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Garden of delights

By Yan Yiqi ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-10-20 17:10:08
Garden of delights

Thousand Islands Lake, a two-hour drive from Hangzhou, is an artificial lake formed in 1959 that draws millions of visitors. [Photo/China Daily]

Garden of delights

Lingyin Temple is Hangzhou's oldest Buddhist shrine.[Photo/China Daily]

Garden of delights

Spring bathes the banks of West Lake in brilliant colors.[Photo/China Daily]

Garden of delights

Hangzhou's glorious past and splendid natural attractions make it one of China's must-see destinations.

Think of China as a house. If Beijing is the decorated living room, where the family politely greets guests, then Hangzhou is the back garden where a family can sit back and relax. Heavenly Hangzhou's slow tempo and beautiful natural surroundings have made it the tourist toast of the nation.

In a new BBC documentary, Hangzhou was dubbed the "world of smiles, and the city of happiness".

Hangzhou is the capital city of Zhejiang province, and lies 180 km southwest of Shanghai. As a core city of the Yangtze River Delta, Hangzhou has been one of the most prosperous cities in China for more than 1,000 years.

Marco Polo, the 13th century Italian traveler and merchant, described Hangzhou as "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest city in the world".

Once the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Hangzhou is now a modern and vibrant leisure center.

Luxury hotels, along with exquisite restaurants and exciting nightclubs, can be accessed all over this city.

Hangzhou is also a perfect combination of natural beauty and cultural relics.

The famous West Lake and the surrounding mountains are conveniently located near downtown.

Although Hangzhou has been through many phases of urbanization, its historical and cultural heritage remains. The ancient pagodas, temples and churches, provide wonderful destinations for visitors who favor a journey of historical discovery.

The following are five must-see spots.

1. West Lake

West Lake is a place people should not miss when visiting Hangzhou. The lake covers 6 sq km, and includes some of the city's most famous scenic places.

Although local tourism brochures talk about the "10 scenes of West Lake" and "10 new scenes", it is not necessary to make a checklist and walk back and forth to look for these scenic spots.

Just walk casually along Nanshan and Beishan roads and the causeways, take a ferryboat to the islands on the lake, or simply sit in a lakeside teahouse and enjoy the picturesque views and the longjing (dragon well) tea.

The lake is situated in the city center, with convenient public traffic access. The Hangzhou government also offers free public bikes for tourists to travel around the lake. The parks around the lake are all free to visit.

2. Lingyin Temple

"Lingyin" means the "retreat of souls". The temple, about 2 km west of West Lake, is where people can feel totally relaxed.

Lining the road that leads to the temple, grand trees are like big umbrellas blocking the sunshine in summer.

Hidden between the mountains, the temple is believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Hangzhou, and receives more than 3 million visitors a year.

It is alright for non-Buddhists to visit the temple, because just listening to the rustling of tree leaves and the twittering of birds can make people forget the troubles of a busy city life.

3. Xixi Wetland

The 11.5 sq km wetland is the first of its kind in China, located 5 km west of West Lake. The characteristics of this park can be described as serene, wild, plain and elegant.

Ecology is the key word of Xixi Wetland. Endangered plants, birds, fish and frog species are well protected in it.

It is also representative of the culture of East China. Each building alongside the watercourse represents one typical cultural practice of this area. Visitors can sit inside the East China-styled houses listening to Zhejiang province's famous Yueju Opera.

4. Hefang Street

Hefang Street is where you can experience how it was when Hangzhou was the capital of China, and also shop and buy souvenirs.

The 1.8 km pedestrian street is decorated in ancient styles. The emperors' palace was once built beside it, making it the economic and political center of Hangzhou.

Most of the shops on the street have a history of more than 100 years. People can buy typical Hangzhou products here.

Do not be surprised if you see a person wearing an ancient costume walking on Hefang Street. It is a demonstration of how people in the past lived and visitors can also try on these clothes themselves and take pictures as a memoir of their visit.

5. Thousand Islands Lake

The lake lies in Chun'an county, about 150 km west of downtown Hangzhou. It is an artificial lake formed in 1959 as a result of the construction of Xin'an River Power Station. As its name suggests, the lake contains 1,078 islands, each having its own specialty.

The fact that the lake is artificial does not affect the natural beauty.

About 80 percent of the lake is covered with forests, so it is also considered to be a natural oxygen bar. Most of the islands can be visited and the strangely formed caves and fascinating stones have amazed millions of tourists.

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