When we talk about Hangzhou, it cannot be separated from its most famous landmark West Lake. This capital of Zhejiang province is indeed recognized throughout the world for its beauty and the exotic panorama of West Lake. And like many other Chinese sites, West Lake’s history stretched back far from the Sui Dynasty era in the 6th century AD and culminated when Hangzhou became the capital of the Southern Song dynasty in the 12th century AD. Hangzhou and it gorgeous West Lake has inspired many poets, painters, and other classical artists throughout a long history of China, extolling the beauty and elegance of this lake in the past.
Hangzhou can simply be reached using bullet train from Shanghai for less than an hour. It will cost you about 80 Yuan (2nd class) which is quite fair for a 200 kilometers distance. And since it is pretty close to Shanghai, it is very doable to have a day trip from there and exploring Hangzhou and its surroundings within a day. From Hangzhou East Railway Station I took a public bus to reach West Lake which does a circular route around the lake. But if you choose a cab instead, the fare will not be more than 40 Yuan as the distance is not too far from the station.
West Lake itself is about 6.5 square kilometers in dimension and further split by a causeway called Xiling Bridge that allows us to cross the lake from north to south without having to circle it. But if you do, it may take about 4-5 hours breezy walk along the pedestrian surrounding the lake. I did it and it was worth every step as the fresh and shady atmosphere along the sidewalk is full of willow trees and other greeneries which makes the journey very pleasant. If you are too lazy to walk, bicycle rental is also available at several strategic points around the lake or you can try to ride a hop-on-hop-off electric car which quite popular among the family with kids and elderly.
Due to its long history of famous beauty since centuries ago, there are many scenic sites located in this lake. One of them is so-called the “10 Scenes of West Lake”, each marked with stone inscriptions in Classic Chinese calligraphy, written by Emperor Qianlong, the 6th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Some of the names are so poetic and elegant, such as “Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring”, “Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond”, “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon”, “Orioles Singing in the Willows”, typical of classic Chinese literature. There are also several historic temples, ancient pagodas and water ponds that are very beautiful and genuine. One of the most famous pagodas is Leifeng Pagoda built in 975 AD. It has been survived for over a millennia before it finally collapsed in 1924 by an earthquake and then rebuilt again to its present form back in 2002.
As the lake is open free to the public and serves as one of the communal areas in Hangzhou, it becomes a prime destination for the locals to gather with their friends and families or simply jogs in the afternoon after work or on the holidays. In consequences, many modern attractions burst-in around the lake such as boat rides, water bikes, canoes, even Hangzhou Underwater World is located here. Fortunately, thanks to its sizable size, unlike many other popular tourist spots in China which are always overly crowds and chaotic, West Lake does not feel crowd and frenzy at all, even on the weekend when I got there. There are still many hidden spots and corners with a beautiful scenery where you could enjoy your moment in tranquility without having to be disturbed by the crowds.
Walking down around the Lake is like walking through the long history of China itself.