The “most beautiful and magnificent city in the world”, so said Marco Polo. Without a doubt, he might just be right when talking about Hangzhou. It has a lot to offer would-be travelers, and at just a short 50-minute journey by train from glamorous Shanghai, is incredibly easy to access.
Yet the reason for Hangzhou’s popularity has to do with more than just its convenience. Hangzhou’s popularity has to do with the stories which lay beneath it; its hidden histories. Interweaved through Hangzhou’s best attractions and places to visit, there are so many threads that it’s almost impossible to keep track.
The West Lake: Forged from the Battles of Heaven
The West Lake is located in the center of Hangzhou and is one of the biggest draws for tourists to the city. It is incredibly beautiful.
The story goes that West Lake began when the Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix found a brilliant white jade stone. Every day, they would make sure to polish and clean it thoroughly, worried that its pure white surface would be ruined by even the tiniest of scratches. Eventually, that stone became so polished that it became a stunning white ball, and wherever its light could reach, beautiful flowers would spring from the ground.
So, when the Empress of heaven heard of the ball, she wanted it for herself. Sending her army to go and collect it, a war began between the Jade Dragon and Gold Phoenix, and those who came from heaven. It was bitter and lasted for a long time. Until one day the ball was dropped from such a great height that when it hit the ground, it created the West Lake and Phoenix Mountain. To this day, the Phoenix mountain keeps a watchful eye over the West Lake, protecting it from the agents of heaven.
Visit West Lake Today
Today, West Lake is a huge tourist attraction and easily accessed by any means of public transport in the city. If you take the metro, make sure to stop at Fengqi Road or Longxiangqiao stations. Both of these are just a 10-minute walk to the lakefront. Just like the things we love about China, the area is still relatively cheap and the people are very welcoming. Just be warned that it can get a little crowded.
Leifeng Pagoda: The Legend of the White Snake
Standing guard over West Lake like a sentinel waiting for a command, Leifeng Pagoda is one of Hangzhou’s most famed destinations. It’s not just the fact that it is a beautiful structure. No, similar architecture can be seen all over China. The reason it is famous is that of the story behind it. A story of star-crossed lovers, betrayal, and immortality. The Story of the White Snake.
This story harks back to the days of old when Hangzhou was still a small town and not the imposing collection of high-rises and carefully planned parks it is today. Leifeng Pagoda was where the woman of the story was imprisoned for some time. Why was she imprisoned? Well, in order to understand the why, you’re going to have to know the who. For that, we’re going to have to go somewhere else.
Entrance to Leifeng Pagoda is just 40 RMB for adults and is the only thing on this list which costs money. If you’re interested in moving to the next location with style, think about taking one of the many boats over the lake. These will cost you 150 RMB for about an hour and you can take 4 people in one boat.
The Broken Bridge: Where the Story Began
Located almost directly opposite the Leifeng Pagoda, this West Lake attraction may at first seem like your standard stone bridge. However, it’s a lot more than that. The Broken Bridge is where the Lovers Bai Suzhen and Xuxian first met.
The legend goes that he had been walking along the bridge as a young man and was offered a magical piece of food from an immortal posing as a simple salesman. Taking the food, he was granted immortality, but then he started to choke on it. At this point, the immortal helped by performing a good old-fashioned Heimlich maneuver, and the roll fell from his mouth and into the lake. There, a white snake came to the surface and gulped it down in one.
That snake would later go on to become Bai Suzhen after the roll gave her the power to transform into a human and to fall in love. Despite being locked in the tower, Suzhen eventually escaped and returned to her love. They stayed together until they died. Over time, their story has become one of China’s most talked-about Legends and one of the reasons why Hangzhou is now so popular. There is of course much more to the story, but that’s for another time.
Unlock Hangzhou’s Mysteries One at a Time
Visit Hangzhou to Unlock more of the city’s mysteries. The two stories above are just a small sample of the hidden histories (both real and fictional), that lie behind almost anywhere you can visit in the city. Try walking around West Lake and seeing what else you can find. Or, try heading to the Xi Xi Wetlands, where the reeds cover statues and hidden pagodas.
If it’s not already, make sure that Hangzhou city is on your list of places to visit in China. Now you know that it’s convenient to access, incredibly beautiful (like a white pearl), and has some of the best backstories of anywhere in China.