Sgtravellers

Header

Main Content

Content Text

March 22, 2018, Zhejiang, China

Standing the test of Time

Jeanne Wong appreciates how the old and the new co-exist in China’s Zhejiang province

Jeanne Wong

MY FIRST impression of Hangzhou was how modern it was.

Rows of shopping malls, hotels and businesses fl ashing neon signs line the streets in the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China, reminding me of cities like Hong Kong and Taipei.

But while bright lights and modern buildings dominate the downtown landscape, there is still a lot of the old in Hangzhou.

The magnificent West Lake, for one, is a stark contrast to the city in which it is located.

Traditional architecture — temples, bridges and pagodas built during the Five Dynasties period — complement the beautiful scenery here.

With its crystal-clear water and plum forestry foliage, it is easy to see why this freshwater lake has been celebrated in many a poem and artwork.

Going on a cruise allowed us to marvel at landmarks such as Leifeng Pagoda and the Jingci Temple and learn about the legends associated with them.

Surrounding the lake are gardens planted with different variety of flora, including peach trees that blossom in spring.

The contrast of old and new struck me again when we were strolling along the lake bank. The traditional buildings have been taken over by shops selling modern fare like ice cream from Harbin. There’s even a Starbucks.

We saw more evidence of modernity along our drive to Qinghefang Ancient Street.

Shining malls boasting huge posters of David Beckham and famous brands such as Zara and Adidas made me dread that our shopping destination might turn out to be similar to the familiar Orchard Road in Singapore.

Fortunately, Qinghefang has a more authentic and local feel.

Although there are bubble tea stalls and shops selling contemporary fashion, toys and games, century-old shophouses selling traditional oil-paper umbrellas, sandalwood fans, ornate scissors and kitchenware also abound here.

For a dose of heritage, you can watch locals using old-fashioned tools cut sesame biscuits or sharpen knife wares.

The last of the ancient towns

To get a feel of what an ancient town looks like, we headed to Nanxun, a water town less than two hours’ drive away from Hangzhou city.

The town, which is more than 700 years old, is a well-preserved residential district housing the area’s richest families.

The gated community showcases Chinese old-town lifestyle, with traditional houses lining an extended canal, cobblestone pedestrian walkways and stone bridges.

Many ancient towns in China are today overrun by tourists and services catered to them. Other ancient villages we visited felt more like museums — we looked at artefacts behind displays and read information translated into English on display boards. Then there were the touts shouting for our attention at almost every corner.

In Nanxun, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Tourists can hop on a boat and sail along the mini canals to see locals going about their everyday lives, like having tea, selling wares and playing cards.

Unfazed by visitors in their midst, the locals chatted with tourists, sharing their stories and the history of the town.

Visitors can visit some of the ancient mansions in Nanxun, like the estate of the Liu family, also known as the Red House.

This fancy estate, whose buildings are decorated with ornate flowers and Chinese calligraphy carved into the woodwork, dates back almost six centuries. There is a European-style annex with French balconies and stained glass windows.

Getting there

We took a Singapore Airlines flight to Shanghai. From there, it is a four-hour coach ride to Hangzhou.

Guidelines

■ West Lake can be enjoyed all year round, but less rainfall is expected between September and November.

■ An evening activity at West Lake to consider is the theatric spectacle directed by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Prices start at 360 yuan (S$76).

Side Bar

Most Read This Month
曾兄弟旅行社:与星同行旅游配套

圣托里尼(Santorini)是希腊东南200公里爱琴海上火山群岛中的最大岛,别名锡拉岛。这里是新石器时代晚期(距今约4000多年)阿克罗蒂里的米诺斯文明发源地,南部的考古遗址留有壁画和陶器,揭开辉煌的古文明历史。此外,她因位于群岛的最南端而拥有无敌海景,是观赏绝美日落的最佳地点;蔚蓝海洋、金色沙滩、白色房屋与蓝顶十字教堂,构成典型的爱琴海风情,是被公认为最浪漫的度假小岛。

My awesome vacation

Newsmakers recall their best moments overseas this year

Take the bus in Penang

Philip Lee finds a cheap way to get around when he hops on the buses that go to interesting places on the island

Latest travel story
Motorcycle adventures

Carolyn Hong discovers scenic spots while getting lost on the Indonesian islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan

Omani traditions

A mud house stay and a livestock market tour in Nizwa gives Catherine Hostiani an opportunity to get acquainted with a new culture

Triple in Japan treats

Nur Syahiidah Zainal revels in fun activities and interesting discoveries across three prefectures in Japan