There are 36 "West Lakes" throughout China, but Hangzhou's West Lake is the inspiration for the mall. Originally a lagoon, it was dredged in the 8th century and later diked. Sidestepping the vacationing masses and trinket hawkers, there's plenty to do at this 3km by 3km lotus lined lake. Mist shrouds the jade-hued water as the sun rises and sets while sentinel trees line the surrounding boulevards and it's bordered by three hills that hermit like a pillow cradling a liquid gem. Graceful gardens lull as one meanders through paths to welcoming temples.
The Baidi Causeway, on the north shore of the lake, links up with Solitary Hill, a large island brimming with plants and grassy parks. Wander past inviting park benches, cross bridges where old men fly kites, then enter a honeycomb of tree-shrouded pagodas where snacks and beverages are served. You can enjoy quenching refreshments at several outdoor cafs or inside aged pagodas. A good way to get a better view of the lakeside scenery is to rent a pedal boat. Churn around the northern edge of the lake and take in the rich views. If the lake is calm, the reflection of Baoshi Shan on the water is amazing. If you feel like watching things swim about, the Flower Harbor, home to thousands of obese carp is a must-see.
Follow the Sudi Causeway as it shoots across the lake like an arrow. From there you can spot the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon and the Lesser Yingzhou islands, which look like submerged tortoises with trees and temples growing on them. The islands themselves have quaint pagodas and are excellent for viewing the pools. Standing over the lake are three towers cut with five holes apiece. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, which usually falls around late-September, glowing candles are placed in these niches creating a flickering effect that dances along the lakeshore. For this spectacle, it's best to rent or hire a boat; an old Mid-Autumn Festival tradition where revelers would come to the lake to admire the moon while sipping tea and laughing with friends.
The Zhejiang Provincial Museum is on the Baidi Causeway and features displays of natural and regional history. Some of the more interesting exhibits include small figurines which were thrown into the lake to placate the lake spirits. The Qing emperor Qianlong once lived in part of the museum when vacationing in Hangzhou. Leaving the Baidi Causeway onto Beishan Lu, there's a splendid walkway to the top of Baoshi Shan where you can marvel at a 19th century tower that seems oddly Victorian. The paths further snake through rock carvings and dark chambers. Hearty trekkers can climb over weathered boulders for a view of the lake, which is best at dawn. If you're into flowers, then head east to the florid Hangzhou Botanical Gardens where orchids and ferns flourish in balmy hot houses.