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Beautiful West Lake

by Caren

Beautiful West Lake is located in Hangzhou, China, about an hour outside of Shanghai by train. It is an easy day trip or overnight trip while you¡¯re visiting Shanghai. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, West Lake is home of the iconic Chinese garden scenery that has been replicated in gardens around the world. West Lake is known for 20 attractions, the Top Ten Scenes of the West Lake and the New Top Ten Scenes of the West Lake. These attractions were originally intended to show the seasonal beauty of West Lake and thus many are only visible at specific times of year. However, there is plenty to see year round at one of the most beautiful lakes we¡¯ve ever visited.

West Lake is a large area with scenic views and elements of a traditional Chinese landscape everywhere you look. It will take you all day to walk around West Lake if you stop to take photos, but this is really the best way to see the beautiful scenery of West Lake. You can also take a boat to one of the islands on the lake, rent a bike, hire a rowboat, or jump on one of the many golf carts you¡¯ll see traveling around the lake, playing a little tune to warn passengers out of their way. Cabs are notoriously hard to flag down at night and will play hard ball in negotiating a fare with you, if you¡¯re even able to communicate with the driver. You¡¯re best off having your hotel or restaurant call a cab for you and writing down your destination in Chinese characters. Buses are easy enough to take, but don¡¯t expect queues to be followed. You will have to join the herd and force your way on if there¡¯s a crowd.

Getting Around West Lake

One of the mythologies surrounding West Lake is the Legend of Lady White Snake, which I have previously written about here. Knowing the story of Lady White Snake will make your travels to West Lake and to China more meaningful as this legend is an enduring theme in Chinese art, music and culture, not just on the mainland but throughout the Chinese diaspora. The story goes that one of the 8 Immortals disguises himself as a vendor selling food on the Broken Bridge at West Lake. A young man named Xu Xian buys some, not knowing that the portion he bought is actually immortality pills. He doesn¡¯t eat anything else for the next three days so he returns to the vendor to find out why he isn¡¯t hungry. The Immortal turns him upside down so that the pills fall into the lake. A white spirit snake in the lake swallows the pills and becomes immortal. The white snake turns itself into a beautiful woman to return the favor to Xu Xian. She befriends a green spirit snake who also turns into a woman going by the name Xiaoqing. Together they go to the Broken Bridge to find Xu Xian. A romance between Lady White Snake, who is now going by the name Bai Suzhen, and Xu Xian begins. He does not realize she is an immortal spirit snake. Eventually the two get married and have a son.

The Legend of Lady White Snake

Leifeng Pagoda, where Lady White Snake was imprisoned for 20 years, according to legend.

Xu Mengjiao greets his parents, Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, after Bai Suzhen is released from Leifeng pagoda.

Meanwhile, a jealous turtle spirit has developed enough magical power to transform into a human as well. He transforms into a monk and names himself Fahai. He tricks Bai Suzhen into drinking wine that causes her to reveal her true form to Xu Xian. Poor Xu Xian dies of shock, but Bai Suzhen is able to bring him back to life. Angry that his plan has been thwarted, Fahai locks Xu Xian up in Jinshan Temple. He manages to escape so Fahai retaliates by locking up Bai Suzhen in Leifeng Pagoda. She remains there for 20 years until her old friend the green spirit snake has gained enough power to defeat Fahai and free Lady White Snake.


Leifeng Pagoda

Leifeng Pagoda is one of the most iconic images of West Lake.

Leifeng Pagoda is visible from all around the lake and is lit up at night. If you view of the pagoda with the sun setting behind it, with orange hues surrounding, you have seen of the Top Ten Scenes of West Lake.

You can enter Leifeng Pagoda daily. The pagoda is not the original, which collapsed in 1924 but was rebuilt in 2002 over the original foundation, which you will see as you enter. This is a very modern structure with an outdoor escalator to the base and elevators to the top. Once there, you will have magnificent views of the West Lake. Be sure to walk down and check out the carvings of the Legend of Lady White Snake, as well as numerous Buddhist images and traditional Chinese paintings.


Fei Lai Feng (Peak Flown From Afar)

Fei Lai Feng, or Peak Flown From Afar, is a gorgeous limestone mountain located next to Ling Yin Temple near West Lake. Hundreds of Buddhas are carved into the mountain, along with a number of animals. The mountain is called Peak Flown From Afar because an Indian monk from the nearby temple believed that the carvings were done in India as the mountain reminded him of his home and that the mountain then transported into Hangzhou.

There¡¯s so much to see at West Lake. For a short day trip, just walking around the lake and taking in the scenery is a fun way to spend the day. Jump on a boat to one of the islets and explore. If you have a little more time, explore the sites I mentioned above: Leifeng Pagoda, Fei Lai Feng and Ling Yin Temple. Given the chance, we would both love to return to West Lake and explore some more of its natural beauty.

If You Plan to Visit West Lake:
¡¤ Hangzhou is about 45 minutes by train from Shanghai.
¡¤ You can flag down the golf carts like you would a cab. The driver will charge you based on how far you travel. ¡¤ A round-trip ride is 40 yuan per person.
¡¤ Ling Yin Temple and Fei Lai Feng are on the same property, but require two separate entrance fees. Ling Yin Temple costs 30 yuan per person. Fei Lai Feng costs 45 yuan per person. Take bus Y2 or 7 from the northern portion of the lake.
¡¤ Leifeng Pagoda is in the southern portion of West Lake and costs 40 yuan per person to enter.

Source: East West Love Story

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