Lingyin Temple (Lingyin Si)
Located in the lush hills just west of West Lake, Lingyin Si (Temple of the Soul's Retreat) has been rebuilt a dozen times since its creation in A.D. 326. Don't expect to find much peace here, though, as the surrounding area seems to have been turned into one large amusement park. Entrance to the whole complex (7am-5:30pm) costs ¥35, while entrance to the temple itself is a separate ¥30.
The main attraction on the way to the temple is a limestone cliff, called Feilai Feng (Peak That Flew from Afar), so named because it resembles a holy mountain in India seemingly transported to China. The peak, nearly 150m high (492 ft.), contains four caves and about 380 Buddhist rock carvings. The most famous carving is of a Laughing Buddha from the year A.D. 1000. Scholars have deemed these stone carvings the most important of their kind in southern China.
The present temple buildings go back decades rather than centuries. The main Daxiong Baodian (Great Hall) contains a gigantic statue of Buddha carved in 1956 from 24 sections of camphor and gilded with nearly 3,000 grams (106 oz.) of gold -- the largest sitting Buddha in China, and not a bad modern re-creation.
If you want to get away from the crowds, farther west along the pathway past Lingyin Si is a quieter pretty temple, Yongfu Si (Temple of Goodness), set amidst groves of bamboo and willow. A climb to the Daxiong Baodian (Grand Hall) at the top allows wonderful views of the surrounding hills and even glimpses of West Lake on a clear day. More exalted views are available at two other temples even higher up, Taoguang Guanhai Si, and the 1,600-year-old Lingshun Si, often known as Caishen Miao (Temple of Wealth) which sits atop Beigao Feng (North Peak Mountain). It's a fairly strenuous climb to the top, or you can take the cable car from behind Lingyin Si, the preferred transportation of the crowds who ascend the mountain to pray for wealth and good fortune. For a relaxing end to the visit, follow the Lingyi Si thoroughfare west past Yongfu Si (you've now left the Lingyin Si scenic area) into Fayun Cun (Fayun Village), formerly home to villagers who worked the surrounding tea fields, and now part of the Amanfayun hotel complex, complete with restored original village dwellings. A tea house here offers tea for sampling and for sale.
Dragon Well Tea Village (Longjing Wencha)
West of West Lake is the village of Longjing (Dragon Well), the source of Hangzhou's famous Longjing tea, grown only on these hillsides and revered throughout China as a supreme vintage for its fine fragrance and smoothness. The best tea here is still picked and processed by hand. A popular stop near the village is the Zhongguo Chaye Bowuguan (Chinese Tea Museum) (tel. 0571/8796-4221), open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Here, you can comb through the extensive displays of Chinese teas, pots, cups, and ceremonial tea implements. Admission is free.
Dragon Well Village itself, a few miles beyond the museum, is where much of the tea is grown and processed. Independent travelers are sometimes accosted by local farmers who will invite them into their homes, ply them with tea, and sell them a few pounds at inflated prices. This can actually be a good opportunity to buy this relatively expensive vintage at the source if you know how to bargain. The highest grade Xi Hu Longjing tea retails in Hangzhou's stores for around ¥68 to ¥88 per 50 grams (2 oz.), so aim for a price well below that. It also helps if you are or are with a tea connoisseur, as vendors may sometimes try to pass off last year's vintage as the most recent. Caveat emptor!
China Silk Museum (Zhongguosichou Bowuguan)
Though Suzhou may be better known as a silk capital, Hangzhou, too, produced its share of this much-sought-after commodity. This large, modern museum south of West Lake boasts a surprisingly comprehensive exhibit on the history and art of silk weaving and embroidery. Displays range from mulberry bushes and silkworms to traditional looms and exquisite pieces of damask brocades, all well annotated in English. There are demonstrations of traditional weaving techniques as well. The museum is located at Yuhuang Shan Lu 73-1 (tel. 0571/8706-2129) and is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm; free admission.
Chinese Medicine Museum (Qing Hefang/Huqingyutang Zhongyao Bowuguan)
Located east of West Lake in downtown Hangzhou, Qing Hefang Lishi Jie (Qing Hefang Historical Street) has been the commercial center of Hangzhou since the late 6th century. Restored in 2001 with Ming and Qing dynasty-style buildings, this pedestrian mall has your usual quota of teahouses, restaurants, specialty stores, and also a few small museums. The most interesting of the lot is the Huqingyutang Chinese Medicine Museum on Dajing Xiang (tel. 0571/8701-5379). Established in 1874 by a rich merchant, Hu Xueyan, the original apothecary, housed in a traditional courtyard mansion, has a striking dispensary hall with Chinese lanterns, and finely carved wooden pillars and brackets. Cubicle drawers along the walls contain an assortment of herbs, leaves, barks, seeds, and roots, much of which is on display in the many rooms that follow. There's also a large collection of stuffed animals whose parts are valued for their particular curative properties, such as leopard bone or the oil of the fur seal; this last section is best avoided by animal lovers or PETA advocates. There are English explanations throughout. The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is ¥10.
Six Harmonies Pagoda (Liu He Ta)
Situated on Yuelun Hill above the Qiantang River about a 15-minute ride south of town, this seven-story (13-story from the outside), octagonal, wood and brick tower was originally built in A.D. 970 to ward off evil spirits thought to be responsible for the heavy tides. Destroyed in 1127, today's structure was rebuilt and added to in the Southern Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties. What's best today are the views of the river, the Qiantang Bridge, and the surrounding city from the top of the pagoda. Nearby is an exhibit of China's many pagodas. The park is open daily from 6:30am to 5:30pm; admission is ¥30 including entrance to the pagoda.
Xixi National Wetlands Park (Xixi Guojia Shid Gongyuan)
Located about 5km (3 miles) northwest of West Lake, this first national wetland park in the country covers an area of 12 sq. km (4 1/2 sq. miles), and encompasses an ecological preserve, pretty natural landscapes with different seasonal plants and flowers (willow, persimmon, bulrush, plum blossoms, and lotus, for starters), and a tourist village area complete with shops and restaurants inside traditional buildings. It's worth a visit if you're into birding or wildlife, or if you find yourself with an extra day in town. Crisscrossed by causeways and winding waterways, it's best to tour both on foot and by boat. The boat trip (¥60) begins at Zhoujiacun Matou (Zhoujiacun Dock), which is just inside the main entrance off Tianmushan Lu, and makes three stops at the Plum and Bamboo Cottage (Meizhu Shanzhuang), Deep Pool Mouth (Shentan Kou), and Autumn Snow Hut (Qiuxue An). You may alight at any of the stops, wander to your heart's content, and then catch the next boat to the next stop. After 4pm, boats make a loop without stopping. The park (tel. 0571/8810-6698) is open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm (5pm Nov-Mar); admission is ¥80.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.