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Along with Suzhou, Hangzhou was extolled by ancient Chinese as "Paradise on Earth" - a metaphor that Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveler, eagerly echoed, going as far as to pronounce Hangzhou the "finest, most splendid city in the world". Although today such grand claims to greatness may be contested by other worthy contenders, Hangzhou truly is a beautiful corner of the world. Stunningly set by the West Lake with its weeping willows, Hangzhou is a favourite subject in many watercolour paintings by Chinese artists - its temples, bridges and causeways make for some incredibly serene, inspiring landscapes. Hangzhou is very foreigner-friendly, with an ever-growing community of expats calling the city home. The east bank of the West Lake is crowded with eateries and bars frequented by locals and visitors alike; the west side is known as a quieter area where one can explore some of Hangzhou's unspoiled nature. Hangzhou is also known for its rather vibrant music scene - lots of local clubs regularly host live music shows, and music festival season comes twice a year - in spring and autumn.
Most visits to Hangzhou center around the West Lake. To hit some of the most important sights, dedicate a day to simply strolling around the body of water - monuments like the Leifeng Pagoda and Jinci Temple are located directly on its shores, much like many others. The lake's east bank is where fashionable eateries, bars and scenic spots are concentrated; even further to the east (around Jiefang Lu) begins the new Hangzhou, where fashionable stores and modern amenities can be found.
Hangzhou is famous for its traditional cuisine, hearty yet light on the palate. Some of the signature dishes are Beggar’s Chicken baked in fragrant lotus leaves, West Lake fish, which can be steamed or stewed, and Dongpo Pork stewed in soy sauce, a dish invented and named after ancient China’s most famous poet nine centuries ago. This is a divine dish where the meat is cooked to such tenderness it melts in the mouth.
When in Hangzhou, do not miss a traditional tea ceremony and savor a cup of Longjing tea, grown locally in the area. There are plenty of traditional tea houses to choose from, but one won't be hard-pressed to find modern coffee shops and Western-style cafés in the city either. Savor the local pudding-and-fruit desserts, and do not skip the exotic delicacies sold at street vendors' stalls.
Nanshan Lu (or the West Lake bar street) is where most of the nightlife in Hangzhou happens, though there are other hot spots in town. KTV (or Karaoke Television) is a favorite local evening pastime, but stick to Western-style establishments if you're not quite ready to exercise your vocal cords. There is plenty of life happening outside of bars and discos, too - try the night market for great bargains on knick-knacks and a taste of local street food.
The shopping is best along Yan´an Lu and Jiefang Lu. If you're looking to stock up on native produce, Hangzhou is known for its silk products and there are special shops dedicated to it as well as an entire mall on Xinhua Lu. Another famous local product is tea - the most loved blends are Dragon´s Well and the more delicate White Chrysanthemum. A number of modern malls have sprung up in the past years, but these are mostly occupied by high-end brand stores.
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