Hangzhou Train St. (城站) – Feilaifeng (飞来峰) – Lingyin Temple (灵隐寺) – Longxiang Qiao (龙翔桥) – Temple God Pavilion (城隍阁) – He Fang St. (河坊街)
Interested in taking a day trip to Hangzhou? Want to make the most of your limited amount of time? The following is a route that encompasses the traditional and the modern highlights from Zhejiang’s capital city.
Start: Hangzhou Train Station - 城战
For this trip to work, it’s important to start at the Hangzhou Train Station (Chengzhan – 城战) – NOT the east station. If you are already in the city, Chengzhan Station is easy to access via line one of the subway.
From Chengzhan, board the Number 7 bus and ride it all the way to the end. Of course there are other places where you can board the bus, not just the train station. There are two reasons I recommend starting at Chengzhan: 1) It’s easy to get a seat which is an asset because the bus can get crowded and 2) The bus follows a route along West Lake so the scenery is lovely to view from the bus window. When you arrive at the last stop, you have arrived at the Lingyin Temple.
Feilaifeng – 飞来峰
The first area of the Lingyin temple is the small mountain called Feilaifeng. To get into the park, tickets cost 45 yuan for adults. (There is a student discount for those with student ID cards from Chinese schools. They do not accept foreign cards, unfortunately.) Aside from the tranquil beauty, the mountain possesses a unique characteristic: images of Buddha are carved into the rock-face. Why are there so many carvings? There’s a local folk tale that explains the mystery:
A monk had a vision that a mountain would fly through the sky and crush the village he lived in and everyone with it. Frantically, he tried to warn the people in the village of the impending doom but no one would listen to him. They had lost their respect for him after years of watching him eat meat and drink alcohol – two actions that are forbidden for monks. Desperate the monk kidnapped a bride from a nearby bridal procession and carried her out of town.
The villagers formed a mob and chased after him. When they caught him they looked back just in time to see the mountain fly overhead and crush their village; just as the monk had foretold. To keep the mountain grounded, the monk instructed the village artisans to carve images of the Buddha into the sides. The event was a sobering experience for the monk who mended his ways and regained the respect of the villagers.
There are short hiking trails along the base and up the sides to the summit. That term is used generously because the mountain is quite small and it’s possible to hike to the top in under an hour. No need to rush, though. Remember to take some time to explore the mountain and find the many and various carvings of Buddha. Once you’ve had your fill of the mountain, the next step is to buy a ticked (30 yuan) for the temple, itself.
Lingyin Temple – 灵隐寺
The name Lingyin translates into English as the “Temple of Soul’s Retreat.” Today it is considered a leading center for research related to Chinese Buddhist culture. The main temple contains one of the largest figures of Buddha in Zhejiang province (24.8 meters/82 feet). This is an active temple, unlike some others in China that serve as tourist attractions. Because of this status, it’s is not uncommon to see monks going about their business or praying. Additionally, you will likely see some visitors praying with lit incense sticks. The clouds of incense smoke can be overwhelming at times but it is easy to break away for some ‘fresh’ air. I suggest branching off to one of the halls along the perimeter of the main temple buildings.
There’s one hall in particular that I encourage people to explore. It is located on the west side of the complex. You’ll know it when you see it because it is filled with golden statues and at the center is another image of Buddha. Wandering around the hall you can see some noteworthy Buddhist ‘saints’ – for lack of a better word. An interesting aspect of this building is the design. You may not realize it as you walk around the winding path inside, but the interior is laid out like a swastika. Don’t be put off by this! In Buddhist tradition, the swastika is a symbol for the wheel of life; a graphic representation of eternity. So the hall is a physical representation of how the saints are eternally connected to the teachings of the Buddha.
Longxiangqiao / West Lake – 龙翔桥/西湖
At this point of the day, you’re probably hungry. Feel free to grab a snack from the vendors on your way out to be bus terminal. Hop back on the number 7 bus and ride all the way back to Dongpo Lu Pinghai Lu Kou stop. You’ll recognize it because you’ll be able to see the Sephora and H&M out the right windows and the Forever 21 out the left. This is the Longxiangqiao area of West Lake. Head south from the bus stop and turn right at the H&M and you’ll see West Lake (just follow the crowds). Of course, if you’re hungry, there are restaurants inside the malls and even further south along Dongpo Lu. Anything from McDonald’s to Japanese food to Hangzhou cuisine is available in this area. Take a moment to sit down and enjoy the sights and sounds of West Lake – usually there are performers scattered along the walkway. This is also a good spot to rent a boat for an hour to go out on the water (boat driver included).
When you’re ready to move on, go back to the Dongpo Lu Pinghai Lu Kou stop you arrived at and board the number 25 bus heading south. This bus will take you to the next major destination: Hefang Street.
Town God Pavilion – 城隍阁
When you get off at the terminal stop, you can see the Town God Pavilion at the top of the hill on your right. It over-looks the city of Hangzhou as well as the West Lake. On a clear day, it makes a killer view for pictures. Before getting sucked in to the shopping frenzy of Hefang Street, hike up to the top of the hill and visit this look out point. It will cost 30 yuan to gain access to the park. Climb the stairs and you will find yourself at the foot of the City Pavilion. On the left of the pavilion is the Town God’s Temple.
Since it lacks an official religion, it’s common to find temples to quasi-deities all over China. It’s not clear if these deities are actively worshiped or if they are simply a symbol of good fortune. Either way, visiting the City God’s Temple will be a different experience from your earlier visit to Lingyin. You can’t miss the giant bell outside the entrance of the temple. Take a moment to ring it – each number holds some significance in Chinese culture so the number of times you ring the bell will bring you different fortune. Just to be safe, ring it three or five times. Never, ever, four. (Four is an unlucky number, in case you didn’t know.) Covering the trees and bell enclosure are red prayer/wish tokens. You can buy one inside the temple for 10 yuan. You can either write your name and wish on the token and leave it at the temple or take it home as a souvenir Christmas ornament or hang it off your rear view mirror. There are some lovely and peaceful courtyards out behind the temple if you want a moment of quiet. (No guarantees the peace will be present if you’re visiting on a holiday.
From the temple you can proceed to the pavilion. This pavilion serves as a mini-museum (first floor) for the tourism department. Take some time and admire the three dimensional mural of Hefang Street as it was during the heyday of the Song Dynasty. The intricate nature of this mural is well worth examining as it depicts the daily life of historical Hangzhou. The pavilion has six levels in total, but only the first and the sixth are necessary to see. The other levels consist of meeting rooms that can be rented for business meetings, wedding parties, etc. If you’re not interested in stairs, you can take the world’s slowest elevator up to the fifth floor and only surmount one flight to the sixth floor/lookout. From the lookout you can see Leifeng Pagoda, West Lake’s Three Reflecting Pools, and even the Stone Pagoda (among other things). Here’s a quick pro tip: if you time it right, this is a great place for sunset photos.
Hefang Street – 河坊街
Descending from the pavilion you will find yourself at the entrance to Hefang Street. This is probably the one stop shop for any and all souvenir shopping. You can buy things that are both unique to Hangzhou and generic to China. More than souvenirs, though, there are interesting antique shops and handicrafts. As with any tourist area, the prices will be slightly higher than other places. But when you think about it, the little bit extra you’re paying covers the convenience of having all these shops in the same place!
There are some noteworthy places scattered throughout Hefang Street. The first is a jade carving showroom. The picture at the entrance is a green jade Buddha and inside you can view art museum quality jade carvings. Large, small, and all of them are beautiful. Then there’s the little haunted house attraction. It’s easy to spot because there’s usually men in costumes beckoning you inside. (Personally, I’ve never been inside because I’m a baby when it comes to scary things – even moderately scary things – so I can’t vouch for the degree of terror it might induce.) If this is something you find entertaining, feel free to check it out. Finally, the original hospital. This large building is still a functioning pharmacy for traditional Chinese medicine. Entering the building you will be greeted with the heavy aroma of herbs. Just like it did in the past, the hospital offers free herbal tea for anyone who comes to visit. You can find the barrel of tea on the right side of the lobby, next to the registration desk.
If you’re hungry, there are plenty of snack and street food options. You’ll likely see the sweet shops with workers pounding out peanut candies with hammers but if you want something substantial you need to walk to the area around McDonald’s. There’s a newer, indoor snack area in the building before you reach McDonald’s and there’s the older, outdoor alley where you can buy local street food. Stinky Tofu and Beggar’s Chicken are the local favorites – the first is easy enough to identify, but the chicken is cooked in lotus leaves and comes wrapped in their charred remains. If street food is not something you find pallet-able, walk a block north to find a variety of indoor restaurants that all offer Hangzhou cuisine.
By now your day should be coming to a close. It’s relatively easy to hail a cab on the streets around Hefang Street but if you have an issue, there is a subway station nearby. Just head north on Dina’An Lu or ask for the Ding’An Lu stop. Using the metro you can return to the Chengzhan Train Station or even depart from the East Train Station.
Those of us at Hangzhou Plus hope that you find this tour useful. If there’s anything more we can add for future tour tutorials, please leave us a comment below so we can continue to provide our readers with quality content. Thanks for reading and enjoy your visit!