China’s rapidly growing high-speed rail network is making it easier－and cheaper－for tourists to travel around the country.
With the growing popularity and development of high-speed rail in China, traveling around the country has become easier for tourists who want to spend less time on trains and more at their destinations.
According to Xinhua News Agency, China had more than 16,000 kilometers of high-speed rail at the end of 2014, up from 11,000 at the end of 2013. More than 100 million trips were made on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail last year, which made a profit for the first time since its launch in 2011.
“Tourists long for a satisfied vacation rather than traditional travel, with higher demands for tours. They want to relieve themselves from pressures by having a convenient tour by high-speed trains,” says Ma Lan, assistant to the general manager of the tourism department of China International Travel Service Limited, Head Office.
“High-speed rail also boosts excursions on weekends. It’s faster than driving, and tourists will have sufficient time to enjoy the destination.”
Increasingly more travelers are choosing high-speed trains rather than flying because of the convenience, professional service and punctuality.
“It’s more convenient to go to the train station than the airport in the suburbs. You don’t have to go through the time-consuming security checks or worry that the plane will be late. Moreover, the views outside the train windows are very pretty,” says Wang Yi, 24, a college graduate from Beijing.
Wang says the carriages are clean, and the second-class seats are more comfortable than those in the economy class on the plane, with more room to stretch out. You can also use your smartphone on the train, she adds.
For people traveling from Beijing to East China areas such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, taking a high-speed train is more convenient than flying and the ticket prices are around 50 to 60 percent cheaper, especially during peak season, says Ma.
It takes nearly four hours to travel from Beijing to Nanjing by high-speed train and about two hours to fly, but you have to arrive at the airport one or two hours early to check in.
Travel agencies are offering an array of products to satisfy the growing market. The online travel agency Ctrip has 385 high-speed rail tour packages starting from Beijing, such as tour groups and independent travel. Popular destinations include Shandong, Tianjin, Henan and Shanxin.
Ma says young people and office workers like to travel on weekends and take two-or three-days trips. Older people prefer longer vacations, and families usually choose high-speed rail tour packages that range from two to six days.
“Tourism source markets and destinations are well connected by high-speed rail and accessible from all directions,” says Zhang Hui, vice-president of Beijing Tourism Society.
“It’s changing the spatial structure of tourism in China. Some destinations across regions are cooperating with each other. The tourism resources along one railway are often homogenized, so they have to develop innovative tour products to be more competitive.”
Zhang says group tours used to be popular, but nowadays increasingly more individuals and families are traveling. As a result, hotels are becoming more focused on families and offering proper facilities and services.
“It’s a challenge for travel agencies to adapt to the market, and develop two-or three-day itineraries,” he says. “The local governments and travel agencies should figure out how to establish proper receptions, consultations and sightseeing systems.”
Traveling from Beijing
Spring is the best time to visit regions south of the Yangtze River because the weather is pleasant and flowers are blossoming. Along the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, there are many stations in cities such as Wuxi, Zhenjiang, Suzhou and Nanjing.
Henan province is also a good choice for cultural heritages and natural sceneries, such as Luoyang, Zhengzhou and Kaifeng. You can enjoy various colorful peonies in the annual Luoyang Peony Culture Festival in April and early May. White Horse Temple, which is believed to be the first Buddhist temple in China, demonstrates traditional architecture and the long history of Buddhism.
The city’s Longmen Grottoes is one of the three most famous grottoes in China; the other two are Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi and Mogao Grottoes in Gansu. There are tens of thousands of different sized Buddha statutes in caves that sit along mountain cliffs. The largest one is 17.14 meters high and the smallest is only 2 centimeters.
In Shanxi province, you can climb the Wutai Mountain in Xinzhou city, one of the top four Buddhist mountains in China, to burn joss sticks and worship Buddha.
After that, you can visit Datong city for the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Temple. The grottoes have 252 caves and 51,000 statues, representing the high point of Chinese stone carving art in the 5th and 6th centuries. Guides are available to tell you more about the history of the statues.
The temple was built on the side of a cliff more than 1,500 years ago, and is the only existing temple in China that combines Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Another great destination is Pingyao county, which is 80 km from Taiyuan. It’s famous for its well-preserved city walls and traditional architecture such as the ancient government office building.
At night, you can walk through a theater than has been renovated to blend in with the ancient town and observe the performance Another Glance at Pingyao.
It’s easy to travel to Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces, which feature attractions such as cultural relics, steep mountains, delicious cuisines and beautiful ancient towns.
An old Chinese saying goes that “just as there are heavens above, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth”, to describe the picturesque views of the two cities.
In Hangzhou, you can rent a bicycle to pedal around the banks of the beautiful West Lake and get a closer look at the lake’s bridges, which have inspired numerous Chinese poets throughout history. Take a boat ride at night to enjoy the peaceful lake.
It’s also a good time to have a sip of the city’s famous Longjing tea, which has a long-lasting aroma. The locals like to visit Lingyin Temple, where there are numerous pagodas and Buddhist grottoes.
Suzhou is known for its traditional Chinese gardens from different dynasties, with well-designed landscapes including rocks, hills and rivers. The Lion Grove Garden, Canglang Pavilion, Lingering Garden and Humble Administrator’s Garden are the city’s most famous gardens, for their elegant aesthetics and delicate styles.
You can watch Kunqu Opera such as The Peony Pavilion or Suzhou Pingtan performances. The local dialect and traditional musical instruments such as pipa will take you back in time.
Historic towns such as Xitang, Wuzhen and Tongli are home to traditional Chinese houses and pavilions along the rivers and stone bridges.
The family-run hotels often have traditional wooden furniture such as wooden beds with delicate carvings. You can stroll the stone streets, have a rest at a coffee house, and enjoy a moment away from the hustle-and-bustle of the big city.
The Guiyang-Guangzhou high-speed rail was launched in December, cutting travel time between the two cities down to just four hours. It’s now more convenient to visit Qiandongnan Miao and the Dong autonomous prefecture in Guizhou province, a popular destination for backpackers because of its exotic ethnic groups and natural landscapes.
Starting from Guangzhou, you can have a pleasant four-day getaway in Guiyang. Make sure to visit the downtown and enjoy delicious street food and beer.
The next day, you can join a one-day group tour or take a bus to Huangguoshu Waterfall, which is about 150 km away. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in China, and the main waterfall is 67 meters high and 83.3 meters wide.
The scenery changes as you climb. Enter Water-Curtain Cave to get a breathtaking view of the waterfall from the back.
On the third day, visit Xijiang Miao village in Leishan county, the largest ethnic Miao village in China. The ethnic Miao cultures and heritage have been well preserved, and the village hosts some famous festivals for the Miao people.
Wooden stilt houses sit along the mountains, with the Baishui River passing underneath. At night, lights from inside the homes brighten up the dark sky.
After staying one night at the village, you can rub shoulders with the locals, dine on genuine Miao cuisines, and buy souvenirs, before heading for the railway station.