The Chinese have a saying: 上有天堂，下有苏杭. The saying translates as “Heaven is the paradise above, and Suzhou and Hangzhou are the paradises on Earth.”
The quote may sound a bit like an exaggeration at first, but after visiting both places, I think that there is definitely some truth to the saying. Hangzhou and Suzhou are quite beautiful, and much of the natural landscape has been carefully preserved.
This top 5 list of sites is arranged in no particular order, as I believe that all the sites are worth seeing.
1) Xi Hu (West Lake, Hangzhou)
Xi Hu is known for its picturesque aura, and is notably the location which is most closely associated with Hangzhou. Known to inspire painters and poets throughout the ages, the lake is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 2011. Much of the natural area surrounding the lake has been preserved, and essentially untouched by modernization. The best time to visit is in the spring, when much of the flora found near the lake is in bloom. Economical boat tours that cross Xi Hu can also be arranged if one would like a better view of the surrounding temples and landscape.
2) Shizi Yuanlin (Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou)
Along with various other classical gardens in Suzhou, Shizi Yuanlin is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The classical gardens are often regarded as the finest examples of Chinese garden design. Shizi Yuanlin includes many pavilions and halls, all exemplary of Chinese architecture. Each pavilion and hall also has interesting names. My favorites are “Standing in Snow Hall” and “Pavilion for Greeting Plum Blossoms.”
3) Yunyansi Pagoda (Tiger Hill Pagoda, Suzhou)
China’s “leaning tower of Pisa” was completed in the second year of the Song Dynasty, thus predating the tower in Italy. Rising to a height of roughly 154 feet, the seven story tower has gradually tilted to one side due to natural reasons. Although it is presently forbidden for people to enter the pagoda, the surrounding garden is equally majestic, with various bridges, halls, and religious rooms for one to enjoy.
Wuzhen is a bit like the Chinese version of Venice. Having roughly only 60,000 residents, Wuzhen would otherwise be a quaint and quiet scenic town – except for the fact that tons of tourists pour in when the weather is nice, as Wuzhen is relatively close in proximity to Hangzhou. Wuzhen has a rich craftsmanship culture, and one can buy or admire the sculptures or artwork from the various stands sprinkled throughout the town. Many stone bridges link the pathways of Wuzhen together, much in the same way that stone bridges link pathways in Venice. Also, one can pay for a short boat ride down Wuzhen’s Canal. It may not be as romantic as being in a gondola, but it’s still a relaxing way to see Wuzhen.
5) Song Cheng (Hangzhou)
For those wondering what sort of theme parks China has, you may like to visit Song Cheng, a east-meets-west type of amusement park. Everything in Song Cheng looks “real” (as in looks ancient) at first glance, but is essentially “artificial” – constructed for the enjoyment of the modern person. There are no roller-coasters or rides of any sort, but you will find live performances (some require an extra fee aside from the entrance fee), a haunted house, a street full of stalls that contain optical illusions for photo ops, a house of mirrors, a Buddhist cave-like area (“Buddha Mountain”) where one can experience ‘mental illusions’, and lots of overpriced food. Some consider Song Cheng to be an eyesore, but others find it to be wholesome family fun – it all depends on perspective.
That’s all for now! I hope you look forward to the next article in my series! 再見!