This is my last weekend in China and so wanted to explore further afield. Given that Shanghai is in another snap lockdown then it only made sense to head NW to explore the beauties of West Lake (UNESCO World Heritage site) in Hangzhou.
West Lake has been at the very centre of Chinese culture for over 2000 years. Situated adjacent to the now large city of Hangzhou it was home to the summer palace for a series of Emperors from the Qing Dynasty which ruled from 1644 to 1912.
West Lake has influenced poets, painters and garden designers throughout Chinese history. This UNESCO world heritage site is a must when visiting China.
Even as recently as 2016 it hosted the Worlds G20 conference…
From Ningbo, Hangzhou is a two-hour drive, although the bullet train will make that distance in around 45 minutes.
We thought about taking the bullet train which would have cost about $90 AUD return from Ningbo.
However, the distance from the nearest train station once you arrive at Hangzhou is just over 8 kms.
I’m sure you’re all thinking so what – take the train then get a taxi!
Easier said than done in a region where virtually there are no English speakers.
Since my arrival into China, I have become adept at juggling two phones to help translates signs while navigating or using the microphone on my phone to translate English to Chinese when needing to communicate – it never gets easier.
For those of you travelling to China I have lots of lessons learned, and things I wish I’d known before arriving that would have made it an infinitely easier experience…
All that aside we decided to arrange a car and driver for the day – best decision ever!
After an 8:00 am sharp pick up at our hotel, our driver Yang dropped at the entrance to West Lake some two hours later.
We were greeted with a beautiful clear blue sky with the temperature hovering around 18C. The perfect temperature to walk and explore.
As we meandered along the lakefront, we noted the endless fields of lotus nestled in the shallows, summer palaces now converted to museums or art galleries. There were also quite a few temples and traditional residences to admire.
Clearly, it had been a few years since they’ve seen a westerner in this part of China so we many people would literally stop and stare at us as we walked by. We didn’t see another westerner (Gweilo in Cantonese) for our entire visit!
Strangely, later in the day Chris was asked to take a photo of a group of guys in their early 20’s outside a famous temple before being asked to pose with them as well…. He was the star attraction! Lol.
West Lake is some 59 square kilometres in size and so takes a more than 4 hours to walk around the perimeter, even at a good clip.
However, with me stopping every ten steps to get another magical photo it took us 4 hours to only make it halfway around…
Not only is the lake truly spectacular but to top it off is surrounded on three sides by beautifully forested mountain peaks. I can understand why this was the emperor’s summer retreat.
The lake is a respite from the hustle and bustle of Hangzhou with its 10 million people. It’s a place where locals go to sit and enjoy the shade of the weeping willow trees, or perhaps take a boat to a favourite spot on the lake to truly unwind.
Thousands of people were enjoying the walk just as much as we were, with lots of families out for a stroll or picnic.
The shoreline is dotted with places to rent a boatman for as little at 190 RMB ($40 AUD) per hour he’ll take you to an island, or anywhere on the lake.
However, there were two highlights of the day.
The first highlight were the covered ornamental bridges that connect the islands. These traditional masterpieces provide a perfect window into a bygone past and serve as a true connection to the history of the lake.
The second is the Leifeng Pagoda. This stunning five story, hexagonal tower sits on the site of the original tower which was constructed in 975 AD during the Song Dynasty. Makes our old look ridiculous…
This tower succumbed after years of neglect and finally collapsed in 1925. It was reasoned that the pagoda finally came to its demise because local folklore professed that the bricks could exorcise evil spirits, bless people with many children and promote the growth of silkworms.
Thus, with everyone stealing the bricks it was just a matter of time…
It wasn’t until the clean-up and rebuilt began in 2000 that the site was rejuvenated and now is one of the most beautiful buildings on the lake.
When you enter the building, you can still see the remaining foundation and bricks via a viewing gallery on the first floor.
But more importantly they tell the Chinese love story between a white snake spirit and a man – Madame White Snake.
The view from the top of the Leifeng is exquisite!
Given that it is built on a hill overlooking the lake you have an incredible view of West Lake as well as Hangzhou.
Using WeChat, we were able to coordinate with our driver Yang a pickup spot away from the traffic.
Although on our way back to Ningbo we were involved in car accident when we were rear ended in relatively slow traffic. Fortunately, no one was injured, but we were delayed while another car was sent for us to return us to our hotel.
Such an incredible day! I will be back at some point as there is still so much of the lake and city to explore. Next time I’ll come and stay for a few days to finish my exploring.
I would highly recommend a visit to West Lake if you’re contemplating a trip to China.
Until next week