Thursday, December 22, 2011


Hailed as one of the top tourist spots in China, (西湖) Xīhú (pronounced shee-hoo), also known in English as West Lake, has been immortalized and praised for centuries by countless poets and artists. It is located in the city of Hangzhou (pronounced hang-joe), the capital of Zhejiang province and once the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty from 1127-1276. Imagine, at that time, Hangzhou was said to have already as much as 1 million people! That would make it the largest city in the world back then. But most of all, it was known for its natural landscapes, incredible beauty and its famous West Lake. Since June 2011, the West Lake Cultural Landscape has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveler was the first Westerner to ever visit Hangzhou at the end of the 13th century. He marveled at the city’s beauty and described it immensely in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, a Description of the World. He describes Hangzhou as “the City of Heaven, beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world.”

A Pavilion on Hangzhou's West Lake

Of the city’s West Lake, Marco Polo wrote:

“On one side it skirts the city… and commands a distant view of all its grandeur and loveliness, its temples, monasteries, and gardens with their towering trees, running down to the water’s edge. On the lake itself is the endless procession of barges thronged with pleasure-seekers… their minds and thoughts are intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures and the delights of society.”

West Lake Sunset, Hangzhou
These 2 photos were taken by my father-in-law back in 2009.
Among the West Lake’s many attractions are Leifeng Pagoda, the Mid-Lake Pavilion, Su Causeway, and Baochu Pagoda. Just walking around its circumference (which takes about 2-3 hours leisurely) will enable you to see the lake's best sights while also admiring the many hotels, restaurants, and cafes that surround the area. 


One thing you can't miss while visiting Hangzhou is the Impression West Lake show held every night with the West Lake as its magnificent backdrop. It is directed by celebrated Chinese director, Zhang Yimou (the man behind the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies). I went to see it back in October 2009 when Marc and I were still living in the city. 

One of the amazing light spectacles at the IMPRESSION WEST LAKE show
It was a spectacle like nothing I've ever seen before. Filled with colorful lights, moving music, dance choreography and amazing theatrics, Impression West Lake tells the story of the legend of the lake based on an old Hangzhou tale. Based on a poignant love story, the show was breathtaking and I would not hesitate to see it a second time. So, definitely, this is something not to be missed. The show is performed nightly except during the winter months. Try to come in spring, summer, or early autumn. Your hotel in Hangzhou can help you book tickets to the show.

Impression West Lake Show Website: 


Hangzhou is easy to get to being one of the cities conveniently located close to Shanghai. Taking the CRH high-speed G Train from Shanghai to Hangzhou takes only 50 minutes non-stop (US$12). Hangzhou is usually a top weekend escape for expatriates living in Shanghai and a rising tourist city for travelers around the world.