City in China: Zhejiang浙江
Providing a diversity of travel opportunities for its size, Zhejiang Province is one of China's wealthiest city, from busy ports to tranquil river towns, rugged mountains and jungles to waterway-etched urban landscapes.
Former imperial capital of the Song Dynasty, Hangzhou is the major draw of the province with its urban sprawl broken by the romantic willow-lined West Lake (Xi Hu). Long considered one of the most beautiful places in China, it shares this reputation in the minds of Westerners since Marco Polo visited during the 13th Century, describing it as "the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world." While the Hangzhou seen by Marco Polo has been lost to time and the Taiping Rebellion, the Chinese maxim still fits: "In heaven, paradise; on earth Hangzhou and Suzhou."
Though parts still resemble any other second-tier Chinese city, West Lake dominates the southwestern part of Hangzhou giving it an altogether different character. A famous retreat and spot of beauty dating back far into Chinese history, the area around the lake is dotted with historic spots like former imperial vacation spot Solitary Hill (Gu Shan),
Lingyin Temple atop Feilai Feng and Liuhe Pagoda along the Qiantang River. Tea is also a major part of the cultural heritage of Hangzhou, known as the home of famous "Dragon Well" or "Longjing" tea. Because the water used to brew the tea is considered integral to the process as well, the Longjing Tea Plantation pulls its name from its renowned well while Running Tiger Dream Spring owes its fame to the quality of its water (and possibly its fantastic origin story).
A few hours by bus or train from Hangzhou, Ningbo was once the area's major port before the rise of Shanghai. The Old Bund (Lao Waitan), now full of bars and restaurants occupying historic and faux-historic buildings left from its time as the city's foreign concession, predates Shanghai's famous Bund while Tianyi Pavilion is one of the oldest libraries in Asia. Since its connection to Shanghai via the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, Ningbo has seen dramatic commercial growth, though with a continued interest in maintaining the character of areas like beautiful Moon Lake, a historic area of tea houses, restaurants and gardens.
Just north of Ningbo, Beilun still serves as an important deepwater port in the region and jumping off point to Putuo Shan, an island home to one of China's Buddhist holy mountains. The largely car-free island is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Guanyin as evidenced by the massive Nanhai Guanyin statue that looks out over the sea from the island's shore. Temples like the Fayu Temple dot the hilly island along paths winding beneath green tree canopies.
Putuo Shan is just one of the Zhoushan Islands off the Ningbo coast. Though Putuo Shan is not, many of the others are now connected to the mainland via a series of bridges.
Escape from the urban cacophony of China's bustling eastern cities exist on the mainland as well—the Tianhe Scenic Area abounds in natural beauty, cragged peaks, caves and waterfalls. From Ningbo, the quiet shores of Dongqian Lake are about an hour away. The lush, green slopes of Mogan Shan—a once-exclusive summer retreat for Shanghai's elite—still provide a cool, natural escape from the muggy heat radiating off of the bustling Shanghai streets.
Radiating from the Grand Canal north of Hangzhou as well as the myriad rivers and waterways that crisscross Zhejiang are a number of pristine watertowns that hold out as examples of traditional Chinese communities even as they evolve to meet the demands of the modern world. Like Suzhou in Jiangsu, but somewhat more successfully, ancient Shaoxing has sought to not lose the charm of its traditional homes lining serene canals.
Despite being home to China Textile City, one of the largest textile markets in the world, the past is remembered and preserved in areas like the residence of Lu Xun, one of China's most famous twentieth century writers. Another of China's famous writers, Mao Dun, also came from one of Zhejiang's prosperous river towns, Wuzhen. A somewhat unknown gem among its kind, Wuzhen is like a town-size museum. With boat rides. Along with Nanxun, and a number of Jiangsu's river towns, Wuzhen received a UNESCO Asian-Pacific Heritage Award for its preservation of traditional architecture.
西湖xīhú: West Lake
上有天堂下有苏杭shànɡ yǒu tiān tánɡ, xià yǒu sū hánɡ: In heaven, paradise; on earth Hangzhou and Suzhou
钱塘江qián tánɡ jiānɡ: Qiantang River
龙井lónɡ jǐnɡ: Longjing
鲁迅Lǔxùn: Lu Xun, a writer in China
矛盾Máodùn: Mao Dun, a writer in China