Few cities are as associated with a tourist draw as the Zhejiang capital of HANGZHOU, which has found fame for one simple reason – Xi Hu, a large lake right in the centre of the action. Encircled by gardens and a wreath of willow trees, crisscrossed with ancient walkways and bridges and punctuated by the odd temple or pagoda, the lake exudes an old-style air increasingly hard to find in modern China, and is a must-see if you’re in this part of the land.

Hangzhou is particularly busy at weekends, when it’s packed with trippers escaping from the concrete jungle of Shanghai, and in summer, when the whole country seems to be jostling for space around the lakeshore. This popularity has pushed up hotel prices, but it also brings advantages: there are plenty of restaurants, the natural environment is being protected and the bulk of the temples and gardens on the lakeside are in superb condition. Most of the places to see can be visited on foot or by bicycle, though those following the latter course of action should avoid evening rush hour – this is a city of almost nine million people, and the lake makes for something of a traffic obstacle.

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