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Shanghai Sights and Sounds
West Lake

West Lake

Take a boat trip on the tranquil lake that is the symbol of Hangzhou and the centerpiece of the whole region. Surrounded on three sides by low, forest-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples and pagodas, West Lake is a tranquil oasis at the heart of the modern town. The Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960 – 1127) wrote of the lake’s “rippling water shimmering on sunny days, misty mountains shrouded in rain”, and artists and writers throughout history have been charmed by its natural beauty. It is so important to Chinese culture that it even appears on the one yuan note.

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The symbol of Hangzhou and one of the most scenic attractions in the whole region, West Lake is the centrepiece of the city. Surrounded on three sides by low, forest-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples and pagodas, it is a tranquil oasis at the heart of the modern town. The Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960 – 1127) wrote of the lake’s “rippling water shimmering on sunny days, misty mountains shrouded in rain”, and artists and writers throughout history have been charmed by its natural beauty. It is so important to Chinese culture that it even appears on the one yuan note.

West Lake (or Xi Hu) covers 5.6 square kilometers to the west of central Hangzhou. It is intersected by three causeways lined with willow trees, and measures 15 kilometers around its edge. It is split into five sections, the largest of which is Outer West Lake. As well as its calm waters, the lake is ringed with quaint stone bridges and inlets full of waterlilies, and is overlooked by beautiful historic buildings like the Six Harmonies Pagoda and the Lingyin Temple. Cruising on West Lake is guaranteed to be one of the most treasured memories of your trip to China.

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Lingyin temple

Lingyin Temple

Explore the halls and cloisters of Hangzhou’s most famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 4th century AD. Nestled in a valley between two wooded hills to the west of the lake, the temple dates from the 4th century AD and contains nearly 500 statues. As you approach the main Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the smell of incense will waft towards you, and a feeling of peace will settle in the air. Lingyin is still an active place of worship and Buddhist research, and is operated by the Chan sect of the religion.

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Nestled in a valley between two wooded hills to the west of the lake lies Lingyin Temple, one of China’s most famous ancient Buddhist temples. Dating from the 4th century AD, the temple contains nearly 500 statues. As you approach the main Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the smell of incense will waft towards you, and a feeling of peace will settle in the air. Lingyin is still an active place of worship and Buddhist research, and is operated by the Chan sect of the religion.

Inside the double-eaved Hall of the Heavenly Kings you’ll see a beautifully carved statue of Maitreya in his manifestation as the Laughing Buddha. Look out for the carved dragons and phoenixes that curve across the ceiling. There is also a Skanda Buddha, as well as the four guardian gods after whom the hall is named. Moving on through the open courtyard you’ll come to the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, which contains a statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha covered in lavish gold leaf. Other highlights of the temple include the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, the Sutra Library, and the nearby Feilai Feng Grottoes.

An interesting legend lies behind the establishment of the Lingyin Temple. The story goes that a monk named Huili came to Hangzhou from India during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420). He was so inspired by the tranquillity of the lakeside that he believed it to be the home of the Immortals. The temple he built was known as the Soul’s Retreat. The site benefit from Buddhism’s surge in popularity during the 10th century, and contained over 1,300 rooms in its heyday and was home to 3,000 monks. The complex suffered badly during the Cultural Revolution, but was restored to the temple we see today in the 1970s.

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Six Harmonies Pagoda

Six Harmonies Pagoda

Visit a beautiful example of ancient pagoda architecture nestled among the forests of Hangzhou’s hills. Rising up from the lush forest like a pine-cone, the beautiful Six Harmonies Pagoda is one of Hangzhou’s many treasures, and a great example of ancient pagoda architecture. Located on Yuelun Hill in the south of the city, Liuhe Ta (as it is known in Chinese) overlooks the Qiangtang River and the rest of Hangzhou, offering panoramic views from each of its seven stories.

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Rising up from the lush forest like a pine-cone, the beautiful Six Harmonies Pagoda is one of Hangzhou’s many treasures, and a great example of ancient pagoda architecture. Located on Yuelun Hill in the south of the city, Liuhe Ta (as it is known in Chinese) overlooks the Qiangtang River and the rest of Hangzhou, offering panoramic views from each of its seven stories.

Six Harmonies is one of the most famous ancient pagodas in China, and was originally built in 970 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. A battle in 1121 left the landmark in ruins, but renovations in mediaeval times restored it to its former glory, adding extra eaves and decorations. The six harmonies of the pagoda’s name refer to the Buddhist codes of earth, heaven, north, east, south and west.

From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the pagoda had thirteen stories, but in fact there are seven. They are connected by a spiral staircase, and each of the seven ceilings is decorated with gorgeous carvings and paintings of birds and flowers. Enjoy the fantastic view from the top before exploring the nearby exhibition hall to learn more about pagoda architecture.

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Tea Plantation

Tea plantation

Hangzhou and its surroundings are famous for a variety of green tea known as longjing. The tea plants flourish in the rich soil on the hillsides around the city, and Meijiawu village is the best place to try the local brew and admire the tea growing plantations. Set in acres of beautiful rolling green mountains, Meijiawu looks picture perfect under soft morning mist or at sunset.

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Hangzhou and its surroundings are famous for a variety of green tea known as longjing. The tea plants flourish in the rich soil on the hillsides around the city, and Meijiawu village is the best place to try the local brew and admire the tea growing plantations. Set in acres of beautiful rolling green mountains, Meijiawu looks picture perfect under soft morning mist or at sunset. China’s first prime minister Zhou Enlai was such a fan of longjing tea and the village itself that he visited five times. The road to Meijiawu was actually paved in his honor. President Richard Nixon also stopped by during his trip to China and was impressed. When you see the idyllic scenery and taste the mellow brew, you’re sure to agree.

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Night food market

Night food market

Tease your tastebuds with the flavors of Hangzhou’s local street food delicacies at this atmospheric night market. From steamed rice wrapped in leaves to meat kebabs and seafood noodles, you’re sure to find something to tempt your palate and satisfy your hunger.