China Attractions: West Lake Hangzhou
West Lake 西湖
West Lake (Xi Hu) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is a large freshwater lake located in the historic center of the city.
Originally a marshy lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River, the lake is about 3km in length from top to bottom and from side to side. Strolling the lakeside offers classical vistas of pagodas, bridges, fishing boats and stunning scenery.
West Lake is heavy with literary and historic associations. Marco Polo spoke of his "pleasure" at seeing the lake for the first time; the poet Su Dongpo, who built the Su Causeway (Su Di), personified the lake as a young woman.
The two ancient causeways in the lake - the Bai Causeway and the Su Causeway - were built in the 9th and 11th centuries respectively.
Bai Di is the shorter of the two causeways at about 1500m and runs roughly east west along the northern shore of West Lake. The artificial island of Gu Shan remains as a pleasure garden developed by the Qing dynasty Emperor, Qianlong. Part of the palace is now Zhejiang Provincial Museum set in Zhongshang Park.
The longer 2.6km Su Di causeway is so called after the Song dynasty poet-governor Su Dongpo, who dredged the lake to help the area's fisherman and built the causeway from the resulting mud and silt. Su Di runs from the south west corner of the lake to the northern shore. Highlights of this tree-lined causeway are the views of Santanyinyue (Xiaoying Island) - an island with three stone pagodas off its shores that keep the evil spirits of the lake in check.
The lake and causeways are excellent for strolling or cycling on a rental bicycle.
Highlights on the lake shore are the impressive Leifeng Pagoda and Jingci Temple at the southern end of the lake near Xizhao Hill, the seven-story Baoshu Pagoda on the northern side and Hangzhou Botanical Gardens to the west. The West Lake Hillview Hotel and the Shangri-La Hotel are both convenient for Xi Hu.
The main Hangzhou Station is to the east of the lake with a direct service to Beijing (16 hours). Shanghai is around two hours by train. It is possible to travel by boat from Hangzhou to Suzhou along the Grand Canal.
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