While most things on a typical bucket list involve stunts that we may end up skipping, taking a stroll into the old world of Hangzhou is a lot easier to cross off. There’s no need to rush when you’re at this Eastern Chinese city because time stopped over a millennia ago.
Amid modern-day luxuries like a vast public transportation network, Hangzhou still retains its old world charm where watercolour paintings and films depicting ancient China come to life.
First stop is West Lake, a site that has inspired poets, artists, photographers and filmmakers for ages. Known for its 10 Scenic Spots that have been revered over the centuries, there’s no need to rush your sightseeing. This is one place where you can slow down in the gardens and float leisurely on boats of different sizes.
Visit remnants of a town that once stood as one of the richest in China thanks to its silk industry during the Ming Dynasty over 750 years ago. Nanxun Water Town doesn’t get as much visitors, so unlike commercialised tourist traps, you’ll find yourself in China’s past minus the hordes of people.
Ancient architecture is aplenty where each step takes you to arched bridges, canals, narrow lanes, and a variety of traditional houses including few that belonged to wealthy merchants back in the days of yore. The town also features traditional Chinese wedding shows on boats! Catch the ceremony where at least 10 well-decorated boats travel through canals with the bride and groom standing on the first boat, waving to locals and visitors on the banks. If you’re lucky, they may invite you to hop on board. Another highlight is simply observing the locals running their daily routine at the water’s edge from playing cards to washing clothes – backed by a tranquil scene, the town’s a perfect ground for those who want to take a shot at street photography.
Lingyin Temple serves as a great remedy for some spiritual healing. Translated as the Temple of Soul’s Retreat, the site nestled at West Lake has been around since the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420AD). Legend has it that the temple’s name was given by an Indian monk called Huili, who was inspired by the spiritual nature of the lake’s surroundings and that it’s a place loved by the immortals. In its glory days, the temple had nine buildings, 18 pavilions, 77 palaces and halls comprising 1,300 rooms to house 3,000 monks. The sheer scale, however, has been reduced because of wars throughout time. The main building was restored in 1974. Despite the ‘restored’ label, the complex remains the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in China, boasting pagodas, grottoes, a collection of Buddhist literature and other treasures. Lingyin Temple also doubles as a research centre for those who want to learn more about Buddhism.
Head for West Lake’s south and head to the top of Sunset Hill to see the oldest pagoda in the country, the Leifeng Pagoda. Originally named Huangfei Pagoda, the structure was built by the ruler of Wuyue Kingdom to celebrate the pregnancy of his favourite concubine of the same name during the Northern Song Dynasty in 977. However, the pagoda was severely damaged because of a war in 1120. It was later rebuilt, renovated and renamed as ‘Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow’ during the Qingyuan Period (1195-1200). It has since been dubbed as one of the best views on West Lake.
Besides temples and pagodas, there is more to enjoy in Hangzhou. Visit the Meijiawu Tea Garden on the west side of West Lake to savour the fine views of rolling hills, cool climate, tea fields as far as the eye can see and of course, fine tea. Among other things you shouldn’t miss here include Premier Zhou Enlai Memorial Hall, Qianlong Ruins, ancient trees and the amazing tea performances.
A place that feels unchanged by time could be the thousand-year-old destination you need for your next travel adventure.
Check out the highlights in Hangzhou below:
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to Hangzhou. Book your tickets now at airasia.com.