Places to Watch in China 2011

China's top five up-and-coming destinations and travel trends
By: Gary Bowerman
Kunming is known for its beautiful gardens and easy accessibility to and from Southeast Asia. // © 2011 Ricky Qi
Kunming is known for its beautiful gardens and easy accessibility to and from Southeast Asia. // © 2011 Ricky Qi

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China National Tourist Office
Travel in China is changing. Clients are seeking new experiences beyond the traditional gateway destinations of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Xian and China is obliging. Nationwide, tourism infrastructure and accessibility are diversifying. Here are five up-and-coming travel trends and destinations to watch in 2011.

Hainan Island: A Beach and Golf Paradise
Demand for flights to, and hotel rooms on, the tropical island of Hainan are increasing exponentially. For the past decade, the curving white-sand strip of Yalong Bay near Sanya has welcomed an array of  excellent family resorts from such brands as The Ritz-Carlton, Hilton and Marriott. Resort developments are now spreading across this large and picturesque island. Mandarin Oriental opened a property at  Coral Bay and the Shenzhou Peninsula will soon host a deluxe resort by Sheraton. Attention is also turning  to the 12-mile-long coconut-white sands at Haitang Bay where the new Conrad Sanya counts 101 elegant resort villas on a prime beachfront site. For golfing clients, the new Mission Hills Haikou in northern Hainan -- a sibling resort to Mission Hills Shenzhen, the worldís largest golf club -- offers a dozen 18-hole courses, a five-star hotel and spa, thermal hot springs, a sports center and an aquatic theme park.

Heilongjiang: A Haven for Skiers
Winter in the northern Heilongjiang province is cold and white -- snow and ice rule. This mountainous province stretching to the Russian border is emerging as one of Asia's fastest developing winter sports centers. Best known as the host city for the annual Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, the city of Harbin has upgraded its facilities for a future bid at hosting the Winter Olympics. Nearby, the mountain ski resort of Yabuli is also raising the icy stakes. Several new projects are being planned here, the first of which is Club Med, which has opened The Yabuli Resort, its first ski resort in China. The 283-room resort and spa, operated in partnership with French skincare brand L'Occitane, also has extensive conference facilities. A little farther south, the ice-clad trees along the river at Wusong  Island, near the city of Jilin, are revered as one of China's most cherished winter landscapes.

Kunming: China's Newest Gateway
A sunny year-round climate earned Kunming the nickname of "City of Eternal Spring." However, this pleasant city in China's fragrant flower-growing heartlands has plenty to offer as a buffer to the dramatic landscapes, colorful ethnic cultures and cuisines of Yunnan province. Kunming is developing as a gateway to and from Southeast Asia, with a vast new airport slated to become China's fourth-busiest hub after the Shanghai Pudong, Beijing and Guangzhou airports. Kunming is charmingly laid-back, featuring some fine parks and gardens and the serene hillside Golden Temple. The nearby Stone Forest, where limestone columns and pinnacles sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion reach up to 131 feet in height, is a popular day excursion. Kunming is a nexus for transport links across the Yunnan province, serving as a great place for clients to acquaint themselves with the regionís diverse alpine cuisines, exquisite coffees and fine green teas before heading into the hinterland.

Chengdu: For Foodies and Wildlife Enthusiasts
Chengdu, the capital of the mountainous Sichuan province, is winning the race to become China's next mega-city. Historically, it has been regarded as a base for exploring Sichuan's magnificent alpine scenery, as well as its tea house culture, spicy hot-pot cuisine, its giant panda reserve and an enormous statue of Mao Zedong that overlooks People's Square. The city itself is changing quickly as it emerges as the commercial capital of Western China. A number of luxury hotels, malls, restaurants and bars are opening; a one-line subway system is in operation; and high-speed train routes have improved connections to cities such as Chongqing, Xian and Kunming. Air access is also improving. Chengdu Airport is China's sixth-largest airport, with daily flights to all major Chinese cities as well as Singapore; Seoul; Hong Kong; Tokyo; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

Bullet Trains: The Easiest Way to Get Around
Super high-speed trains are revolutionizing inter-city travel within China, to the extent that domestic airlines have been forced to slash fares on some competing routes. China's white bullet trains -- which resemble Japan's rail speedsters -- began rolling out in 2006, drastically cutting journey times between cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou; Suzhou and Nanjing; and Beijing and Tianjin. The next generation of 218 mph trains launched in 2010, slashing journey times even further. Long-distance cities such as Wuhan and Guangzhou are now easily connected. Chinaís long-term goal is to make all major cities accessible by train from Beijing within eight hours. The next major opening will be the 819-mile-long, five-hour Shanghai-Beijing express railway slated for debut in 2012. Beyond that, China is also building a new rail line connecting it with Laos, Singapore and Malaysia by 2015.
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