Before you go
Once an imperial capital, Hangzhou is the mainland's most romantic city.
The city, famous for its scenic views, has been a tourist attraction for several centuries. There's even an old Chinese saying about Hangzhou and its neighbouring city, Suzhou: In heaven, there is paradise; on Earth, there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.
It's easy to find good restaurants, fully equipped hotels/hostels and convenient transportation in Hangzhou. At the same time, the pace is nothing like Hong Kong or other big cities; here, you can actually slow down and appreciate the views, which are well worth a look.
You can easily get maps in both English and Chinese in information booths scattered around the main tourist sites. If you don't speak Putonghua, I'd advise you to get both versions, keeping the English one for your reference and presenting the Chinese one when asking for directions.
Where to go
Hangzhou is filled with legends, mostly tragic love stories that took place around the West Lake.
This vast lake is in the city centre. It is surrounded by temples, pagodas and gardens, with mountains in the background.
If you decide to take a stroll by the lake, just relax and take in the amazing view; you'll feel as if you have walked straight into a shan shui (a traditional Chinese painting that depicts beautiful scenery). This is one reason why Hangzhou is so popular among tourists.
Speaking of popularity, I'd suggest you avoid visiting the city at peak times like holidays and weekends. An overcrowded tourist site is a guaranteed buzzkill.
My favourite part of the lake is the lesser-known west side. With its stunning scenery, the Yanggong Causeway (also known as Yanggong Dike) is an ideal place to relax. It's easy to find since the 3.4km-long causeway links with other famous sites, including Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond, Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer.
The Su Causeway is also one of the lake's top attractions. I was there on an autumn afternoon and it's one of the best spots to enjoy the fabulous foliage.
It's best to explore the lake on foot or by bike. Bike rentals are everywhere, and it's really cheap to hire a bike.
You can also take a boat, but during my short stay in the city, it was foggy and windy, so I had to cross that off my wish list.
Other attractions in the city include Qiantang River and Longjing village. Qiantang is known for the world's largest tidal bore, while it's a pleasant hike to Longjing, famed for its Dragon Well tea.
Hangzhou boasts a variety of sweet and sour dishes, with Westlake vinegar fish and fragrant Dongpo pork among the most popular choices.
While we crave mooncakes with a sweet filling during Mid-Autumn Festival, in Hangzhou, people line up for the city's unique, pork-and-pickle variety. Also, these mooncakes are rarely found in gift boxes: you buy them fresh from a bakery.
Top selfie spot
A short distance away from the city centre, there's a hidden gem called Jiuxi, also known as "Nine Creeks Meandering Through a Misty Forest". It provides a naturally spectacular backdrop for selfies and portraits, especially if you have a tripod - you can step away from your camera and step into the scenic view.
Jiuxi is known to have 18 streams and I lingered around one for around half hour. A few fellow-tourists all stopped to join me in taking selfies.
Along the trail there are plenty of such spots. Look closely and you might be in for a big surprise.