The Ultimate Guide to Hangzhou’s Beautiful West Lake
April 06, 2019
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve last visited China, and I was extremely excited to spend two weeks in May exploring Hangzhou, Xi’an and Shanghai. A visit to Hangzhou will not be complete without spending time at the iconic West Lake (西湖). This stunning lake, surrounded by lush green, fog-enshrouded mountains, is located in the middle of the city, making it easily accessible. There is a plethora of attractions such as pagodas, temples, bridges, artificial islands, and causeways you can visit. If this is your first time to Hangzhou, let me help you out with this guide.
Although Longxiangqiao (龙翔桥) Metro Station is the closest station to the West Lake, I alighted at Fengqi Road (凤起路) Metro Station because I had to purchase a sim card from China Mobile. It took me around 15 minutes’ walk to get to the West Lake, and the Broken Bridge was my starting point. This is the most well-known bridge among all the big and small, ancient and modern bridges around the West Lake due to the Legend of the White Snake.
Have you ever heard of this incredibly touching love story between Bai Suzhen, a white snake spirit, and Xu Xi’an, a mortal man? It was love at first sight for them on the Broken Bridge, and they tied the knot soon after. An evil monk, Fa Hai, attempted to separate the couple by imprisoning Xu Xi’an. Bai Suzhen fought against Fa Hai and tried her best to rescue her husband but she failed and was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda by the lake. Years later the couple was rescued by Xiao Qing, the sister of Bai Suzhen, and they lived happily together ever since. Perhaps, this story gave the West Lake a romantic atmosphere, which is why you’ll see many couples dating at the West Lake nowadays.
After crossing the Broken Bridge, I continued along the Bai Causeway to the Solitary Hill, followed by the Xiling Bridge. You’ll come across the Temple of General Yue Fei, and if you’re wondering … The Impression West Lake night performance is situated nearby. I decided to cross the Su Causeway, and managed to catch the last of the spring blossoms. While crossing this causeway, you’ll get to enjoy the spectacular view of the artificial islands. Visits to the islands are possible via the cruise boats. I’ll elaborate more on the cruise boats at the end of this article.
When you finally reach the other side of the Su Causeway, you can choose to visit the Prince Bay Park or the Leifeng Pagoda. The Prince Bay Park (太子湾公园) features dreamy cherry blossoms and colourful tulips in the months of March and April respectively. It’s a relaxing place to spend an afternoon at. The Leifeng Pagoda, on the other hand, allows you to tackle your fear of heights by ascending the pagoda to get a panoramic view of the West Lake.
Last but not least, there’s the Yang Causeway which brings you very close to the mountains. You can stop by the Hangzhou Flower Nursery before ending your West Lake adventure at the Hangzhou Botanical Garden.
If you’re still in the area in the evening and do not wish to pay exorbitant prices to watch the Impression West Lake performance, I recommend watching the West Lake Musical Fountain. This fountain light show is free of charge and takes place for 15 minutes every night. I’m not too sure about the timing but there are multiple shows that take place between 7.30pm and 9.30pm. I was lucky to have chanced upon this musical fountain while strolling along the lake after dinner.
Travelling Around the West Lake
I walked almost 40,000 steps on this particular day, so if you prefer to take it easy, you can either rent a bicycle or take a cruise boat around the West Lake. There are many kinds of boats ranging from motor-driven boats to row boats to gaily-painted pleasure-boats. The cruise will take approximately 1 to 3 hours, depending on your boatman. You’re allowed to negotiate the time and the price for the cruise. There’s also a battery-operated sightseeing car available. This is great for those of you who are short of time. The driver will introduce the sceneries along the drive and the entire 13.5-kilometre journey takes about 70 minutes. It’s the fastest way to discover the entire West Lake. There is no fixed platform for the sightseeing car, so if you’re feeling tired halfway through walking around the West Lake, just wave to the driver and buy the ticket after you get on the car.
After visiting the West Lake, I can fully understand why its beauty is the subject of many poems and paintings. Boasting a perfect blend of natural scenery and human culture, it’s not a surprise that the West Lake has always been praised by many Chinese poets and artists since ancient time. I recommend spending an entire day at the West Lake, or you can also split your itinerary into two days – just don’t rush your visit.