Natural and Cultural Wonders of the West Lake, Grand Canal, XiXi Wetlands and Lingying Temple among Top Tourist Destinations in China
Hangzhou, China: Marco Polo fell in love with it. Poets and painters captured its beauty. Even ancient emperors were awestruck when they visited Hangzhou.
Like San Francisco, Hangzhou is a city by the bay. Like New York, it has world-class museums and cultural activity beating around a heart of green space. Like Venice, its houses are lapped by the gentle currents of a canal.
And like their historical predecessors, modern-day explorers marvel at the rivers, lakes, mountains, and monuments of Hangzhou; a thriving port and economic giant an hour south of Shanghai, but worlds away from anything else in China, that enjoys a reputation as the country’s happiest city.
In an area where man-made creations mesh with the best of nature, Hangzhou’s West Lake remains the canvass on which the city’s beauty is portrayed. As UNESCO explained when designating West Lake a World Heritage Site in 2011, “the key components of West Lake still allow it to inspire people to ‘project feelings onto the landscape.”
The West Lake - A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The West Lake is so photogenic, locals believe a dazzling pearl fell from heaven and transformed itself into the serene body of water, surrounded by rolling hills replete with tea houses, temples, monasteries, and museums. A bevy of bridges, causeways, and willow-shrouded walkways makes visitors forget the nearby city is the fourth largest in China.
By boat or bike is the best way to experience the West Lake, where the array of statues, pagodas, and monuments would take weeks to explore. On the short list of must-see attractions are the Mausoleum of General Yue Fei, Six Harmonies Pagoda, Two Peaks Embracing the Sky, Temple of Soul’s retreat, Peak Flown from Afar, and Solitary Hill.
In the nearby Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, more than 1,000 yellow wintersweets blossomed during the Laba Festival in January.
The Grand Canal
There are two wonders in China, one is the Great Wall, and the other is the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal lives up to its name in more ways than one: the man-made waterway stretches 1200 miles from Hangzhou to Beijing and has stood the test of time for more than 2,000 years. An engineering marvel comparable to the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canal has sightseeing boats that provide perspectives of life in South China river towns. With its array of venerable waterside dwellings and stone bridges, it has the Venetian flavor that Marco Polo favored.
Not far from West Lake is Lingyin Temple also known as Temple of Soul's Retreat (literal translated name), is the most celebrated place of interest around West Lake and one of the top ten Buddhist temples of China. Founded in the year 368, it once housed more than 3,000 monks.
With its network of cliffs and grottoes and its pastoral surroundings in the Wulin Mountains, the temple affords visitors both a religious and spiritual experience. The oldest and most significant statue on the site, the 800-year-old Skanda Buddha, guards the rear entrance, while the front is dominated by an enormous sculpture called “the Laughing Buddha.” Inside, in the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, is the largest wooden Buddhist statue in China.
Xixi National Wetland Park
Xixi National Wetland Park is the only national wetland park in China, located at the west part of Hangzhou. The park is densely crisscrossed with six main watercourses, among which scatter various ponds, lakes and swamps. The wetland has a history and cultural heritage of more than 1,800 years, and is the original site of Chinese South Opera. It is home to traditional Dragon Boat races and vivid life of a water village, including silkworm feeding and silk production.
Hangzhou is one of the six oldest capitals in China and an integral part of the world’s sixth largest economic center – the Yangtze River Delta. Offering 5,000 years of rich culture, it was established as an important city in Chinese civilization by 221 BC. When Marco Polo visited 800 years ago, he declared it “the finest and most splendid city in the world.”
The city is located on West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Grand Canal, the world’s oldest and longest man-made canal, begins at Hangzhou and ends at Beijing and incorporates 132 heritage sites (seven of which are in Hangzhou). The city has a well-known heritage in the production of fine porcelain, silk and tea, and tourists may visit museums dedicated to each and learn how these skills have impacted civilization generally.
Hangzhou is at the center of stunning natural landscape with the West Lake encompassed on three sides by hills. The lake, a fusion of culture and nature, has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. Ten scenic sites have been given poetic names such as Autumn Moon, Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds, etc. There are two causeways and three islands with picturesque pagodas, pavilions, lush gardens and historic temples. Hangzhou is the political, historical and cultural center of Zhejiang Province on the southeast coast of China, only 45 minutes from Shanghai on the bullet train. To facilitate connectivity within the city, use of bicycles is encouraged as a means of transportation and may be rented by the hour.