A boat ride across the Oujiang River brings us to Jiangxin Islet, the historic heart of Wenzhou, a coastal city about an hour’s plane ride south of Shanghai in the Zhejiang Provence. Flanked by two pagoda towers on either end of this elongated island, Jiangxin is the so-called “Island of Poetry,” where poets have for successive dynasties written about the island’s tranquil riverside and lakeside gardens now dotted with camphor and maple trees and tiny potted pine trees.
“The poets liked to come here to enjoy the scenery and write poems, so all together there have been more than 800 poems written by renowned poets from all over the country,” says Hu Nianwang with the Wenzhou Tourism Administration Bureau. Also on the island sits Jiangxin Temple, rebuilt in 1789 with a Buddha, and other pavilions. The two towers are called East Pagoda and West Pagoda, dating back to 869 and 969 respectively. “When there was no light at night, the fishermen would look for the two pagodas to steer their boats,” says Hu.
In the afternoon, I visit Wuma Street or “Five Horses” Street, the city’s main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare. To one side is a statue of five charging horse leading a chariot of sorts, highlighting how the street got its name when a magistrate first rode through in a carriage. Today, salespeople lure shoppers into brightly lit stores selling jewelry, clothing, shoes and more. “Wenzhou is regarded as a shoe capital in China,” says Hu, as we pass both Adidas and Skechers shoe outlets.
In the evening, I take a boat ride on the Nantang River flanking yet another pedestrian area along adjacent Nantang Street. It’s a popular spot for locals with restaurants, cafes and stores. Arched pedestrian bridges cross the waterways, with strings of lights along storefronts reflecting off the water. The Wenzhou Cultural Heritage Hall showcases the area’s art forms including traditional puppets, stretch drums, marble carvings and bamboo filament lanterns, to name only a few.
I visited Wenzhou in October for the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) 2016 Annual Convention where our hosts, the city’s municipal and tourism staff, had arranged sightseeing tours and impressive cultural presentations and performances during our evening dinner events.
Yandang Mountain World Geological Park
Wenzhou is a great base to explore the imposing peaks, deep valley views and spouting waterfalls of the Yandang Mountain World Geological Park. Jagged, steep mountains dusted with green vegetation feature huge cracks in their faces, looking like the giant mastiffs could seemingly break apart with a seismic jolt.
Our group hiked up more than 400 steps to reach Guanyin Temple, a Buddist shrine dating back to 265 AD within a hillside cave in Lingfeng Peak. Inside, a central golden Buddha is flanked by smaller such figurines placed on rocky ledges.
We make another stop to see the so-called Big Dragon Waterfall, with water spewing down 197 meters into a pool at the base of a mountain. “The view looks like a dragon drinking from the valley,” reads an informational tablet, noting that the waterfall is one of the four most famous such natural wonders in China.
The Two Bamboo Peak rock formations reflect off a peaceful stream in the valley, where I see artists trying to capture the two slabs against a backdrop of morning haze. In the afternoon, we stop to see the so-called “Flying Man” acrobat suspended from a cable traipse down the mountainside.