The Xixi Wetlands, China's only national wetland park, is 6km west of central Hangzhou in a gorgeous setting of mulberry trees, bamboo groves, lagoons and soft, rippling canals. People have been living in the wetlands for almost 2,000 years, weaving silk and fishing, and the park aims to enshrine that ancient way of life. The park has a silk-weaving museum and boat rides through the many canals created by six causeways and innumerable small islands of bamboo and mulberry. The overall design was put together by renowned developers Woods Bagot, which focused on green tourism, sustainability and the goal of creating a tourist magnet to rival the West Lake. The layout of the 60-square-kilometre park includes villages such as Zhoujiacun and the Hazy Fisher Village, that offer bed and breakfast options set amidst small lagoons, sinuous stone bridges and glimpses of egrets. The Xixi Wetlands were not just a centre of silk production and a retreat for poets since the Tang dynasty, but also the birthplace for dragon-boat racing - thought to have been invented there hundreds of years ago. Races are held every summer in the Deep Pool, only accessible by boat and rumoured to be home to a dragon itself. Only 3,000 visitors are allowed into the park on any given day, so start early, get a boat ride through the canals and take mosquito repellent. Some of the more beautiful areas are the plum tree groves where poets converged in the past; the persimmon and bamboo groves surrounding the small fishing villages and the 'ten sights' listed by the local authorities as must-see attractions for visitors. The sights are easily visited, as every tour through the canal - be it overland or across the water - will include them. But you can also easily break away from the tours and walk the causeways, or rent your own small boat to get a feel for the wetlands as they were for locals and poets before modern times.