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Throwback Thursday: Hangzhou, China

July 4, 2013

I’ve appropriated the recent social media rage #throwbackthursday to start a new weekly series!  Throwback Thursdays share pictures and information from some of my earlier travels between 2007 and 2010 that have yet to make it onto this site.  After a long blogging hiatus, this series is to catch you, my readers, up on these past travels, while using the rest of the blog to recount my more recent trips.

After living in Shanghai for a month, my first trip outside the city was to Hangzhou in September 2009.  Hangzhou is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in China, and its famous West Lake and many green spaces live up to that reputation.

A fellow English teacher and I arrived by train in the late afternoon.  After settling into our hostel, we walked over to one of Hangzhou’s nearby night markets where we grabbed dinner and explored the many food and souvenir stalls.  Then, we decided to call it an early night and get some rest in preparation for our jam-packed itinerary the next day.

Lingyin Temple

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Our first stop the next morning was the Lingyin Temple about 2 km outside the city.  This massive complex (known as the Lingyin Feilai Feng Scenic Area) includes a monastery, several temple halls, and the Feilai grottoes.

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The monastery was founded in the 4th century, and the main temple is believed to have been rebuilt at least 16 times.  The current structures in the complex are recent reconstructions and restorations of late-Qing Dynasty (19th-century) buildings.

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After purchasing tickets and entering the complex, visitors first come to the Feilai grottoes.  Many sculptures have been carved directly into the limestone rocks that make up the grottoes.  These figures are in quite high-relief and include various Buddha and Bodhisattva  characters.  My favorite was the famous laughing Buddha with attendants, which reminded me of a large bronze Buddha statue that I used to rub for good luck as a kid at a Chinese restaurant in my hometown.

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Large screen with Guanyin statue in Grand Hall of the Great Sage.

After passing through the grottoes, stairs advance up several tiers and lead to the Lingyin Temple’s 5 halls: the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, Grand Hall of the Great Sage, Hall of the Medicine Buddha, Huayan Hall, and Hall of the 500 Arhats.  The architecture of the halls and the sculptures housed within were some of the most interesting and unique I’ve seen in China.

China National Tea Museum

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Next, we headed further outside of town to the China National Tea Museum.  Hangzhou is famous for Longjing (Dragon Well) tea, a type of green tea cultivated in the area.

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View from our lunch spot and a cup of Longjing tea.

Getting off the bus near the museum, we began searching for a place to get a bit of lunch and were immediately bombarded by a very friendly Chinese woman who insisted that we come eat at her “restaurant.”  Normally, I am put off by or wary of such attention, but her effusiveness won us over.  Soon we were sitting at a table on the upstairs balcony of her house sipping Longjing tea and looking over the small town and tea plantations as we awaited our meal.

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After lunch, we headed to the museum.  The museum was opened in 1991, and its exhibition halls tell about the history, making, and ceremony of tea.  However, the highlight of our visit was walking among the tea leaves around the tea plantations that surround the museum.

Leifeng Pagoda

Returning to town after our adventure in the Hangzhou “suburbs,” we made a beeline for the Leifeng Pagoda where we wanted to watch the sunset over the West Lake from one of the observation decks.

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With air conditioning, escalators, and a giant glass elevator, this is perhaps China’s most “advanced” pagoda.  It was originally built in the late 10th century, but was entirely reconstructed in 2002.  Visitors can see the original foundation of the pagoda which has been excavated and preserved inside on the lower level.

Going up the pagoda provides gorgeous views of Hangzhou during the day or at night, and the pagoda itself is rather beautiful lit up after sunset.

West Lake

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Finally, the West Lake is perhaps Hangzhou’s most famous sight, and that evening we experienced it though the Impression West Lake Show.

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After a dinner of traditional Hangzhou fare, including beggar’s chicken and West Lake vinegar fish, we headed to the lakefront to take our seats.  Impression is a theatrical and musical performance that takes place on the West Lake, and the music and actors’ movements recount local Hangzhou legends about the Lake.  The show includes many special effects involving water and lights and was put together by the team that organized the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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The next day we returned to the lake to walk around the trails and relax on the many benches overlooking the water.  We even took a small boat out to enjoy the view from the lake itself.

All too soon, it was time to catch our train back to Shanghai.  Though my time in Hangzhou was brief, it remains one of the favorite places I’ve visited in China.  It is a quick ride from Shanghai and the perfect respite from the urban sprawl and busy streets of China’s larger cities.

Have you ever been to Hangzhou?  What was your favorite part?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Susan klepper permalink
    July 11, 2013 11:10 am

    I love seeing China thru your photos and dialogue. I am so proud of you being able to travel and report on the vibrant history of Asia and China. Happy Travels! Aunt Susan

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