Gardens forests and nature in Hangzhou
- Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea Fields, (龙井茶园 Long Jing Cha Yuan), and other tea fields further west. These are best visited during the harvest period, usually from the first week of March till after May Holiday, when everyone is out in the field picking tea and the tea that you can purchase is of the best quality (tea crops from later in the year have had their leaves damaged by the rain).
- Guo’s Villa, (Guo Zhuang), is the best existing traditional private garden in Hangzhou. It is one of the garden masterpieces of Jiangnan (the lower region of the Yangtze River) thanks to its incomparable surroundings and the smartly managed garden space. The garden develops as you enter further into it with regular switches between tight, closed spaces and sudden, open ones. The key feature, or spirit, is water. Cleaverly juxtaposing shade and light, curved and straight, yin and yang, the garden of Guo Zhuang is a wonderful embodiment of the Chinese wisdom of Tao and the Way of Nature. The teahouse, Liang Yi Xuan (Belevedere of Both Good) sits in a prime viewing spot within the garden between two superb water “yards”, one large and the other small. While there are plenty of “old villas” in China to visit– and many are similar– this one is also on the shore of the West Lake. The 10 yuan entry fee keeps many people away, and you can have some tea (40 yuan) on the lakeside pavilions of the villa while avoiding the tourists.
- Hangzhou Botanical Gardens, (植物园 Zhi Wu Yuan), and flower nursery as well nearby. If you can’t make it to Suzhou, these gardens aren’t bad, especially in the spring and during the brief period when the leaves change in the fall. There is also a peacock farm, some nice ponds, and basically a wide range of plants and ecosystems to walk through. The redwood tree that Nixon donated during his visit has since died (in 2001).
- Xixi National Wetlands Park. Opened in May 2005, this wetlands park is located in the extreme west part of the city past the west bus station. One of the easiest ways to get there would be to take a bus from Huanglong Soccer Stadium. While it may be somewhat out of the way and the road signs have the English translation as an uninviting “Xixi Swamp”, this area is not to be missed, as currently the tourists are not too many, and it is a great way to see birds and other wildlife. The birds are especially beautiful and varied.
- Dreaming of the Tiger Spring, (虎跑梦泉 Hǔpǎomèngquán), is a spring as well as a scenic and historic destination. The area includes wooded pathways, streams, bamboo groves, tea houses, historic structures, as well as the spring itself and other sights. Admission is ¥15. Tea brewed with the high-quality Tiger Spring water may be purchased for about ¥20 a glass.
- Hangzhou Zoo, (杭州动物园 Hángzhōu Dòngwùyuán). It has pandas and everything and is conveniently located just south of the lake, but it is not recommended to visit most zoos in China, as the animals are exploited and treated poorly (generally speaking). At least stay away from the dog exhibit. This zoo is definitely one of the worst ones in China. Besides a few animals which have good cages (mostly water-animals) it has terrible conditions for the panda, most bears and other larger animals like the elephants. Still, they made improvements compared to a few years ago, and it seems it’s mostly the missing support of larger investments that seems to hinder further development in a better zoo. The entrance fee includes a circus-style animal show with tigers, lions, bears and elephants that is particularly entertaining for children (if a little depressing for adults).