Snow fell on Hangzhou just a handful of occasions last winter.
Each time seeming more magical than the last. Kids threw snowballs
outside historic temples, the sun glistened on white-tipped willow
trees and old men tending carts selling roasted sweet potatoes
struck a windfall. Any client lucky enough to have witnessed this
beautiful lakeside city dressed in snowy white will cherish their
Located in Zhejiang province, Hangzhou (pronounced HANG-Jo) is a
fast-growing city built around the mythical Xi Hu (West Lake),
historically one of China’s most revered destinations. For
centuries, its calming waters, hills dotted with shrines and
pagodas and indefinable serenity have inspired China’s finest
writers, poets and painters. Emperors and governors made this their
retreat of choice. The Chinese even have their own eulogy: “In
heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.”
(Suzhou is a similarly beautiful city in neighboring Jiangsu
In 2004, Hangzhou was ranked China’s number-one city for foreign
investors by Forbes magazine. Tourism is also booming. Less than
three hours by car or train from Shanghai, it is easily accessible.
The airport receives flights from all China’s major cities, Japan,
Korea and several other Asian countries. New hotels, restaurants
and bars open regularly. Xihu Tiandi is a new dining and drinking
development built by the owners of Shanghai’s popular Xintiandi. A
lakefront luxury shopping plaza, featuring Swarovski, Dolce &
Gabbana and Armani, opens this summer. You can almost taste the
brightness of Hangzhou’s future.
Clients should allow at least two, preferably three, days to
enjoy Hangzhou. Exploring the lake and its parks and temples will
account for one day, the Longyin Temple complex and caves a second.
And clients still need time to visit the silk factories for which
the city is famed. And having come this far, you must drink several
teapots of the local specialty Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea, which
grows in the fertile terraces fringing the city.
I began my circumnavigation of the lake in front of the
brand-new Hyatt Regency and set off in a clockwise direction.
Passing in front of a small pavilion, I saw a group of shivering
boatmen drinking tea and gamely trying to generate business. This
appeared unlikely, given the bitter wind. During summer, these
spacious, covered wooden row boats dot the lake.
I wandered along the footpath to Qinbo Gate. Moving away from
the lake, the gate led me into beautifully landscaped gardens where
trees and streams camouflage traditional merchants’ houses and
pavilions. Halfway around the lake is the octagonal, five-story
Leifeng Pagoda. Originally built in 975 AD by Qian Hongchu, king of
Wuyue, to celebrate the birth of a son, the structure has since
been rebuilt, however, uncovered brick ruins of the original
building are open for viewing. Climbing to the top floor of the new
pagoda reveals a fabulous view over the lake and its islands,
bridges and gardens.
On the second morning, I rose early and caught a 20-minute cab
ride ($3) into the surrounding hills. My destination was Lingyin Si
(Temple of the Soul’s Retreat) one of the largest and most
spectacular Buddhist temples in China.
After buying a ticket and entering the complex, clients should
head to the left and explore the shallow caves and grottos
featuring over 400 rock carvings. Most of these date from the 10th
to 14th centuries and depict various representations of Buddha.
Look out for them at shin, knee and face height and also several
feet above your head.
At this point, I thought the stunning collection of rock art
would be hard to beat. I was wrong. Stepping into the
incense-filled Lingyin Temple, an immediate sense of awe drifted
through me. Each of the four main temple halls is more lavish,
colorful and spectacular than the last. My favorite was the
40-foot-tall Hall of the 500 Arhats, which features 500
human-sized, sitting Buddhist saints, each holding his own symbol,
arranged in the formation of a giant swastika.
But wait, I hadn’t entered the Grand Hall, yet the centerpiece
of which is a 65-foot-tall statue of Sakyamuni Bhudda carved from
camphor wood. It is China’s largest sitting Buddha. Lingyin is also
a working temple, and yellow-robed monks join the Chinese locals
and tourists in offering prayer and incense to Buddha.
Back downtown, I headed along Fenqi Lu to the new “Silk Road,” a
district of silk clothing and accessory stores which recreate
Hangzhou’s silk trading history. It’s a great place to buy
souvenirs, but remind clients to bargain hard.
Sadly, my time was up, and I never got to visit the Tea Museum
of China or the famous Dragon Well that gives the specialty local
tea its name. I wasn’t too disappointed though. Sitting in a park
at the end of Hubin Lu, I listened to a group of aged musicians
playing traditional folk songs on Chinese instruments, local women
providing the vocals. I’ll be back, I promised myself. Very
|WHERE TO STAY|
Opened in late 2004, this contemporary-style luxury hotel is
located by the lakeshore and close to the best nightlife and
entertainment. An elegant lobby and comfortable rooms are matched
by the fine service and excellent restaurants. Rates vary.
28 Hubin Lu
A longtime favorite of visitors, this sprawling mansion sits
luxuriously beside the lake near the famous Broken Bridge. This
well-managed hotel offers a good selection of bars, restaurants and
gift stores. Top-floor rooms afford great vistas. Rates vary.
78 Beishan Road
WHERE TO PLAY
Having established successful restaurants in Hong Kong and
Shanghai, Va Bene has brought its highly regarded Italian cuisine
to Hangzhou. On the ground floor is the Pizza Pazza restaurant,
head upstairs for more sophisticated Italian fare.
House 8 Xihu Tiandi, 147 Nanshan Lu
28 Hubin Lu
Designed in the style of a Chinese courtyard, Hyatt Regency’s
signature restaurant is extremely classy. Serves a range of
traditional and modern Chinese dishes from Hangzhou and the
Hyatt Regency Hotel, 28 Hubin Lu
Hangzhou’s coolest cocktail lounge is housed in a converted villa.
Smooth jazz sounds, elegant sofas and moody lighting are
complemented by a great drinks menu.
5 Liuying Road
Night & Day
Fun-packed bar with regular live Latin music and a warm atmosphere.
Drinks are mid-priced and the mix of locals and tourists works
well. Upstairs is a well-stocked Cuban humidor with top-brand
240 Nanshan Lu