Travel, however, melts away prejudices. My recent five-day stay in Hangzhou China certainly altered my views associating beautiful city infrastructure and urban greening with the so-called first world countries.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province and famous for its natural beauty and historical and cultural heritage.
Here are 10 things you should know before your trip to Hangzhou.
1) Hangzhou is known as ‘ Heaven on Earth’.
The West Lake in Hangzhou is associated with bewitching beauty and legendary romance. The famous Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960-1127) compared the West Lake to Xi Zi, one of the Four Beauties in ancient China.
Take a sunset cruise on the lake; you’ll feel the peaceful ethos of the city, perhaps feel as if you have stepped into a land of magic and fantasy and better understand its time-honored fame as ‘Heaven on Earth’.
Nowadays, West Lake is one of the top ten scenic areas in China, getting listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011.
2) A Leifeng Pagoda with immortal love story.
Leifeng Pagoda is associated with a touching love story between a white snake spirit and a mortal man. White Snake (Bai Suzhen) and her best friend Green Snake (Xiao Qing) descends from the mountain and spend a day mingling with mortals and there, they met a man named Xu Xian. Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian fell in love with each other.
However, Evil Monk Fa Hai imprisoned Xu Xian so as to separate this couple. Bai Suzhen tried hard to save her husband by using her power. But all her efforts were in vain, and she was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda. Driven by anger and sadness, Xiao Qing tried her utmost to improve her supernatural power. Finally, she beat the Evil Monk Fa Hai, tore down the tower, and saved Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian. From then on, Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian lived together happily.
3) Its magnificent and wondrous constructions.
The Grand Canal, about 1,764 kilometers (1,200 miles) long, is the longest and greatest man-made waterway in ancient China, far surpassing the next two of the world: the Suez and Panama Canals. With 27 sections and 58 historical sites, it was placed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014. Running from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in the south to Beijing in the north and connecting different river systems, Grand Canal contributed greatly to ensuring that the Chinese primary economy thrived in past dynasties. Now more than 2,000 years old, some parts of the canal are still in use, mainly functioning as a water-diversion conduit.
4) A capital of Chinese tea.
Do you know that five hundred grams of tea picked in the early spring, when the leaves are most tender, can retail for as much as $150 USD? Yes, that’s the famous Longjing tea!
Longjing, which translates to “dragon well,” is named after an actual well in the village where, according to legend, lives a subterranean dragon that can access the sea. The water within is said to contain magical properties. You can take a sip or rub it on your face; locals say it can improve any ailment. Green tea from Longjing is made exclusively from young buds harvested in early spring and gently pan-roasted by tea farmers, which gives it its signature nutty aroma.
5) Home of Silk.
Its exquisite silk products have been sold domestically and internationally throughout its long history and have even been recognized by UNESCO.
According to archeological findings which date back to the Liangzhu Culture (3400-2250 BC), the ancestors of the Hangzhou people were already engaged in a series of silk making activities such as, growing mulberry trees, raising silkworms, weaving silk and making primitive tools for silk reeling.
6) The birthplace of the e- commerce titan Alibaba.
Who doesn’t know Jack Ma? A billionaire and one of the wealthiest in the world. Well, Hangzhou is the home of Alibaba, the company which founded by Jack Ma. With operations in over 200 countries, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest Internet companies. Its online sales and profits surpassed all US retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay) combined since 2015.
Above photo is just one of the markets in Hangzhou selling mechanical and electrical items where retailers are selling on Alibaba, a business-to-business trading platform for small businesses.
7) The Venetian merchant Marco Polo loved Hangzhou.
A European Marco Polo, the famous traveller who visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century expressed his love about the City. In his book, he wrote:
“it is without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.”
Marco Polo was very impressed by the Hangzhou marketplaces too,
“The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof.”
8) The largest bicycle sharing system in the world.
One of the bright spots in the city is the universal system of bike lanes on all major roads in Hangzhou. Biking in this city is a pleasure as you are totally separated from automobile traffic on wide, well-paved bicycle lanes surrounded by lush green landscaping. These lanes are at least double if not triple the width you would find in any other cities. There are separate traffic lights for bicycles and even covered shelters at intersections.
9) It’s a green city!
With one of the largest bicycle rental networks in the world, distributed across 2,700 collection points, Hangzhou has the profile of a green city. It is one that puts trees before skyscrapers. This effort has won several international awards (including recognition from the UN) and led to the creation of spaces like the Green Building Museum.
Another thing that amazes me about this city is the green multi-level parking garages. I saw planters placed along the edge of all levels of parking garages, where the cascade of plants and bushes camouflages the structure. These parking garages were transformed from urban blight to vertical gardens that can be green centerpieces of their neighborhoods.
10) More gorgeous on Spring and Fall.
Hangzhou weather is generally warm and mild all year round, with abundant sunshine and rainfall. There are four clear-cut seasons – a wet and rainy spring, a hot and humid summer, a cool and clear autumn, and a dry and cold winter. There are two rainy seasons in the region – one is the Plum Rain Season beginning in late June through early July; the other comes with heavy rains and potential typhoons in August and September.
The best times to visit Hangzhou are in spring (March–May) and fall (September–November), when it is comfortable to enjoy Hangzhou’s outdoor attractions of lakes, tea plantations, and water towns.
You’d better avoid weekends and Chinese public holidays, such as Labor Day (May 1 to 7) and National Day (October 1 to 7), when Hangzhou is always crowded with tourists especially Chinese.
on a side note.
An unpleasant reality of life in China, Hangzhou being no exception, is very bad air quality. Heavy industry and coal-fired power plants make the air hazy and unhealthy to breathe. I didn’t really notice the bad air in Hangzhou but I was aghast at the haze I saw while heading back to the airport.
Now, green policies are safeguarding its huge tourist pulling power.Hangzhou is successfully greening its air, water and landscapes. Trees, pedestrian parks and lantern-lit paths line stretches of the Grand Canal, which was mostly a stinking, toxic wasteland 20 years ago. And to cut air pollution, the city is limiting car ownership and has a fast-growing metro network. Some historic streets are protected, as are several lakes just outside town.
More trees. More bicycles.
Enjoy your trip to Hangzhou!
❤️ s h a y