Hangzhou, City Along the Qiantang River

At a ‘mere’ 2,200 years old, Hangzhou is among the younger cities in the vast, ancient land of China. Founded by the Qin dynasty, it has long been a favored location of those exploring China’s treasures. Here, Marco Polo found silk to take back to Europe. He also found delightful temples and breathtaking natural scenery.

Hangzhou is located along the Qiantang River only just over 180km from Shanghai. It is connected to Beijing over 1,667km away by the magnificent man-made Grand Canal. There is also the West Lake which curves gently around many of the city’s best sights.

One of the most popular of those is the Ling Yin temple, once the largest Buddhist temple in China. Built during the Jin dynasty that ended in 400 AD, it once housed over 3,000 monks. There are outstanding rock carvings of the Laughing Buddha and caves nearby, along with a stellar view of the mountains.

China’s capital for 100 years in the early 12th to early 13th centuries, it holds a silk museum with treasures that would have been familiar to Marco Polo. But there are modern facilities, too, including audio tours and a bus that takes you right to it.

Here you can see exactly how the fine silks of China are made, what dyes are used and how the weaves are created. There are often live demonstrations to go along with the many artifacts on display.

The Six Harmonies Pagoda is a must for anyone visiting Hangzhou. Located on Yuelun Hill overlooking the river, this 5th century marvel is the epitome of architecture in the city. Its wood and brick are both ancient and unusual, arranged in an octagon almost 200 feet/60m high.

Surrounding the pagoda are numerous gardens with painted animal figures placed carefully about. In the interior is a challenging spiral staircase, a curious zigzag corridor and several small chambers to explore apart from the spacious main area. The seven-story interior is festooned with paintings of birds, flowers and other local elements. In the upper sections visitors can get a spectacular view of the nearby Qiantang River Bridge.

Hangzhou also has some outstanding restaurants to delight and refresh the busy tourist.

The Haveli at 77 Nanshan Rd offers Indian food in an elegant setting. Diners can enjoy a great tandoori chicken while watching the live belly dancers perform. One of the few restaurants with a non-smoking policy, you’ll be able to really taste the dal fry spicy lentil soup.

Another excellent choice is the Hupanju Teahouse at 23 Hubing Rd. Its casual ambiance and waterside location makes for the perfect lunchtime setting. Sited alongside the northeast edge of West Lake, it offers everything from a buffet to some of the best tea in China.

Whether it is natural beauty, ancient architecture or fine dining you seek, you could do no better than to spend a day in Hangzhou before heading on to Shanghai or Beijing.

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