Hangzhou in the Zhejiang Province is a Chinese city which attempts to mix the past with the present, at least that’s the impression I got from my visit. Hangzhou has a decent influx of foreigners due to the University, its proximity to Shanghai and its touristic appeals. Hangzhou ranks a lot higher with me than typical Chinese tourist hubs like Beijing or Shanghai and is definitely worth checking out – for one main reason – a lake.
Yes, visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou is this city’s big tourist magnet and it’s easy to see why. The Lake covers a vast area in the city and on the walk around it, you see the past mixing with the present. China mixing with Costa Rica, Ireland and the USA all in unusual measures. Here’s a quick guide to visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou.
How to get to the West Lake in Hangzhou
To state the obvious here, I’d suggest staying by the Lake in a hostel. We stayed in Hangzhou Mingtown YHA Hostel and that was perfect. There are a lot of other guesthouses and hostels in Hangzhou. If you’re heading on a weekend, book it in advance as it gets busy. Chinese internal tourists love this place. Trust me – stay by the Lake – unless you are here to see the city instead of the Lake! But the Lake is the main thing to see…
If you’re not staying by the Lake, Hangzhou taxis are relatively cheap – we paid 12 RMB for a 15 minute taxi. But the best option is the bus – 2MB is all it cost to get from central Hangzhou to the hostel. You’ll need to understand a decent level of Chinese to be taking the bus, or at least have photocopies of the place you are staying at, written in Chinese to show the drivers and locals. Yes, I did say Hangzhou is modern, but the level of local people speaking English is still very low, this is real travel in China remember.
How to see the West Lake in Hangzhou
Transport wise there are a few options – cart and boat being the two main ones. But seriously you won’t be here again, so walk it. Take the time to do the full circle walk around the lake and you will the rewards. You viewpoint fluctuates on every bend and you get to see everything the West Lake has to offer.
Things to see and do at the West Lake in Hangzhou
The West Lake itself is something to see or do!!! It’s a massive lake and as I mentioned it’s the main touristy thing in Hangzhou. It’s a world heritage site and if you’re passing through or pushed for time, then seeing the lake alone will suffice. I had a bit longer to play with so I immersed myself in this splendid city and took in the full circle of the lake, I picked out these 5 things for you to see and do when walking round the West Lake:
1. Solitary Hill/Gushan Island – this is an island on the West Lake containing a peak known as Solitary Hill and a few buildings – the walk there is across Jindai/Baidi Bridge. Great views and peaceful gardens.
2. Zhejiang Museum – this is a FREE museum on Solitary Hill, Gushan Island. A mix of Chinese art, pottery and crafts make for an decent 45 minutes or so.
3. Yue Fei’s Tomb and Temple – this guy was a Chinese Army dude with a heroic and torn past surrounding him. Read his story, see his tomb and head to the temple named after him. I didn’t pay the 25 RMB entrance into the temple (as I’ve seen tons of temples before), so I hung around at the front and took some photos.
4. Su Di Bridge/Su Causeway – a very very long bridge/causeway that takes you from the north to the south of the West Lake, taking in mega surroundings as well as featuring a fish viewing area and some lotus leaves. Scenic and top class for the avid photographer. In fact, immense…this is how you dreamed China to look like…
5. Leifeng Pagoda – to be honest this is the largest Pagoda I have ever seen. It’s almost too elaborate, even having an escalator to take you up to the base. This gives even the older and disabled Chinese folk the opportunity to see it but adds a slightly odd commercial aspect to it. The Pagoda offers excellent views of the city, as well as shining its lights at night.
For the privilege of getting to the top you will have to pay 40 RMB. I’d say it’s up to you whether you feel it’s worth it or not. The walk around the lake is inspiring enough!
There will be more to come on Hangzhou for sure, but I thought I’d encapsulate the entire West Lake into one easy post to help you out. It’s a world heritage site and I’d recommend visiting it. Of course there are LOADS of other things to see and do in Hangzhou itself, not to mention its hilly suburbs. I didn’t even mention boat trips on the Lake!
Here are just a few of my videos from visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou, China:
Visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou, China Part 1:
Visiting the West Lake in Hangzhou, China Part 4:
Inside the Provincial Museum in Hangzhou, China:
Leifeng Pagoda at night in Hangzhou, China: