Hangzhou: China’s Rising Star

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Hefang Street. (Melissa Bryant)
Hefang Street. (Melissa Bryant)

The word on everyone’s lips and travel bucket lists this year is Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province’s capital city where jaw-dropping natural scenery and well-preserved cultural sites are inspiring North American travelers to explore outside of Beijing and Shanghai and into this timeless Chinese retreat.

Long revered by artists and poets for its idyllic West Lake, Hangzhou’s present-day vacation appeal goes back to 2006, when the city was awarded the designation of “Oriental Capital of Leisure” by the international NGO World Leisure Organization.

For convenient one-stop shopping for you, and seamless travel for clients, book the destination through veteran tour operator Goway Travel as an extension—the 14-day China Odyssey with Hangzhou Extension itinerary ($3,399 pp including air from Los Angeles on Cathay Pacific or Korean Air) samples Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and The Great Wall—or, as a standalone tour—the 4-day Hangzhou West Lake itinerary ($479 pp land only) visits Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou’s oldest Buddhist temple; Flying Peak, a craggy limestone formation with hundreds of stone carvings; and the Meijiawu Tea Plantation, renowned for its Longjing green tea.

Tip: Confer with Goway at least three months prior to your client’s departure on how they can properly secure a Chinese Tourist Visa through the Chinese Embassy or the company’s third-party partner CIBTvisas. Keep in mind that Goway clients receive discounts off CIBTvisas’ service fees.

Which Way to Paradise
Accessible by plane or 50-minute high-speed train from Shanghai, scenic Hangzhou spans 6,407 sq. miles (the city proper covers approximately 1,882 sq. miles) in a prized locality hugging China’s southeastern coast. If your clients opt for the Hangzhou West Lake itinerary, know that Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH) serves flights on 166 air routes and recently picked up a thrice-weekly nonstop service from San Francisco via United Airlines.

The sheer beauty of Hangzhou with its scenic causeways, tree-lined avenues and plentiful gardens has drawn domestic tourists to the waterside city for years. In recent years, Hangzhou has garnered international recognition and significant wealth through its budding tech industry (Hangzhou is home to Chinese Internet giant Alibaba), which has translated into the city’s increasingly sophisticated accommodations options. I stayed in the five-star Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake (starting at $112 per night) situated along the banks of West Lake near the Xihu Tiandi shopping and leisure complex. The hotel’s rooftop Sky Garden overlooking the misty mountains flanking West Lake offered equally as impressive views as that from below. Inside, guests will find 233 elegantly furnished guestrooms, two restaurants, two bars, an indoor pool and a Balinese-inspired spa.

Hungry in Hangzhou
My group delved into Hangzhou, chopsticks first, with a visit to a 90-year-old restaurant for lunch. Our local guide Aaron, a young university grad with an encyclopedic lexicon, ordered a buffet of regional dishes, while we chowed down on delicious dumplings and fish balls in excited anticipation for what was to come next. The highlight of our meal, Hangzhou’s famous beggar’s chicken, made a grand entrance in a hardened lotus leaf cocoon and was revealed to us once our waiter cracked open its shell with a mallet. After lunch, we opted for an evening stroll along West Lake, feasting our eyes on the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site bordered by a dramatic dark blue sky.

Goway’s China Odyssey with Hangzhou Extension itinerary includes most meals, while the Hangzhou West Lake itinerary
only includes breakfast and lunch. Clients can ask their local guide for dinner suggestions in the city, which will most likely include the Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake’s posh Jin Sha restaurant specializing in fine Shanghainese, Cantonese and traditional cuisine.

Entertainment From A to “Tea”
A trip to Hangzhou wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the city’s much-celebrated tea culture. At the Meijiawu Tea Plantation nestled in the verdant hills surrounding West Lake, I sipped a warm cup of Longjing Tea in a private back room while a tea guru explained, and demonstrated, the miraculous qualities of this antioxidant-rich beverage employed by Buddhist monks before meditation. Pouring an iodine tincture into a cup of water and rice grains (a metaphor for our stomach and the foods we ingest), we watched as the murky glass almost instantaneously decolorized with the addition of fresh brewed green tea.

The theme of tea carried over onto Hefang Street, a lively pedestrian street dotted with silk, bonsai and Chinese craft shops. Here, we veered off the stone-paved path into the Zhu Bingren Bronze Art Museum, an opulent building adorned with decorative doors, windows, roof, pillars and furniture made of bronze. Hefang Street also houses the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum. After tracing the history of this ancient practice through the museums’ five sections, we headed over to the shop and watched as workers feverishly packed prescriptions for patients, pulling various herbal ingredients from stacks of drawers at breakneck speed.

Traveling by private, air-conditioned van, which provided some respite from the humidity and sporadic rain showers, our last stop of the day was well off the beaten path at the Songcheng amusement park. Although we were there for “The Romance of the Song Dynasty” show, a large-scale theatrical performance depicting Hangzhou’s history and legends through song, dance and acrobatics, I couldn’t resist participating in the park’s “Wipeout”-esque water obstacle course beforehand, where I leapt across floating lily pads in front of a crowd of curious onlookers.

Contact Information
Goway Travel: goway.com