Absorbing Chinese culture in Hangzhou and beyond - United Hub
employee travel blog

Absorbing Chinese culture in Hangzhou and beyond

By The Hub team, July 20, 2016

Gregory O'Laughlin posing along the river in Hangzhou

By Airport Operations Resource Planning Senior Analyst Gregory O'Laughlin

We are all familiar in some sense with China because we fly to mainland megalopolises Beijing and Shanghai. China is a massive country, not only in terms of population, but also in size, and, like any massive country, there are plenty of hidden gems off the beaten path. I lived in Beijing for seven years before joining United, and one of these places I enjoyed getting lost in was Zhejiang province, with its charming capital Hangzhou as a great staging area for excursions and exploring. Geographically, Zhejiang is just south of the Yangtze River Delta and is accentuated with valleys carved out by rivers, plains, and wetlands. Like in many Chinese cities, in Hangzhou you get a feel for the classic Chinese traditions mixed with the modern.

West Lake in Hangzhou with views of gardens and temples

My first stop in Hangzhou was West Lake, which is one of the most notable tourist attractions and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the lake itself is quite small (I'm from Chicago, so I'm used to living next to a Great Lake), I totally underestimated the sheer size of the surrounding area with different pathways to all of the pagodas, gardens, temples and various islands. I found it to be a great place to hike and soak up some traditional Chinese culture. One of the things about West Lake that really made an impact on me, having lived in a major metropolis, was the harmony I felt between the classic Chinese architecture and nature; sprawling causeways in the middle of bamboo forests, bridges over lotus-crowded waterways and towering pagodas rising out of the hills. Now, I am not an architect, but I think I began understanding the concept of feng shui a little better after spending a the whole day wandering West Lake; for me, it's quite a tranquil feeling. A hiking achievement for you to unlock is the “Ten Scenes of West Lake," which are the best known scenic spots around the lake.

After West Lake, it was time to soak in more natural beauty at the XiXi National Wetlands Park. This is a massive park that has a long cultural history, a lot of great sites to see, and a traditional Dragon Boat contest (I'm looking at you, fans of United's Sky Dragons). I really enjoyed hiking the various paths throughout the park as well as hiring a traditional ferry to go down through some of the winding waterways. It was interesting to see how the local flora mixed with the traditional architecture along the different waterways. One of the things I really enjoyed was walking through the preserved gardens like emperors from dynasties past.

man traveling down the waterways through the city of Xitang

After enjoying Hangzhou proper, it was time to venture to quite possibly one of my favorite spots in all of China, which is an old water village just outside of Hangzhou by the name of Xitang. If I had to describe it, I would liken it to the Venice of China. It is a series of sidewalks, alleys and bridges along a winding small river through the city. One of the things I liked the most, aside from the feeling you get by relaxing alongside a lazy river, was how the city was illuminated by traditional Chinese lanterns along all sides of the waterways at nighttime. It makes for some excellent night pictures and a very chill nightlife.

Finally, on the way back to Hangzhou, I stopped at a place for all the green tea fans out there. One of the most famous teas in all of China comes from a small village just outside of Hangzhou. It's called Longjing green tea, which literally translates to “Dragon Well." Although I am not the biggest tea fan, this was hands down one of my favorites. I took a tour and history lesson and walked away with a greater appreciation for Chinese tea.

I would highly recommend anyone looking to absorb more Chinese culture to check out Hangzhou as well as explore the rest of Zhejiang province. It offers a nice balance between modern development, traditional culture and natural beauty. So pack your walking shoes, your guide book, and your adventurous spirit.

Now you can fly to Hangzhou from San Fransisco on the only nonstop trans-Pacific flight by any airline. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip to these places off of the beaten path.

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