West Lake and Boat Ride to Fairy Islet
Originally an inlet of the Qiantang River, the reforms of poet and governor Bai Juyi saw a proper dyked and the lake filled in order to help irrigate farmland. It was also Bai who ordered the construction of the Bai Di Causeway, which links Gu Shan with the north shore. A couple of centuries later, the dam wasn’t working out so well. A new poet governor (there were apparently a few of them in ancient China) Song Dongpo dredged the lake to fix the problem and had the north-south Su Causeway built with the excess silt. There was another dredging around 1600 and this time Fairy Islet was built. Throughout its more than 1000 years of history, West Lake has been an inspiration to Chinese poets and many legends are set around the body of water (many of the stories are related on signs around the shores).
West Lake is the center of sightseeing in Hangzhou. A perfectly acceptable way to spend your time in Hangzhou would be to simply walk around the lake, using the Su and Bai Di Causeways as shortcuts (it will still take at least 5 hours). The Xihu Tiandi complex on the east shore is a wonderful place to enjoy coffee, food, or drinks, while there are also numerous restaurants and bars along the lengths of Nanshan and Beishan roads, which surround the lake.
Boat Ride to Fairy Islet (Lesser Yingzhou Islet)
One of the must-do’s while in Hangzhou is to take a boat ride on the lake to visit Fairy Islet. The easiest way to do this is to take one of the ‘Pleasure Boats’, which leave from numerous piers around the lake. The ticket (¥45) pays for three boat rides and entrance to the two islands you will visit.
From the pier, you first head to Mid-Lake Pavilion. This is only a tiny island which will take you all of five minutes to cover. The only really sight on the island is a stone stele with an inscription thought of by Emperor Qianlong (1711-99) from when he visited the island. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty place that offers a few photo opportunities.
Once you’re ready to leave the Mid-Lake Pavilion, you board a boat to Fairy Islet. This is an enchanting place, created with earth from dredging the lake in the reign of Emperor Wanli (1572-1620). The interior of the island is mainly lake, giving the opportunity for the description of it as “a lake within an island and an island within a lake”. The inner lake is crossed by land bridges from north to south and east to west. There are a number of pavilions and bridges to see on the island, not to mention some sublime vistas and serene nature, but the major attraction is the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. These small pagodas that sit in the water just south-west of the island date from the same time as the island (though they were originally built back in the 11th Century. The pagodas are hollow and have five round holes on their sides. The idea is that on the night of the Moon Festival (usually late September or early October) a candle is placed in each of the pagodas. Combined with the light of the full moon and the light reflected on the lake, it’s apparently an incredible scene.
You can spend as long as you like on both islands. When you’re ready to leave you can catch a boat back to the pier of your choice (boats to different piers leave from different points around the island). Alternatively, you can visit the island by private boat. The price for these boats is set at ¥80 per hour for a maximum of four people. You should allow at least two hours to reach Fairy Islet and wander around. The advantage of this is that you can row right past and around the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. Private boats leave from all around the lake – the owners will approach you.
Directions: Boats leave from in front of the Tomb of King Qian (Nanshan Lu – opposite the Academy of Art); from Lakeside Park (by Hubin Lu); from Yue Fei’s Temple (at the north of Su Causeway); and from Huagang (at the south of Su Causeway), among other places.