancient capital gives it even more charm. Hangzhou is the epitome of how the Chinese represent their culture. That image of civilization which is formed by the study of classical painting and poetry, an image perhaps only remotely related to reality, in modern Hangzhou is embodied both in the appearance and in the identity of its inhabitants.

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If you have an opportunity to visit only one city in China, choose Hangzhou – it will complement your romantic notions of Chinese tradition with quite real pictures. And Hangzhou is not photogenic enough.

The best time to visit the city is from March to June and from September to December. Since many of Hangzhou’s delights require hiking, in July and August you will be pining from the heat, and in January and February you will constantly shiver with cold. Although winter temperatures don’t usually dip below -5, but combined with high humidity, it can be enough to keep you cold all the time, even in your winter gear.

How to get there?

Hangzhou is about an hour from Shanghai by high-speed train (73-78 yuan for a second-class seat). The trip from Beijing will take about 6 hours and will cost 540 yuan (also for a second class ticket). From Guangzhou it will be easier to travel by air: 2 hours in the air and from 500 yuans for a ticket, while a high-speed train will take 6-7 hours and you’ll pay 720 yuans for a second-class ticket.

How to get around the city?

There are currently 2.5 subway lines open in Hangzhou, but they are not vital for tourist purposes. The best way to get around the city is by bicycle: you can rent one from many hostels around the lake. The city also has a well-developed network of city bikes – an attempt by the administration to somehow solve the problem of traffic congestion. But you have to spend time registering a card, and the vehicle itself is unlikely to please you with its comfort – it’s one thing to get from the subway to work and quite another to pedal all day.

There are a few tourist bus routes in the city, which are enough to get to the remote sights. Cabs and Uber counterparts are also available, like everywhere else in China (11 yuan boarding), but try to avoid rush hour: at 5 or 6 pm, especially in the rain, it’s not easy to get a cab.

Where to stay?

Most of the hotels worth seeing are around Xihu Lake. You can find quite decent hostels around Hefangjie Pedestrian Street (河坊街) and Lungjing Tea Village (龙井村). If you book a hotel on a Chinese website, make sure it has the right to accommodate foreigners – sometimes this tiny detail is only discovered when you try to check in.

What to do?

Hangzhou is an ideal place for exploring Chinese culture, hiking, and leisurely tea drinking. Here you shouldn’t waste your energy on either nightlife or shopping. You’ll find both, but they’re hardly worth the effort – better save your energy for Shanghai.

Imperial Street (南宋御街)

Hefangjie. Source: bssyz.com

Although the capital of the Hangzhou Empire (at that time the city was called Lin’an) was not long – about 150 years, the so-called Imperial Street was the central street of the city for many centuries. Today’s Zhongshan Road (中山路) only generally reproduces the route by which the emperor used to get out four times a year from his palace (near the present-day intersection of Wansongling and Fenghuangshan Road) to the other side of the city to participate in an ancestor worship ceremony at the Pure Soul Temple (景灵宫) – west of Wulin Road.

Although there are many historically significant places along the street, the tourist section is enough for the first acquaintance. It starts from Xihu Avenue (西湖大道) and ends in the pedestrian Hefangjie: right at the intersection is the Phoenix Mosque (凤凰寺), one of the oldest in China. Originally built in 1281 during the Yuan Dynasty, it has been rebuilt many times.

Opposite the mosque was once the city’s largest silk store, Wanyuan (万源绸庄), built in 1883. Now only the facade remains of the original European-style building. Further down the street are an old pharmacy building (华德药房) and several former banks from the days of the Chinese Republic. At the junction with Hefangjie is a working Tongzhentang traditional medicine clinic and pharmacy (同仁堂).

When you get to Hefangjie, you can turn right – along the street there are many stores with local products, as well as several shops offering traditional Chinese fairground entertainment. If you go further along Imperial Street, you will come to the Drum Tower (鼓楼). Nearby, you can go up the stone stairs – there are several temples on top of the Wushan Mountains (吴山), and old-timers of the city gather there in the morning to play majiang, practice Taijiquan and talk to each other.

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Xihu Lake

Xihu Lake and Leifeng Pagoda. Source: guidewetravel.com

Xihu Lake and Leifeng Pagoda. Source: guidewetravel.com

The lake itself is noteworthy, but there are many noteworthy places and structures around it as well. The eastern and southern shores of Xihu are more suitable for walking: in many areas the traffic of bicycles is limited, and the number of tourists will not allow to move on “wheels” with comfort.

If you start from the southeast, you can choose Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔, 40 yuan) as a starting point. Originally built in 975, the pagoda was one of the city’s 10 most ancient landmarks. However, its mystical reputation actually led to its destruction. The belief that bricks from the pagoda’s walls could cure illness or prevent a miscarriage encouraged locals to literally dismantle it “for bricks” until one fine September day in 1924 it collapsed. The modern pagoda was built in 2002.

Then, if you head north along the east bank, you’ll find the Scholars’ Park (学士公园), the Listening to the Willow Waves (柳浪闻莺公园, in Southern Song times it was the Imperial Garden) and Xihu Tiandi (西湖天地), where there are several coffee shops and restaurants, in addition to picturesque scenery. Next to Xihu Tiandi in the lake you can see a statue of the Golden Calf , which according to legend has saved the lake from drying up many times.

On the northeast side of the lake, near the Hubin Road pedestrian street (湖滨路), there are singing fountains whose performances take place daily at 5 and 8 pm. In the mountains along the northern shore you can see the Baochu Pagoda Pyramid ( 俶塔), built in 948-960. You can go up to it – from the pagoda you can see the view of the lake.

Along the northern shore runs the Broken Bridge (断桥), another architectural symbol of the city. The hike can be completed near Sudi (苏堤), one of the three dams on Xihu Lake. The Sudi Dam was poured in 1089, when Su Shi, better known to us by his alias Su Dongpo, was the local governor. In the evenings near the northern end of the dam you can watch the show Xihu Impression, staged by the famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou: the water surface acts as a stage and the mountains on the opposite bank are the scenery.

If you want to avoid the crowds or just enjoy nature, choose the west bank for a walk – in many areas it is also suitable for cycling.

Tea Terraces

Lunjing Village. Source: chaduo.com

Lunjing Village. Source: chaduo.com

To visit Hangzhou and not walk through the tea terraces is a huge omission. All the green spots on the map east of the lake are forested mountains mixed with tea plantations. Of course, the first destination when getting to know Hangzhou tea is the village of Longjing (龙井村). In its vicinity, perhaps the most famous variety of green tea, the Dragon’s Well, is grown. There is also a tea museum next door, where you can learn about the history of tea culture in China and its spread around the world.

On the way to Lunjing, it is worth stopping by the Lingying Chan Buddhist Monastery (灵隐寺, 74 yuan), one of the largest Buddhist complexes in the country. The monastery was founded in 328, and by the 10th century was already the largest in the region, with more than 3,000 monks living there at one time. Although many of Hangzhou’s Buddhist relics did not survive the Cultural Revolution, Lingying did not suffer as much – thanks to the patronage and protection of Premier Zhou Enlai of the State Council.

You can also stroll among the tea plantations from the opposite southern side. For example, you can first visit the Six Harmonies Pagoda (六和塔, ¥329), originally built in 970. Afterwards, you can reach the Nine Creeks (九溪), from where you can start climbing north toward Lunjing Village.

Over several thousand years of the city’s history, a huge number of sites worthy of the title of “cultural heritage” have “accumulated” here. Among them are the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (圣母无原罪主教座堂), built in 1661 by one of the first converts Matteo Ricci, and the Temple of Yue Fei (岳王庙), built in memory of General South Song, who continued the fight against the Jurchen Empire and after the transfer of the capital from Kaifeng to Hangzhou. The Xixi National Park (西溪湿地, entrance 60-80 yuan) is also worth a visit, with many lakes and ponds that form a single ecosystem over 1,000 hectares. And many amazing traces of the city’s history can be found right in its center. All in all, Hangzhou deserves to be on your bucket list .

For the title illustration, Alina Kochetova’s photo was used.

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