Brightly colored lanterns, some made into the form of the zodiac creature of the new year, others with puzzles in Chinese characters, fill the streets and parks of China’s cities as the Lunar New Year concludes with a centuries-old tradition called the Lantern Festival.
Many of us remember a time in our lives when the idea of traveling to The People’s Republic of China was as far-fetched as traveling to Mars. It is not so today. About three million Americans visit China every year to explore this giant land and learn about its ancient culture and traditions.
One such tradition is the Lantern Festival, which will occur on Feb. 15 in 2022, or in lunar terms, “the year of the tiger.” Tigers made with lanterns will be visible among a host of other lantern displays. And there is always the illuminated dragon, the mythological creature so embedded in Chinese lore.
In 2011 I secured a teaching job in Hangzhou and was there when the country ushered in the Lunar and the Lantern Festival that followed. On New Year’s Eve, the fireworks were so intense it sounded like the city was in the middle of a war zone. While they abated somewhat after New Year’s Day, there were still fireworks in abundance the night my friends and I walked along Dengxin Lane, where enormous displays of Lanterns filled both sides of the street. Because it was the Year of the Rabbit, the centerpiece was a twelve to fifteen-foot Roger Rabbit-like figure made entirely of lanterns.
While Chinese display lanterns everywhere in China, Hangzhou offers the beauty of its city as a bonus to visitors who gather there for the Lantern Festival. Its famous West Lake, a two and a half square mile lake, with the city on one side and mountains on the other, is an attraction for Chinese tourists traveling within their own country.
Flights from Washington, D.C. to Hangzhou run between $8,000 to $11,000. A cheaper alternative is to fly from Washington, D.C. to Shanghai for about $6,000 and catch a bullet train that will get you into Hangzhou in less than an hour. The train costs about $30.
Hangzhou hosts numerous hotels, including several four and five-star establishments. A hotel close to West Lake is ideal. A stone’s throw from the lake is theFour Seasons Hotel, a five-star establishment. During the Lantern Festival, the rates run about $660.00. On the opposite shore is Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, another five-star hotel with a rooftop lounge that provides a panoramic view of West Lake. During the Lantern Festival, rooms run about $350.00 a night. The lake is a short walk from theWyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou, where rooms start at about $150.00 a night.Frommer’s Guide provides a comprehensive list of hotels in Hangzhou.
Not far from the Hyatt and Wyndham is He Fang Jie, a restored old Chinese shopping district. The street through the center is a pedestrian boulevard lined with shops, including a tea shop where merchants are dressed in nineteenth-century garb with queues, running down their back, street puppets, and shops catering to tourists. Like the rest of Hangzhou, lanterns appear in abundance all over He Fang Jie during the festival. He Fang Jie is an excellent place to pick up souvenirs of your trip at Chinese tourist prices
If shopping is your thing, you will want to go to the Wushan Night Market, where rows and rows of stalls all brightly lit with halogen lights sell everything imaginable. It is open in the evenings from 7 to 10 p.m. Bargaining is expected.
Whether it is walking on the shore of West Lake or taking in the Qiantang River Lantern Show, Hangzhou is the perfect place to enjoy this uniquely Chinese tradition.
China requires visitors to have a tourist visa. A traveler’s passport must be valid for at least six months and have two blank pages. The steps to secure a tourist visa can be found on the Chinese embassy website athttp://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/.
COVID-19 has impacted international travel, and China is no exception. Restrictions are in place that may change between now and the festival. Documentation of both complete vaccination and a negative result on a COVID test are required. As of this writing, visitors to the People’s Republic must quarantine for fourteen days upon arrival and be retested at the end of that period.
Steve Bailey grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, was educated in Minnesota, and taught middle school for thirty-two years in Virginia. He can be contacted at vamarcopolo.com.
OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.