More flights, a raft of new hotels and a much easier visa system means China is more attractive than ever for 2019.

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“We expect interest in China to continue to grow, in part due to the high-speed train network that makes travel easier and opens up more places”

STUART HOWARTH, AUDLEY TRAVEL

Lijang in winter

It is pitch black as I arrive in the tiny town of Lijang in the Yunnan peninsular and, unlike the rest of China, it’s eerily quiet.

Then I recall someone telling me that there is a ban on cars and motorbikes in the traditional Old Town of Lijang which, to my horror, means no taxis either – and the walk to my hotel takes longer than it should.

All is forgiven the next morning, though, when a bright blue cloudless sky allows me to see Lijang in all its glory. It’s far prettier than anywhere else I’ve been to in China – a well preserved town with 800-year-old bridges, narrow canals, cobbled streets and candle-lit restaurants.  

Traditional Chinese lanterns hang from buildings and trees and children buy candles from stall holders and float them in the water.    The town is blessed with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, too and, after a hearty breakfast on my hotel balcony, I take the cable car up to Spruce Mountain.

I expect a fully-enclosed device but am presented with a swing seat for two with just a thin bar across for safety.

The snowy mountainous views on the way up are so incredible I am distracted from the cold. At the top I feel like I’ve entered a winter wonderland, the snow is ankle deep and the fur trees remind me of Christmas – this could easily be a scene from Canada, not China.

On the up

Increased passenger numbers are a theme for China this year, with Cathay Pacific reporting a 17% rise in passengers flying from Manchester Airport to Beijing and Hong Kong, while Qatar Airways has bought 5% of China Southern Airlines.

“China Southern Airlines is one of the most prestigious airlines in the Chinese domestic market,” said Qatar Airways’ Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker.

“There are opportunities for us to work together and build a long-term relationship in ways that would bring benefits to customers of both airlines.”

But it’s not just airlines benefitting from increased interest in China: Audley Travel has seen a 12% growth so far this year compared with the same period last year. “China is selling very well for us,” confirmed Stuart Howarth, Senior Product Executive for China at Audley Travel.

“Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, where we have continued to develop and expand our product offerings, are proving particularly popular. We have also seen an increase in enquiries and bookings for Huangshan and Tiger Leaping Gorge,” he added.

“This follows a general trend for clients being increasingly interested in trips with more outdoor elements. We expect interest in China to continue to grow, in part due to the high-speed train network that makes travel easier and opens up more places to clients on a limited time schedule.”

“China bookings are stronger than ever in 2019,” added Andy Eastham, PR & Communications Manager at Wendy Wu Tours.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry right now around Brexit, which is proving positive for China and long-haul travel in general. Solo travel is really on the rise, too, and we’ve seen a significant rise in this sector year on year.”

Eastham continues: “As a result, we have introduced two new holidays in China: a 14-day Captivating China tour and a Charming China tour, both catering to smaller groups with the guarantee of single rooms.”  

Key attractions

Visit the Great Wall: No visit to China would be complete without seeing the iconic Great Wall, built during the Ming dynasty. Stretching 4,000 miles from Shanhaiguan on the Bohai Sea to Lop Lake in the Gobi Desert, the wall was given UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1987.

See the Giant Pandas: The Sichuan Province is home to 80% of the world’s population of Giant Pandas. The Chengdu Panda Research Base – a research and conservation site 10 minutes from the City of Chengdu – has 80 of these cuddly looking creatures.

Cruise down the Yangtze: Cruise down The Yangtze River, the longest in Asia and the world’s third longest, to see the Three Gorges Dam. Built between 1994 and 2009, the controversial dam is the largest water conservation project ever undertaken for the purpose of flood control, electricity and irrigation.

See Shanghai: Once known as the ‘Paris of the East’ Shanghai is China’s most cosmopolitan city, where modern skyscrapers blend with traditional buildings and designer shops sit next to 100-year-old family outlets selling herbal medicines. Walk through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, visit the pretty Yu Gardens and enjoy a cocktail in a rooftop bar.

Marvel at the Terracotta Warriors: One of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, this unearthed terracotta army is comprised of over 7,000 soldiers, horses and chariots. The army was built in life-sized form by thousands of workers and designed by Emperor Qin Shi Huang to defend himself in the afterlife.

What’s new

Tours: Intrepid Travel has expanded its range of active tours in China this year to meet increased demand for breaks promoting physical and mental wellbeing. Its new seven-day China: Great Wall Hike, Bike and Kung Fu starts at £1,055pp and offers a walk along a remote section of the wall, a bike ride through mountain villages and a Kung Fu lesson.

Visas: Wendy Wu Tours has been granted permission to process a specialist visa for China which bypasses new entry laws to the country and avoids the need for fingerprints. The new visa is valid where two or more holidaymakers are travelling together on the same flight in and out of five specified airports in the country: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu and Kunming Changshui.

Hotels: Agreement has been reached for the development of two new properties in China to be managed by Thomas Cook China. The Sunwing Family Resort is set to be a 350,000 sq m development in Lijang, while The Taicang is a 145,000 sq m development in Taicang City, Shanghai. Both will open in late 2020.

Where to book it

Audley Travel has a 19-day Hiking in China tour costs from £5,585pp and takes in Beijing, Huang Shan, Lijang and Shanghai. The price includes international and domestic flights, transfers, travel on the high-speed bullet train, private excursions with a guide, accommodation and some meals.

Wendy Wu Tours’ new 13-day solo Charming China tour starts at £2,990pp and includes international flights, transfers, accommodation, all meals and a tour guide. It visits Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Yangshuo.