There are various translation of the old Chinese phrase praising the terrestrial beauty of the cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou, one of the most frequently used goes like this;
"Up in the sky there is heaven; down on the Earth we have Suzhou and Hangzhou."
Walking around the ancient city of Hangzhou – even during the chaotic hustle and bustle of National Day, a day on which a sizeable proportion of China's 1.3 billion inhabitants take their annual holiday – it's easy to see the basis for such a hyperbolic statement.
Heaven on Earth
Nowadays, attractions such as Jingci Temple, Baochu Pagoda and Liuhe Pagoda serve the dual purposes of religious site and tourist honeypot, but when they were originally constructed these edifices were key in the formation of a distinctive Zhejiang-ese identity. These unique aesthetics, combined with tree-lined avenues, delicious local cuisine and a stunning setting, make Hangzhou a captivating place to visit.
Visitors like me are most likely to seek out accommodation in one of the many budget backpacker hostels and guesthouses that are scattered around the city. The 4 Eyes Backpacker Hostel, located just off Hupao Lu, a short walk from West Lake, is amongst the finest I have encountered in this part of China.
4 Eyes features all the things you would expect from a backpacker hostel and more. Friendly service, clean and tidy no-nonsense dorm rooms (with more luxury accommodation available if your budget will stretch to it), a pleasant atmosphere and well-stocked bar. The hostel proper is arranged around a central courtyard, which doubles up as a lounging/relaxing area, and there are swing-seats and an ornamental pond to augment the relaxing atmosphere.
Finding your Way
While it might be a little tricky to find at first glance, the hostel's official website offers detailed directions accompanied by maps and pictures to make getting to your accommodation simple.
A little out of town, the hostel is conveniently placed close to busy bus and taxi routes, making a trip into the downtown area of Hangzhou a doddle, but it is its proximity to Xi Hu – or West Lake – which is really the jewel in its crown.
Two of the hostel's more permanent residents at play
West Lake is truly stunning. Covering an area of 10.8 square kilometers, it is surrounded by many of Hangzhou's most iconic sites, including the Leifeng Pagoda which presides over its southern shore, and the Broken Bridge, a water-crossing famed as one of the most romantic spots in Zhejiang.
Come at the right time of year and you will also see the resplendent blooms of peach blossom and lotus flowers on the islands and causeways that criss-cross the lake, as well as the osmanthus; a flower that has become synonymous with Zhejiang.
Hangzhou is not to be missed, and anyone travelling to this corner of China is recommended to spend a few days checking it out, using 4 Eyes backpacker hostel as a base.