Family Travels: Hangzhou

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

“Above is heaven, below is Hangzhou.”

Travelers: Australians Peter and Mandy Jensen, and their kids Ruby (9), Max (7) and Lucy (3).

The Plan: Like most expats keen for a break from Beijing, the Jensens travelled to Hangzhou for fresh air and stunning scenery. They ended up staying three nights in the mountains at Moganshan and one night in Hangzhou.

Life on the lake: Often shrouded in mist, Hangzhou is known as the most beautiful city in China and is one of the country’s seven ancient capitals, shrouded in mystifying names like Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds and Listening to Oriole Singing in Willows. The family loved a boat ride on West Lake to the exact spot featured on the one yuan note – Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island – an island within a lake and lakes within an island. Various boats run continuously across the lake for a small fee, and cruises are available to visit the Three Pools and other locales. The octagonal Six Harmonies Pagoda has fine views over Hangzhou and the Qian Tang River. Be sure to stop at the myriad of restaurants and tea houses on the south-east shores. Walk or cycle across the lake via the Su Causeway from the north at Spanning Rainbow Bridge south to Wave Reflection Bridge.

Older Kids: Famed for its silk and tea, teens will love Qing He Fang Street – reminiscent of the Southern Song Dynasty and jam-packed with local handicrafts and a fat gold Buddha statue at the eastern end of the street. Bargain hard. The China National Silk Museum showcases China’s 5000-year-long silk history and the China Tea Museum is a fascinating stop for moms and dads.

Smaller Kids: The Hangzhou Aquarium has over 250 types of marine life and the longest coral tunnel in China (49 Nanshan Road, 571 8706 9500, 60RMB, open 8:15am - 5pm daily). Go to the Botanical Gardens and take the kids to see the monstrous carp then have an authentic Hangzhou lunch at the famous Shan Wai Shan restaurant next door (8 Yuquan Road, inside the Gardens).

For the Soul: Ling Yin Temple (Temple of Soul's Retreat) is one of the ten most famous Buddhist temples in China, featuring an impressive collection of Buddhist carvings, delicately structured gardens and saffron-colored temples. Book a round-trip to the temple – lurking taxis charge tourists triple the fare to get back to town (30RMB, open 5am-6pm daily).

Good Eating: Local specialties include Beggar's Chicken and West Lake Fish in Sweet Sour Source. Sample the world-famous Longjing Tea, available (in varying shades of quality) everywhere or visit Dragon Well Tea Village, surrounded by plantations. If you’re all tea’d-out, there’s a Starbucks lakeside off Nan Shan road.

Where to Rest: The Shangri-La, right on the lake, features a terrace restaurant with lake views, an indoor swimming pool and bicycle rentals with options for kids including baby seats (from 1,250RMB double room, tel 571 8797 7951,

Mountain Retreat: One of the highlights of the family’s trip was walking through bamboo and tea fields in the mountains around Moganshan. Originally a destination for well-to-do Shanghai-ren wanting to escape the summer heat, this series of small hotels are housed in private villas.
The Jensens rented out Yi Yuan Villa (house “92”) with friends, enjoying staff who cooked home-style meals, fabulous English breakfasts and hot chocolates by the fire. Mandy also recommends house number 21 (60km north of Hangzhou, website has comprehensive details on getting there, rates vary, 0572 803 3011
First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website. Photos by Tania McCartney.

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