Why Hangzhou China is truly for lovers (and Valentine’s Day)

When I was growing up, my parents took me to one of these tourism fairs in Cleveland, Ohio, which introduced me to a slogan I just couldn’t understand: Virginia is for lovers. I’d been to the state of Virginia. The Blue Ridge Mountains were pretty enough, and so were the beaches. But to say that this state was for lovers? It didn’t seem right to me.

In hindsight, my hesitation could have had another explanation. That I was destined to discover and eventually settle in a city that, in my mind, truly was for lovers (and truly deserved such a slogan). Hangzhou, China!

Yes, Hangzhou really is the ideal place for people in love. And if you’ve never visited before, here are four reasons why it could be the perfect place to spend your Valentine’s Day – or, for that matter, any romantic holiday or getaway:

1. It’s the setting of one of the greatest love stories in Chinese history (The White Snake or 白蛇传)

For John and me, visiting Leifeng Pagoda was like paying homage to one of China’s greatest love stories.

The forbidden love story of the Madame White Snake – a magical snake who turns into a lovely young woman and captures the heart of Xu Xian – is considered one of China’s most beloved folktales. And it all happened right here in beautiful Hangzhou (supposedly, at least!).

You could bring your own sweetheart here to have your own personal re-enactment of Madame White Snake.

Why not flirt at the Broken Bridge (断桥) on Bai Causeway, where the white snake and Xu Xian first fell in love? You could also buy yourselves a little tang hulu there just as Xu Xian did, the sweet and tart candied fruits on a stick that first entwined Xu Xian’s fate together with the white snake in the story.

On the opposite side of the lake, climb to the top of the reconstructed Leifeng Pagoda, where the white snake was imprisoned for loving and marrying Xu Xian. As you and your lover admire the view from the top – the glistening surface of the lake fringed by the endless emerald gardens – you can feel grateful that you’re both free to love one another in that moment.

2. The West Lake is the perfect place for lovers to stroll and relax

Trust me, come to the West Lake and even you won’t be able to resist kissing your loved one!

Hangzhou’s West Lake has been famous for thousands of years and inspired countless works of art, poems and even replicas of the lake itself (including Kunming Lake at Beijing’s Summer Palace). It’s a breathtaking destination – and, not surprisingly, one with many perfect places for lovers to stroll and relax.

One of the easiest – and most low cost – ways for couples to bask in the beauty of the West Lake is through a stroll around one of the many gardens surrounding the West Lake. My favorite romantic spots include Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯) and Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷) during the daytime, as well as Su Causeway itself (either early in the morning or late at night).

You can also hire boats to glide across the lake and get away from the crowds; it’s most picturesque just a little before sunset.

In the Beishan area and Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷), lighting makes the gardens bloom with stunning shades of salmon pink, cerulean blue and jade green – colors as brilliant as the love in your own heart.


Even the city lights take on a romantic glow when viewed from Su Causeway.

And of course, if the moment is just right, you might find yourself settling into one of the many benches around the lake to share a kiss, just as John and I once did years ago.

3. There’s nothing sexier than a private tea for two in a Hangzhou teahouse

A teahouse spread fit for a king…or even just a couple of people really crazy in love!

As much as I love my soy lattes from Starbucks, that coffeehouse – or really, any coffeehouse for that matter – has nothing on some of the best Hangzhou teahouses. Picture slipping behind a sliding tatami door into the private decadence of a tea for two, from the aromatic delights of Hangzhou’s famous Dragonwell tea to an exquisite spread of all-you-can-eat snacks, hot food and even dessert. Some private rooms even allow you to sit on the floor, making the whole atmosphere that much more romantic.

Best of all, the unhurried pace of a teahouse – where the servers are simply there to serve instead of herding you in and out – means you can linger over the meal, taking your time to savor the moment together…and perhaps steal a kiss or two behind closed doors.

While there are many teahouses in Hangzhou, I highly recommend Qingteng Teahouse (青藤茶楼), especially the branch in the Wyndham Hotel which offers private rooms and unforgettably delectable set meals – the perfect combination for any pair of lovers.

4. You can enjoy flowers every season of the year


From red roses on Valentine’s Day to bridal bouquets, flowers have long been synonymous with love and romance. But flowers are best enjoyed in the outdoors – and what better place to appreciate them than Hangzhou, where the flowers enchant us every season of the year.

In wintertime, you’ll find plum blossoms beside the West Lake, reminding us all that even in harsh conditions, the most delicate beauty can flourish and prevail.

It’s pretty amazing that the plum blossoms come out even in the cold of winter!

You know it’s spring when sweet white peach blossoms surround the West Lake like a dusting of late-season snow in the treetops.

Peach blossoms by the West Lake (Photo via hzxcnews.com)

Summertime welcomes the lotus blossoms in the West Lake, each as pink as a blushing bride, a jewel to behold.

Even though the summers can be unbearably hot, knowing that the lotus blossoms will come out gives me something to look forward to.

But best of all is the osmanthus bloom, the smallest and most intoxicating of all with an aroma that might just be the closest thing to passionate young love in a fragrance.

These flowers are tiny, but their fragrance packs quite the punch. Seriously!

Do you think Hangzhou is a romantic destination? Why or why not?

How to have an incredibly imperfect 10th wedding anniversary in Hangzhou (just like us)


When you’re getting ready to remember 10 years together with the person you love most in the world, you want it all to be as perfect as that diamond wedding ring. After all, isn’t 10 years of marriage called the “diamond anniversary”?

But the reality doesn’t always sparkle like that most coveted of all jewels, just as John and I discovered this past Saturday when we set out to celebrate our 10th anniversary together. Here’s how our day ended up losing some of its luster:

1. Celebrate it right smack in the middle of the hottest days of summer.

Notice the sweat gleaming on my face and neck? Welcome to Hangzhou in the summer!
Notice the sweat gleaming on my face and neck? Welcome to Hangzhou in the summer!

Our marriage anniversary is July 26, only three days after July 23 (also known as by the Chinese as dàshǔ or 大署, the “Greater Heat”). At this time of the year, the entire city feels like one huge sultry public sauna that you can never leave (unless you duck into an air-conditioned store or home).

As soon as John and I left our apartment, the heat and humidity enveloped us like a huge wet rag — and it wasn’t long before my brand-new fuchsia T-shirt was dotted with beads of sweat. Not an auspicious start to our celebration!

2. Arrive at the West Lake just as a huge thunderstorm descends upon the city.

Taking shelter from the storm
Taking shelter from the storm

After indulging in a little pampering at a local hair salon (a up-do) and a makeup shop (where a pro did my makeup for the day) John whisked me off to the most romantic locale in all of Hangzhou: the West Lake. Our goal? To visit the very bench on Su Causeway where we had our first kiss on July 26 in 2002.

But not long after we reached the scenic shores of the lake, fringed with the rich green patches of lotus plants studded with pale pink flowers, an ominous gray cloud darkened the sky. Thunder soon rumbled right in, followed lightning and a monumental downpour. When I say “monumental downpour”, I mean 90 mm worth of rain (that’s a little over 3.5 inches) in one hour!

We sought shelter just in time in a public teahouse beside the lake, and were trapped there for almost an hour, witnessing nature’s own version of fireworks boom across the lake (I screamed when the lightning hit a nearby tree) as the landscape around us became soaked in rain.

Then, because we needed to hustle to make our 6pm dinner reservation at a hotel, we splashed our way down Beishan Road through the runoff water that burst up from the drains beside the road and cascaded over the sidewalk right into the West Lake. It reminded me of all those times when I was a kid and insisted on going creek-walking — except you don’t usually go creek-walking with your hair and makeup done, all dolled up in your new shirt and long black skirt.

Even worse — the rain revealed leaks in my own umbrella, scattering droplets of rain all over me (including more than a few that conspired to ruin my nice up-do and makeup…thank goodness they didn’t!).

You might wonder, “Why didn’t they just flag down a taxi or take the bus?” Well, as anyone who has ever lived in Hangzhou knows, it’s almost impossible to flag down a taxi on rainy days. Plus, the traffic on Beishan Road was locked in gridlock and plodded along so slow we actually walked faster than the buses themselves!

3. Due to a downpour of seemingly Biblical proportions, walk into the five-star hotel where you’re going to have dinner with at least half of your outfit completely soaked

I know I'm smiling here, but believe me, most of my skirt and all of my shoes are soaking wet!
I know I’m smiling here, but believe me, most of my skirt and all of my shoes are soaking wet!

There’s nothing that says class quite like strolling into the glittering lobby of a five-star hotel looking as if you crawled out of one of the drainage pipes beside the West Lake. The Assistant Manager on duty — a willowy blonde dressed in a perfectly-pressed suit jacket and pencil skirt — stared at us as we hurried across the lobby and up the stairs, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because we were that rare AMWF couple in China or because our shoes left little puddles behind us wherever we walked.

4. Due to same downpour, spend over an hour awaiting the rest of your friends to arrive.


Four of our guests — more than half of our table — took over an hour to make it to the hotel because the downpour brought Hangzhou’s traffic to a screeching halt. This photo (with me putting on a smile while my friend Caroline plays with her mobile phone) pretty much sums up how we spent that hour at a very empty table for seven.

5. Realize it’s the most imperfect anniversary celebration you’ve ever had — and enjoy yourselves regardless.


Between the sweltering heat and all of the mayhem caused by a sudden downpour, we had one tumultuous afternoon. No carefree strolling beside the lake, no stolen kisses at our old bench on Su Causeway, no confident entrance into the hotel. Our shoes were still totally wet and squishy. The rain even drenched a classic photo of us that John carried in his wallet.

But we had five of our friends with us, as we dined on some of the most sumptuous Thai dishes I’ve ever sampled in my life in one of the most glamorous restaurants in town. Maybe we didn’t get the perfect day we hoped for — but as I helped myself to another creamy mouthful of green curry vegetables and admired the mahogany-toned wooden accents in the space, I couldn’t help but think that, for the moment, it was just perfect enough.

(P.S.: For those of you curious as to where we had our anniversary dinner, it was at the lovely  Sawasdee Thai Restaurant in Hangzhou — one of my favorite dining spots in the city.)

Have you ever experienced a less-than-perfect celebration?

Chapter 8: John is My Chinese Boyfriend

The West Lake, framed by a glittering night sky and the willow tendrils hanging over our bench, could probably turn any young couple into lovers on such an evening. Especially this Western woman and Chinese man sitting beside its taciturn waters, watching the bats dip and sway to catch mosquitoes to the tune of the humming cicadas in the trees and bushes.

The shroud of night is like a blanket around us, giving us warmth and protection to take the next step, as we sit on a bench along the Su Causeway. We still live in a China where our presence together — as lovers — is a spectacle. But in the forgiving crepuscular light, no one can see that I am a Western woman and he is a Chinese man. For once, we are just another young couple, inexorably inching towards love.

But that does not pacify my mind or heart. I’m not sure anything could on this night, a night that has built up with fervor from the first friendly flirtations John and I had during our trip to Yiwu. A night that has turned me, a young woman who has loved before, into a high school girl on her first date all over again, dressed in a long black flowery skirt and lavender shirt, with a row of tiny clips across my head like a tiara. Continue reading “Chapter 8: John is My Chinese Boyfriend”