West Lake: An Introduction
With a surface area of 6 square kilometres, West Lake (Xi Hu) is Hangzhou's greatest asset. Beautifully sculptured gardens, historic villas, legendary pagodas and ancient temples line its shores, providing a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. The scenic spots around West Lake are ladden with literary and historic references, so it helps if you have some appreciation of popular Chinese literature and history. The lake started life as a shallow inlet of Hangzhou bay - the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, is said to have sailed in from the sea and moored at what is now the northwestern shore of the lake. The lake was fully formed by the fourth century AD when enough silt was thrown up to cut a body of water away from the sea. The landscape around West Lake has been highly developed since the Tang dynasty, but there has always been ongoing work - even today, sensitive reconstructions and recreations are occurring. One nice thing is that the surrounding gardens all have a different feel and theme, providing a varied experience.
West Lake is divided by two ancient causeways (Su Di and Bai Di). Its eastern shore abuts the city centre, and is lined by high-end hotels, restaurants and cafes. The other shores, particularly the western shore, are lined by tranquil gardens, pagodas and villas, backed by green hills. There is a very good tourist map available from hotels and the tourist office, with details of the lake shore attractions.