I think it may take several weekends to exhaust all that Hangzhou offers as a weekend destination! Our second weekend in the old capital included, for us, very different experiences than weekend #1. We were excited to see the sites around Hangzhou’s famous West Lake and to explore some of well-known temples. While weekend #1 focused more on hiking and nature, weekend #2 allowed us to explore more of the urban highlights of the city.
According to poets and emperors from ancient China (dating all the way back to 500-600 CE), Hangzhou’s beauty is second only to the divine beauty of heaven. With its lakes, gardens and tea fields, it’s easy to see how this reputation developed.
Our weekend began with a morning at Lingyin Temple 灵隐寺. First, after we arrived at the entrance and paid our small fee (30 RMB for the temple area), we wandered slowly to explore the grottoes on the temple grounds . These were founded in 328 CE by monk Hui Li; there are hundreds of buddhas carved into rock faces in grottoes leading to the temple, and it’s nice to take your time admiring and exploring.
The temple itself is large one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China. Dating back to 326 CE (wow!), there is a main temple as well as smaller temples, the ancient stone carvings and grottoes, plus stupas that are considered cultural treasures. Link here for more information about Lingyin Temple’s history and layout: http://en.lingyinsi.org.
The entire site will take approximately 3-4 hours to explore, depending on how much time you take to explore the temples and pavilions in the hillside above the primary temple. We enjoyed walking up the trail to enjoy the views over Hangzhou and some really lovely small temples and forested areas.
In the afternoon, as rain set in, we made our way to the Silk Museum (http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/index_en.aspx) and spent over two hours wandering through the excellent exhibits. We learned so much about silk production in China and its key role in establishing China’s place in the ancient world of trade. The Silk Road, with its implications for Chinese emperors and leaders and businessmen, is explained in depth, and numerous examples of ancient pieces of silk embroidery depict the rich history of this art in China.
Upon exiting the museum, we discovered that when it pours rain in Hangzhou, traffic comes to a standstill and taxis are impossible to find. So, wet feet ready for more adventures, we walked back across the 5-kilometer causeway across the lake to head back to our hotel and a warm dinner.
Day #2 on our weekend jaunt from Shanghai focused on West Lake itself (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/hangzhou/attractions/west-lake/a/poi-sig/473520/356175_). We enjoyed a morning boat tour of the lake, complete with wandering around some of the small islands and taking selfie photos with the famous “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon” pagodas which is featured on the back of the 1 yuan banknote. In the afternoon, we made our way to the Qinghefang Ancient Street, where we sampled local snacks and teas. As evening fell, the lights came on and the scene became even more charming. Here’s a link to some information about the ancient street: http://www.visithangzhou.com/cmarterca67.html?doc=1097&node=962.
This time we stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel right on West Lake because we wanted to stay in that area and also splurge a bit on a nice hotel. While we had a nice experience here, I'm not sure this particular Shangri-La location lives up to our experiences at others in the chain.
After our second weekend in Hangzhou, we know we need to come back and do even more exploring. Thank goodness it’s only a 50-minute train ride from Shanghai!