The two-mile-wide expanse of West Lake dominates and vitalizes Hangzhou. Although there are a number of sights at its edge and on its islands,West Lake is best enjoyed by an amble around its fringes or a stroll across its causeways. However, if you want a target for your strolls, the sights below are all worthwhile diversions. The lake is surrounded by a network of paths and trails, which pass lush parks, pavilions and viewpoints.
Causeways & Islands
West Lake is traversed by three causeways and has several small islands within its expanse, all of which are worth exploring. Bai Causeway was named after the famous Tang dynasty poet and governor of Hangzhou, Bai Juyi, and stretches across the north of the lake from the Broken Bridge to Solitary Hill Island. The Su Causeway follows the poet-governor theme and takes its name from another of China’s most famous wordsmiths, Su Dongpo. The Su runs from north to south across the west of the lake and, at nearly two miles, is over twice as long as the Bai. As a result, it’s a quieter place for a stroll and enjoys equally expansive views. Both the Bai and Su causeways can be traversed on foot or by bike, but the third, Yanggong (after Governor Yang) in the far west, is the only one open to cars. That makes it a less attractive proposition for a stroll, although it offers some tranquil views over Maojiabu Lake to the west.
There are three islands within the central lake, which can all be visited on boat trips from Solitary Hill as well as on tours. Tiny Lord Ruan’s Mound sometimes hosts nighttime opera performances and the Mid-lake Pavilion is worth a brief stop, but the Three Pools Reflecting the Moon has a little more to see.
Three Pools Reflecting the Moon
This pretty little island in the center of the lake holds ponds, pavilions and pagodas, which are shown on the back of the new green ¥1 notes. The man-made island encircles a central lake, which is divided into four ponds by bridges. The three stone pagodas were first built in the 17th century and are lit up by candles for the autumn full moon. The small holes in the pagoda allow this light to shine out onto the lake and mingle with the moonlight, creating the Three Pools Reflecting the Moon and the island’s name. To get to the island take a boat from Solitary Hill Island, Hubin Park or the southern end of Yanggong Causeway.
Solitary Hill Island
At the western end of the Bai Causeway, Solitary Hill Island (Gu Shan) has a long imperial tradition and offers a number of worthwhile attractions as well as being a great place to find a shady spot to soak up the fine views over the lake. First favored during the Tang dynasty, the Qing emperors Kangxi and Qianlong (see A Golden Age, p. 15) also enjoyed time here and the Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake Pavilion in the southeast of the island is a testament to their fondness for the area. West of here in the pristine Zhongshan Park you’ll find the Zhejiang Provincial Museum (Mon noon-4:30 pm, Tues-Sun 8:30 am-4:30 pm; ¥10), housed in a wing of the old imperial palace, which holds a good collection of ceramics and Shang (1600-1122 BC) and Zhou (1122-221 BC) bronzes.West again, Louwailou is a great spot for some local culinary specialties. On the hill above, the Seal Engraver’s Society occupies a small shrub-filled park and offers a collection of ancient inscribed stone stelae as well as excellent lake views.
Yue Fei’s Tomb
Dedicated to the legendary Song dynasty General Yue Fei, this temple is set on the other side of Beishan Lu from the lake and is worth a visit if you’re passing by. Yue Fei fought relentlessly against the invading Jurchen Jin but was falsely accused of treachery and executed. Twenty years later the claims were rescinded and Yue Fei was re-interred at this site. To reach the tomb, proceed through the temple, over a small bridge and along the customary avenue of statues where you’ll see the Chinese characters meaning “Loyal to the End” on the front of the tomb, allegedly the phrase Yue Fei had tattooed on his back before his execution. The four kneeling statues near his tomb represent the shamed courtiers who betrayed him.
Precious Stone Hill
East of Yue Fei’s Tomb, Precious Stone Hill looms over the lake’s northern shore and its famous Baochu Pagoda can be seen from all over the lake. The slender 125-foot-tall pagoda (daily 7:30 am-5 pm; ¥15) was originally built in 970 AD, although the current version dates from the 1930s and affords fabulous views over the lake. Above the pagoda the hill is covered in small walkways linking its numerous Buddhist and Taoist shrines and temples. It’s definitely worth exploring on foot.
Yellow Dragon Cave
On the northern side of Precious Stone Hill, the Yellow Dragon Cave is famous for its never-ending stream of water, which purportedly started spouting from a crevice in the rocks in answer to a monk’s prayer for rain. To celebrate the event a golden dragon was built around the spring. If you time your visit right you can see one of the Shaoxing Opera performances that take place here.
Orioles Singing in Ripples of Willows Garden (Liuyang Wenying). Once the imperial garden, this charming and tranquil park on the southeastern lake shore is surprisingly expansive and is a great place to watch locals passing the time of day, along with some impromptu opera performances. The park’s lengthy name comes from the orioles that used to flutter freely around the gardens – these days they sing from cages!
This sturdy pagoda stands atop a wooded hill at the southern end of the lake and offers excellent sunset vistas. The pagoda was reconstructed in 2002 on the site of the 976 AD original. While the escalator and lift to the top of the pagoda certainly offer easy access to the stunning views, they do little to convey the pagoda’s thousandyear history. For a sense of this, a look around the halls at its base will reveal a miniature silver pagoda, which supposedly contains a lock of Buddha’s hair.
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