Guiyang: Moving mountains

29 Feb 2016 by Tamsin Cocks
Guiyang, China skyline at Jiaxiu Pavilion on the Nanming River
FIRST IMPRESSIONS Arriving at Guiyang Longdongbao International Airport is a surprise: the large, modern facility offers a smooth immigration process, speedy baggage arrival and a long line of waiting taxis outside. Not what I was expecting from one of China’s more impoverished provincial capitals. Landlocked Guizhou was once dubbed “the poor transportation province” – its mountainous topography causes logistical nightmares, leaving many rural communities without basic road access. But like so many second- and third-tier cities, major government investment has driven significant change and Guiyang has been transformed into a transportation hub for southwest China. The airport is one such example. Originally built in 1997, construction of a second international terminal was completed in 2013, linking the city to the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong, Osaka and Taipei, as well as many regional destinations. The rail system is also highly developed, with lines connecting the city to the provinces of Sichuan, Hunan, Guangxi and Yunnan. More recently, the Guiyang–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway launched at the end of 2014, with three more high-speed rail lines to Chongqing, Changsha and Kunming under development. These developments have helped put the city on the map, reveals Jessie Chen, communications manager for the Sheraton Guiyang Hotel: “It’s a familiar story in China, things are still developing but everything is getting better. The high-speed railway has brought lots of benefits, certainly for the hotels. Five years ago you barely saw any foreign faces, but now most of our guests are business and corporate travellers.” Getting around the city is still a bit of a nightmare, however, with heavy congestion and terrifying driving habits. Further improvements are being made, though, with a subway system scheduled to open in 2017. BUSINESS MATTERS Economically, Guiyang is also reinventing itself. Traditional industries have capitalised on the region’s abundance of natural minerals, with processing of materials such as coal, rubber and aluminium. Pharmaceutical companies, for both Chinese and Western medicine, have also enjoyed a strong presence, as have chemical plants. But overall, the city’s commercial clout has been negligible. “Guiyang has traditionally been very poor and underdeveloped,” admits Jane Zheng, general manager of Renaissance Guiyang Hotel. “But the government has invested a lot in development, infrastructure and human resources recently, and Guiyang is now in the top three of GDP improvements for the whole of China.” According to Forbes China, Guiyang’s GDP output improved by 16.2 per cent in 2013, while the China Daily reported that Guiyang posted a 14 per cent increase in GDP in 2014 – the highest among all provincial capitals. This is partly a result of the development of successful new business centres. The Guanshanhu District in particular has flourished; located about 30 minutes from the city centre, this area is a thriving hub for government, finance, real estate, technology, aerospace and commercial services. A slew of international hotels have flocked to the region (see below), while another major asset is the Guiyang International Exhibition and Convention Centre, opened in 2011, which has played host to major international conferences such as the Eco Global Forum 2015 – Guiyang became China’s first Eco-city in 2004, and is expected to be the first Chinese city to become a member of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) later this year. Guiyang has also started to specialise in exciting niche technological industries. IBM already has a major presence in the city, with other multinationals such as Dell having signed agreements to set up research and development laboratories for fields such as cloud computing. In particular, Guiyang is touted to become the Chinese hub for big data storage and security. In 2015, the city hosted the hugely successful Big Data Expo, attended by big names including Alibaba, Microsoft, Foxconn and Huawei, and is gearing up for its return in May this year. According to The China Money Report, the Guiyang government has been capitalising on this momentum, signing 138 development deals for big data industries totalling almost RMB133 billion (US$21 billion) in 2014, with an additional 61 investment deals valued at RMB51 billion (US$8 billion) set to be finalised by 2017. Such rampant infrastructure development and the boom in key industries spells good news for Guiyang, and it has been pegged as one of the “600 global cities of the future” by the McKinsey Global Institute think-tank. Another glowing endorsement came from Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, who said at the Big Data Expo 2015: “If you missed the investment opportunities in Guangdong and Zhejiang 30 years ago, you should not miss them in Guizhou today.” WHAT TO SEE It’s easy to see why Guiyang is a popular tourist destination: the region’s stunning karst landscape has given rise to dramatic needle-top mountains, legendary waterfalls and mystical caves. Conveniently located on the outskirts of the CBD, Qianling Mountain Park is an excellent option to explore the area’s natural beauty. The sprawling 172-hectare (426-acre) nature reserve offers a stunning backdrop of lush, craggy mountains, while a path meanders through pagodas, shrines, caves and a zoo. There’s no doubt the park would be stunning when bathed in summer sunshine, but even shrouded in wintry mist and drizzle the ethereal atmosphere draws plenty of visitors. Expect to be greeted by the park residents – a confident troop of macaques who will pester tourists for food and drink. A ten-minute cable car ride (RMB10/US$1.50 each way) hoists visitors to the Kanzu Pavilion and Hongfu Temple, with great views over the city (park entrance RMB5, open 9am-5pm daily). Another major draw is Guizhou’s robust wealth of ethnic minorities, whose rich heritage is fiercely protected and celebrated. Particularly prominent are the Buyi and Miao communities, the latter famed for their ornate silver ornaments. To truly immerse yourself in these indigenous cultures, take a trip to one of the many settlements. Qingyan Ancient Town is one of the more famous examples, about an hour’s drive from the city. In the heart of the city lies the peaceful Jiaxiu Pavilion, a cultural landmark and symbol of pride for locals. The 16th-century, three-tiered structure lies along the Nanming River. Inside, the historic building is home to a rich collection of stone engravings, calligraphy and paintings by ancient artists. In the summer months particularly, locals gather to enjoy tea in the shade around its base. WHAT TO EAT Like neighbouring Sichuan province, Guiyang is famous for its spicy specialities, but it also has a number of unique regional delicacies that benefit from the influences of various ethnic minorities. One absolute must-try is sour fish noodle soup, a tomato-based dish derived from the Miao ethnic community. The tang of sour, spicy flavours infuses the fish and vegetables in the dish, making it distinctive and moreish. Beef rice noodle is another local favourite, with soft, slippery noodles immersed in a steaming bowl of beef-flavoured broth, topped with a few thin slices of meat and coriander. It is an authentic breakfast experience but can be eaten throughout the day. Perhaps the most distinctive local speciality is the Guiyang siwawa – where diners stack an assortment of trimmed vegetables into wafer-thin pancakes and cover them in sauce. Easily identifiable, this popular snack can be tried at food stalls, night markets and a variety of local chain and international restaurants. WHERE TO STAY Hyatt Regency was the first international hotel to open in Guanshanhu District (Guiyang’s newly emerging business district) in 2011. The seven-storey hotel features 366 rooms and is positioned as part of the Guiyang International Conference and Exhibition Centre – and as such caters predominantly to MICE guests. Five excellent F&B outlets offer a wide choice of options, from all-day dining in Café to premium Western fare in the Fire Place and popular hot pot in Re La La. The spacious, well-designed lobby lounge offers live piano music most evenings, with views over the rustic grounds complete with a waterfall. guiyang.regency.hyatt.com Marriott International’s Renaissance Guiyang Hotel opened in 2012, also in Guanshanhu, directly opposite the municipal government administration complex. The 340 rooms offer elegant, luxurious furnishings. One highlight is the Club Lounge – located on the top floor, the large balcony provides stunning views over the surrounding area, plus a private meeting room for VIP treatment.  R Bar and the Chocolate Cake Company are both good spots for after-work drinks, with the former featuring a stunning outdoor terrace, lively Filipino band every night, and an eclectic range of fun cocktails. marriott.com New World Guiyang Hotel is one of the newest properties, opened in late 2014 in Guanshanhu district. This 306-room hotel is close to the K11 Art Mall and subway station that is under construction. A business lounge and Residence Club Living Room provide a range of amenities for business travellers, while 2,000 sqm of event space is available for larger functions. An indoor pool, spa and gym are also available. guiyang.newworldhotels.com The Sheraton Guiyang Hotel was the first five-star property to open in Guiyang in 2007. Its 335 rooms and public spaces are in need of renovation (which is scheduled for later this year), but it does have a good location on Zhong Hua Nan Road in the CBD, within walking distance of cultural landmarks such as the Jiaxiu Pavilion and just a 15-minute drive from the airport. Other features include a spa, health club, pool, and a well-appointed executive lounge. starwoodhotels.com/sheraton Hotel Pullman Guiyang is another good option for the downtown area, with the added benefit of being just a ten-minute walk to Guiyang Rail Station. Opened in 2011, the hotel offers 383 modern, comfortable rooms with typical Pullman brand standards such as the Pullman “Platform” bed and in-room Nespresso machines. A large heated indoor pool is a highlight of the leisure options, while the all-day dining La Provence offers pleasant views over a landscaped garden. There are also 7 meeting rooms including a large ballroom that can host more than 700 people. pullmanhotels.com
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