This week’s guest post is from my  friend Wendy, a Kenyan currently based in Vientiane, Laos.  She takes us on a tour to Hangzhou China, you can read her previous contribution here

Shanghai is good for culture, but if you really want tourist sights, you should go to Hangzhou. It’s about an hour east by train.”

This was the advice a friend gave as I was planning my trip to China. I wanted tourist sights, and arts and culture, and thankfully for this trip I would be able to do both. Today, I’ll share a little about my experience in Hangzhou.

Population density-wise Hangzhou is a fairly small city; it has population of about 8 million in over 16,000 sq. km. Compared to Shanghai’s 24 million in less than half of Hangzhou’s area, it made sense for me as a China newbie to start small and manageable my forays into China somewhere manageable.

I knew close to nothing about Hangzhou, but I’d repeatedly heard that I needed to see West Lake.

Hangzhou_Friendship public park




Hangzhou_West Lake Serene“In Hangzhou, it’s all about the West Lake.”


West Lake (西湖, Xī Hú) seems to be at the center of life in Hangzhou. Tourists and locals alike, who’d had braved the single-digit Celsius winter temperatures to enjoy the beauty, filled the park around the lake. Somehow, perhaps because of the number of people out, it didn’t feel cold.

West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage site and according to Wiki, “has influenced poets and painters throughout China’s history for its natural beauty and historic relics.” The entry lists its significance through China’s long history, including modern day. When you are in the park, it’s hard not to see this significance. Describing West Lake as beautiful is an understatement.

Hangzhou_Lotus Garden


Hangzhou_Lotus Garden 2Lotus garden. This looks beautiful in warmer months.


Hangzhou_Postcard Scenes


Hangzhou_Romantic bridge


Hangzhou_Romantic bridge 2Romantic bridge – There are beautiful bridges all around West Lake


While in the park I made a friend – a university student who’d come to Hangzhou for a job-interview. Together we explored different parts of the park. You can rent bikes to go around but most people seemed to be walking, and that’s what we chose to do.

Hangzhou_Peoplein the park


Hangzhou_People in the park 3


Hangzhou_People in the park 2People enjoying the park.


For about US$4, you can take a boat ride to the center of the lake and back. My new friend and I joined a group of four as they were about to get into a boat. It was really beautiful and serene and coincidentally just the perfect time to capture the sunset.

Hangzhou_Sunset on The Lake 2


Hangzhou_Sunset on The Lake


A site within the lake is the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. These are not actual pools of water but, three guard-shaped stupas about two meters high that are at the center of the lake. The best time to see this is after dusk when candles are lit in the stupas and seemingly reflecting the moon as little lights, hence the name. This site is featured on the back of the one yuan bank note.

Hangzhou_Traditional Bouys


Hangzhou_Traditional Bouys 2Three Pools Mirroring the Moon


Chinese poets and painters aside, put me anywhere with open spaces, lots of greenery, water, fresh air, and also still see city sky lines including a convenient 20 minute bus ride to and from town and I’m in heaven.

Hangzhou_West Lake, Quiet and Serene


Hangzhou_automn bloom




The next day, my hostess and I went up to Hupao spring, famed as having the third best water in China. Legend has it that a monk, Xingkong, lived in a monastery on Daci hill. He was planning to leave his monastery for good because of lack of water. Before his intended departure, Xingkong had a dream in which he was told that two tigers would bring him a fountain at the mountain. And the very next day, two tigers dug a hole from which the spring sprung. And this is the site of present day Dreaming of the Tiger Spring.

Hangzhou_Hupao Path


Hangzhou_Monk carvings


Hangzhou_Hupao SpringHupao (“Dreaming of the Tiger”) Spring


Hangzhou_More Tigers


Hangzhou_Lots of TigersA depiction of Xingkong and the two tigers at Hupao Spring


The spring water is potable and there were many people who’d queued near the entrance to fill their bottles and jugs. Hangzhou’s tea industry has flourished around tea that is made using the spring water.



Hangzhou_Tribute to Tea A sculpture at the adjacent museum that is a tribute to Hangzhou Longing tea.


Hangzhou_entranceThe calligraphy says, “3rd best under the heavens”


Hangzhou_Temple at SunsetA temple at Hupao

My impression of Hangzhou can be summed in one word is “beautiful.” From West Lake to Hupao and even just the city streets, I was struck by how beautiful and green the city managed to be. I’d definitely recommend a trip to Hangzhou in the spring or summer when everything is in bloom especially around West Lake.

Helpful info: It’s easier and cheaper to book places to stay via local Chinese websites although Agoda and can also be useful. China has a hostel network geared toward domestic tourism targeting especially the youth so you will get far better deals than international websites. I stayed at the Lotus Hostel () which has private and dorm style (female-only and mixed) rooms. It was quite the cute and hipster-y set up and really clean and well organized.

Getting there: Hangzhou is a 45-minute, 12-dollar train ride from Shanghai Hongqiao Station. There are two stations, Hangzhou and Hangzhou East, and it costs about $1 more to go into Hangzhou East. I’d recommend taking metered taxis, and at the Hangzhou East station, there’s a taxi station where you wait in line. Steer clear of any taxi drivers approaching you with deals (spoiler alert, it’s not). Avoid them if they refuse to use their meter. You can travel by air too the airport is about 30 km from the downtown area. Getting around the city is easy you have the option of buses (<$1 per ride), taxis, biking and walking.


Hangzhou_Walking to West LakeThe Road to West Lake

An important thing to note is that a lot of websites don’t work well or at all in China, that includes cellphone apps as well, so my Google and Apple maps were absolutely useless. Baidu, China’s Google equivalent is readily available but only useful if you can read Chinese. Bring a paper map, especially for taxis and asking for directions.

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  1. May 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm — Reply

    Beautiful. I haven’t been East Asia yet, but this looks like a charming place to visit.

  2. May 2, 2015 at 12:45 pm — Reply

    Looks so beautiful and peaceful . I love the temple!

  3. May 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm — Reply

    Rachel, I love traveling China, but have not been to Hangzhou yet. I would certainly love photographing the lake and sculptures.

    Yay! Weekend Travel Inspiration!

  4. May 4, 2015 at 6:15 am — Reply

    Wow, these photos are really magical. I have visited China and went to different city about 40 minutes from Shanghai for the same reasons. It amazed me how peaceful certain places are in a country so densely populated.

  5. May 4, 2015 at 9:35 am — Reply

    Although China isn’t at the top of my travel wishlist, I must admit that Hangzhou is beautiful.

  6. May 5, 2015 at 12:39 am — Reply

    Wow, this place looks absolutely amazing – I love all of the photos of the lakes!

  7. May 5, 2015 at 2:19 am — Reply

    neat photos. Some look so traditionally Chinese, Some could be any modern city.

  8. May 5, 2015 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    I am so glad you finally made it to China! Amazing views! I have been to 12 out of 22 provinces, but missed Hangzhou. The scenery is simple breath-taking! That’s definitely a place where I would spend a day or two to relax.

  9. May 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm — Reply

    Oh WOW! I’ve never been to China and truth be told, I’d never heard of Hangzhou till reading this post but West Lake looks absolutely breathtakingly picture perfect :)And that stunning photo at dusk – I’m so glad to have learned of this area of China from reading this post!

  10. May 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm — Reply

    Gorgeous shots of Hangzhou – it’s a beautiful place.

  11. May 10, 2015 at 10:46 am — Reply

    What a gorgeously scenic place. I like how you showed us the lake with just nature’s beauty first, and then changed the angle to show us all the Chinese architecture. I can see why it’s famous. We didn’t make it to Hangzhou when we visited China. It’s such a big country, and there’s so much to see.

  12. Kenimoja
    May 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm — Reply

    Lovely post, good that you are now going beyond Kenya’s borders.

    Here an excerpt of Hangzhou from lonely planet
    One of China’s most illustrious tourist drawcards, Hángzhōu’s dreamy West Lake panoramas and fabulously green and hilly environs can easily lull you into long sojourns. Eulogised by poets and applauded by emperors, the lake has intoxicated the Chinese imagination for aeons. Religiously cleaned by armies of street sweepers and litter collectors, its scenic vistas draw you into a classical Chinese watercolour of willow-lined banks, ancient pagodas, mist-covered hills and the occasional shíkùmén (stone gate house) and old lǐlòng (residential lane). Despite vast tourist cohorts, West Lake is a delight to explore, either on foot or by bike.

    I got to add …. love the new look!

  13. May 12, 2015 at 7:52 am — Reply

    Wow! What a great collection of photos! I can certainly understand the appeal to many. It is absolutely beautiful. It looks so tranquil that I can picture myself for a nice stroll or spending the day here. The architecture is just stunning!

  14. May 17, 2015 at 11:09 pm — Reply

    Stunning. I missed Hangzhou and went to Suzhou instead. I think I missed out – Suzhou was lovely but Hangzhou looks amazing!

  15. December 7, 2015 at 5:05 pm — Reply

    You have very lovely photos! Remind me of my own Hangzhou trip. We enjoyed strolling around the lake at our own pace, esp. the far Western portion of the lake where we discovered little-known gems like Guo’s Villa and Maojiabu far from the overly-touristy places.

  16. February 27, 2016 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    Wow! Nice Photos

  17. May 6, 2017 at 10:55 pm — Reply

    My wife is from Beijing, and I’ve been there three times, with once staying for two months. I have to say, I am bored of Beijing, and there are way too many people and pollution. There is a constant dusty fog there.

    We have been talking about visiting China again, and my wife mentioned Hangzhou a few times, and this is how I found your blog post. Such lovely photos you have taken. Seems a lot more peaceful, scenic and cleaner than Beijing. I particularly like the statues by Hupao Spring. I want to travel and see them for myself.

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