After a week Xi’an, Ke and I made our way south to Hangzhou, a beautiful city about an hour away from Shanghai. We took an overnight train from Xi’an and had our own room with beds. It was my first time on a train like that. In China, security at train stations is pretty tight and we had to make a crazy dash through the station to board our train on time.
We arrived in Shanghai 10 hours later, around 9am, and made our way across the city to another train station to head to Hangzhou. After about another hour or two, we finally arrived in Hangzhou. We took the subway to the Orange Hotel, a super modern hotel tucked in between restaurants and buildings in downtown Hangzhou.
We then dropped off our luggage, changed, and headed out! My first impression of Hangzhou was one of pure delight. It had a different vibe than that of Xi’an and was not as crowded as Shanghai. I immediately took to the bustling yet organized streets, cute shops, and even the touristy aspect of West Lake. In a way, it reminded me a lot of San Francisco and Golden Gate Park. Hangzhou is also home to Alibaba and a growing tech sector.
We only had a day to spend in Hangzhou so we focused on exploring West Lake. Hangzhou is famous for its rich history, gardens, natural scenery, and temples and has been celebrated by poets, artists, and emperors in China’s history.
There is a well known saying that goes “In the sky there is heaven, on earth Hangzhou and Suzhou,” two of the most beautiful cities in China.
West Lake has a large beautiful park surrounding the stunning lake with mountains and hills in the distance. We took a boat to the islands and gardens in the middle of the lake and strolled around while Ke showed me Leifang Pagoda, the famous Three Pools Mirroring the Moon and taught me a little about Hangzhou’s history.
After we toured the West Lake gardens, we went up into the hills to tour Lingyin Temple, a famous Buddhist temple and monastery. This monstery is also quite known for its many buddha carvings in the mountain called The Feilai Feng grottoes. Ke and I climbed the hills surrounding the temple before going into the temples for a prayer.
Dragon Well Tea
After touring Lingyin Temple, Ke wanted to make a stop to taste Longjing tea, also known as Dragon Well tea in English. Hangzhou is famous for this variety of green tea that is renowned for its high quality and delicious taste. While I love drinking green tea, I must confess I am not an expert in green tea tasting haha.
We went to a tea house in the hills, driving past dozens of tea farms and fields. It really reminded me of driving through Napa and passing gorgeous wineries. We did a few tea tastings and then purchased this quite famous (and expensive!!) tea for ourselves and family.
My favorite part of the day was sunset. We went back to the lake to stroll around and wow, I was sold on Hangzhou afterwards. West Lake is large and is also surrounded by a large park area. There were many tourists and families walking or riding around on bikes. It was so peaceful (even with the cicadas), warm, and beautiful. I definitely fell in love with Hangzhou. I could stroll West Lake every day and never get tired of its beauty.
Impression West Lake
Ke and I walked from one end of the park to the other to buy tickets for Impression West Lake, a gorgeous performance of a Hangzhou fairy tale that takes place directly on the lake! This show is directed by Zhang Yimou, an extremely famous director most known for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers.
The story itself is based on the famous Hangzhou Legend of the White Snake. There are many different tellings of the story but the main premise is a white snake spirit disguises herself as a human to attend a festival and falls in love with Xu Xian, a simple minded, kindhearted man. The villain in the story, Fahai, is sometimes portrayed as a devout buddhist monk who seeks to separate the two due to the laws of humans and spirits. The story follows how they fall in love and try to escape Fahai’s attempts to separate them.
The entire performance is on a stage beneath the lake that sometimes rises from the water. It was so cool to see dancers and performers look like they were walking on water! This show is a must see if you’re ever in Hangzhou.
Falling in Love with Hangzhou
I like to keep a running list of all the cities I’d love to live in and it’s safe to say that Hangzhou is now on that list. While we were only there for a day, it was my favorite city we visited in China. What can I say, I’m a sucker for pretty mountains, lakes, and gardens. I’m also a sucker for cities with a vibrant history, quaint shops and cafes, good food, and overall nice people.
I’d love to go back to Hangzhou again to spend more time and to get to explore more, but I believe its definitely worth the visit even if you only have a day 😉